I LOVE pasta! And I mean LOVE!!
So I was super excited (and quite frightened.. but I will get to that later) when the March Daring Bakers Challenge was announced…. Lasagne!!!
The March 2009 challenge is hosted by Mary of Beans and Caviar, Melinda of Melbourne Larderand Enza of Io Da Grande. They have chosen Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna from The Splendid Tableby Lynne Rossetto Kasper as the challenge.
Now like I said, this challenge frightened me a little. One time a few years back I found a pasta maker in my parents basement which had been handed down to them by my grandparents. I thought it was really cool, figured pasta wouldn’t be hard to make and I took it home to give it a go. Well I’m not sure what went wrong but my pasta was far from delicious :S It was not very good. So I took the maker back home have hadn’t touched it since. So this challenge brought back painful memories of that time hahaa!!
But I am a Daring Baker so I rose to the challenge! For this challenge we were required to make all 3 parts.
1. Spinach Pasta
2. Bechamel Sauce
3. Country Style Ragu
I followed the given recipes to a “T” and was thrilled with the final product! I loved the taste of the pasta and I loved the sauces!!! We served this to friends of ours who came over and they gave me rave reviews. I will definitely make this again, in fact I have ordered the KitchenAid pasta make attachment (Thank you Visa Points!). I want to thank the hosts of this months challenge for encouraging me to do something that was outside of my comfort zone as a cook/baker. Below is the recipe with my experiences added.. I began my day excited, then frustrated and angry, on the verge of throwing in the towel, but then ended quite pleased with myself and satisfied!!
Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna (Lasagne Verdi al Forno)
The Splendid Table: Recipes from Emilia-Romagna, the Heartland of Northern Italian Food by Lynne Rossetto Kasper
1. Spinach Pasta
2 jumbo eggs
10 ounces (300g) fresh spinach, rinsed dry, and finely chopped; or 6 ounces (170g) frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry
3&1/2 cups all purpose unbleached (plain) flour (organic stone ground preferred)
Mixing the dough:
Mound the flour in the center of your work surface and make a well in the middle. Add the eggs and spinach. Use a wooden spoon to beat together the eggs and spinach. Then gradually start incorporating shallow scrapings of flour from the sides of the well into the liquid. As you work more and more flour into the liquid, the well’s sides may collapse. Use a pastry scraper to keep the liquids from running off and to incorporate the last bits of flour into the dough. Don’t worry if it looks like a hopelessly rough and messy lump.
Ok well of flour with eggs….. so far so good….
“hopelessly rough and messy lump”? Somehow I don’t think my dough should look like this…. this would be the point of my anger/frustration/almost throwing in the towel lol…. and I think you might agree from the above picture I had good reason. I figured there was no way on earth this mound would ever come together to form a ball of dough. Think think think…. what to do… well I used 2 large eggs instead of 2 jumbo eggs…. maybe I’ll add one more to make it a bit moister… heck I had nothing to lose at this point…..
With the aid of the scraper to scoop up unruly pieces, start kneading the dough. Once it becomes a cohesive mass, use the scraper to remove any bits of hard flour on the work surface – these will make the dough lumpy. Knead the dough for about 3 minutes. Its consistency should be elastic and a little sticky. If it is too sticky to move easily, knead in a few more tablespoons of flour. Continue kneading about 10 minutes, or until the dough has become satiny, smooth, and very elastic. It will feel alive under your hands. Do not shortcut this step. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap, and let it relax at room temperature 30 minutes to 3 hours.
Ok I was wrong adding an egg did not help me at all… once again about to throw in the towel when my KitchenAid mixer caught my eye. I whipped on the dough hook and scrapped my mess from the counter. I would just like to clarify though that I only used the KitchenAid to get the dough to come together, once it was formed into a ball I took over the kneading by hand… It was a lot of work but I felt like this challenge deserved it! Here is the results for mine and the KitchenAids handy work…
Stretching and Thinning:
If using an extra-long rolling pin work with half the dough at a time. With a regular-length rolling pin, roll out a quarter of the dough at a time and keep the rest of the dough wrapped. Lightly sprinkle a large work surface with flour. The idea is to stretch the dough rather than press down and push it. Shape it into a ball and begin rolling out to form a circle, frequently turning the disc of dough a quarter turn. As it thins outs, start rolling the disc back on the pin a quarter of the way toward the center and stretching it gently sideways by running the palms of your hands over the rolled-up dough from the center of the pin outward. Unroll, turn the disc a quarter turn, and repeat. Do twice more.
Stretch and even out the center of the disc by rolling the dough a quarter of the way back on the pin. Then gently push the rolling pin away from you with one hand while holding the sheet in place on the work surface with the other hand. Repeat three more times, turning the dough a quarter turn each time.
Repeat the two processes as the disc becomes larger and thinner. The goal is a sheet of even thickness. For lasagne, the sheet should be so thin that you can clearly see your hand through it and see colours. Cut into rectangles about 4 by 8 inches (10 x 20 cm).
Dry the pasta at room temperature and store in a sealed container or bag. (If you plan to cook the lasagna right away you do not need to dry it completely).
2. Bechamel Sauce (sorry kids, sadly I forgot to take pictures of this step)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 tablespoons all purpose unbleached (plain) flour, organic stone ground preferred
2&2/3 cups milk
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Freshly grated nutmeg to taste
Using a medium-sized saucepan, melt the butter over low to medium heat. Sift over the flour, whisk until smooth, and then stir (without stopping) for about 3 minutes. Whisk in the milk a little at a time and keep the mixture smooth. Bring to a slow simmer, and stir 3 to 4 minutes, or until the sauce thickens. Cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes, until the sauce thickens. Season with salt, pepper, and a hint of nutmeg.
3. Country Style Ragu
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 ounces/60g pancetta, finely chopped
1 medium onion, minced
1 medium stalk celery with leaves, minced
1 small carrot, minced
4 ounces/125g boneless veal shoulder or round
4 ounces/125g pork loin, trimmed of fat, or 4 ounces/125g mild Italian sausage (made without fennel)
8 ounces/250g beef skirt steak, hanging tender, or boneless chuck blade or chuck center cut (in order of preference)
1 ounce/30g thinly sliced Prosciutto di Parma
2/3 cup dry red wine
1 &1/2 cups chicken or beef stock (homemade if possible)
2 cups milk
3 canned plum tomatoes, drained (This does actually mean 3 tomatoes from a can not 3 cans)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Browning the Ragu Base:
Heat the olive oil in a 12 inch (30cm) skillet (frying pan) over medium-high heat. Have a large saucepan handy to use once browning is complete. Add the pancetta and minced vegetables and sauté, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon, 10 minutes, or until the onions barely begin to color. Coarsely grind all the meats together, including the prosciutto, in a food processor or meat grinder. Stir into the pan and slowly brown over medium heat. First the meats will give off a liquid and turn dull grey but, as the liquid evaporates, browning will begin. Stir often, scooping under the meats with the wooden spatula. Protect the brown glaze forming on the bottom of the pan by turning the heat down. Cook 15 minutes, or until the meats are a deep brown. Turn the contents of the skillet into a strainer and shake out the fat. Turn them into the saucepan and set over medium heat.
Reducing and Simmering:
Add the wine to the skillet, lowering the heat so the sauce bubbles quietly. Stir occasionally until the wine has reduced by half, about 3 minutes. Scrape up the brown glaze as the wine bubbles. Then pour the reduced wine into the saucepan and set the skillet aside.
Stir ½ cup stock into the saucepan and let it bubble slowly, 10 minutes, or until totally evaporated. Repeat with another ½ cup stock. Stir in the last 1/2 cup stock along with the milk. Adjust heat so the liquid bubbles very slowly. Partially cover the pot, and cook 1 hour. Stir frequently to check for sticking.
Add the tomatoes, crushing them as they go into the pot. Cook uncovered, at a very slow bubble for another 45 minutes, or until the sauce resembles a thick, meaty stew. Season with salt and pepper.
Assembling The Lasagne (I should have taken more pictures of this process but I was in a hurry to get this in the oven before our company arrived)
Have all the sauces, rewarmed gently over a medium heat, and the pasta at hand. Have a large perforated skimmer and a large bowl of cold water next to the stove. Spread a double thickness of paper towels over a large counter space. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius). Oil or butter a 3 quart (approx 3 litre) shallow baking dish.
Cooking the Pasta:
Bring the salted water to a boil. Drop about four pieces of pasta in the water at a time. Cook about 2 minutes. If you are using dried pasta, cook about 4 minutes, taste, and cook longer if necessary. The pasta will continue cooking during baking, so make sure it is only barely tender. Lift the lasagne from the water with a skimmer, drain, and then slip into the bowl of cold water to stop cooking. When cool, lift out and dry on the paper towels. Repeat until all the pasta is cooked.
Assembling the Lasagne:
Spread a thin layer of béchamel over the bottom of the baking dish. Arrange a layer of about four overlapping sheets of pasta over the béchamel. Spread a thin layer of béchamel (about 3 or 4 spoonfuls) over the pasta, and then an equally thin layer of the ragu. Sprinkle with about 1&1/2 tablespoons of the béchamel and about 1/3 cup of the cheese. Repeat the layers until all ingredients are used, finishing with béchamel sauce and topping with a generous dusting of cheese.
Baking and Serving the Lasagne:
Cover the baking dish lightly with foil, taking care not to let it touch the top of the lasagne. Bake 40 minutes, or until almost heated through. Remove the foil and bake another 10 minutes, or until hot in the center (test by inserting a knife – if it comes out very warm, the dish is ready). Take care not to brown the cheese topping. It should be melted, creamy looking and barely tinged with a little gold. Turn off the oven, leave the door ajar and let the lasagne rest for about 10 minutes. Then serve. This is not a solid lasagne, but a moist one that slips a bit when it is cut and served.