Friday, March 27, 2009

Daring Bakers: Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna

Wait until you hear about this month's Daring Baker's challenge... lasagna!

I know, I know, I agree with some of the others bakers that lasagna doesn't really qualify as "baking", although it is baked. But who cares! It's delicious and making homemade pasta for the first time... how fun! I can tell this won't be my last time.

(Check out the Daring Bakers, er, Daring Kitchen's new logo. This is one of many. They'll be popping up all over cyberland today as the Daring Baker's reveal the March challenge. )

The March 2009 challenge is hosted by Mary of Beans and Caviar, Melinda of Melbourne Larder and Enza of Io Da Grande. They have chosen Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna from The Splendid Table by Lynne Rossetto Kasper as the challenge.

OK, let's get to the nitty gritty. First up on the list of requireds was the spinach egg pasta. This was brand new, uncharted territory for me.

We were instructed to make a well in a pile of flour and add our eggs and spinach to that.

We were to stir and continue to mix, even though it would appear to be a shaggy mass. It would smooth out and come together eventually. Mmmm, are you sure? This is what it looked like after mixing, and mixing (and mixing).

Mine was definitely staying in the shaggy mass state. My new found experience with pie dough told me that there was not enough liquid in the mix. I eventually added another whole egg plus another white (you can see the white in the picture above).

OK, it fiiiiiiinally came together as promised.

Now for the rolling. We were to roll out at least part of the dough by hand. There were instructions about rolling, folding, and stretching. But, I just wasn't getting it. I started with a handful of dough and got it rolled out as best I could.

But, that was too much work, if you ask me. Enter the hand crank pasta machine.
Hallelujah! I began with the same size ball of dough as before, and started it through the pasta machine on the thickest setting.

...and kept cranking it through on successively thinner settings.

I even had to call in a reinforcement for that last setting. (Aaaw, I wonder how long he'll be wearing Pokemon pajamas. Sniff. Ahem, anyway...)

People, in case you can't tell... the pasta machine rocks!! The machine pasta was so much thinner than the hand rolled.

I left my pasta to dry overnight.

I made the Country Style Ragu recipe given in the challenge. It was quite tasty, but it was a lot of work!!

I made the bechamel and was glad it was relatively easy. I added a tub of ricotta cheese to the bechamel. I also layered regular spaghetti sauce along with the homemade ragu. Sorry, but I need a saucy, cheesy lasagna, folks.

I took some pictures of the assembly and the final masterpiece, but my pictures didn't turn out the greatest. I was rushed getting this made and out the door for a gathering.

Look at all of those noodles! I'd say I used two-thirds of them.

Let the layering begin.

Out of the oven...

Unfortunately, I didn't get a nice picture of the finished lasagna. I guess that's a testament to how good it was. I think there was one scraggly piece left when the dust settled.

Whew! It was quite an effort. More effort than I've ever put into any other lasagna. But it was delicious and well worth it. Thanks so much to our hosts for this month for introducing me to yet another fantastic homemade treat, pasta.

Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna (Lasagne Verdi al Forno)
(Serves 8 to 10 as a first course, 6 to 8 as a main dish)
Preparation Time: 15 minutes to assemble and 40 minutes cooking time

10 quarts (9 litres) salted water
1 recipe Spinach Pasta cut for lasagna (recipe follows)#1
1 recipe Bechamel Sauce (recipe follows)#2
1 recipe Country Style Ragu (recipe follows)#3
1 cup (4 ounces/125g) freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano


Working Ahead: The ragu and the béchamel sauce can be made up to three days ahead. The ragu can also be frozen for up to one month. The pasta can be rolled out, cut and dried up to 24 hours before cooking. The assembled lasagne can wait at room temperature (20 degrees Celsius/68 degrees Fahrenheit) about 1 hour before baking. Do not refrigerate it before baking, as the topping of béchamel and cheese will overcook by the time the center is hot.

Assembling the Ingredients: 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.

#1 Spinach Egg Pasta (Pasta Verde)

Preparation: 45 minutes
Makes enough for 6 to 8 first course servings or 4 to 6 main course servings, equivalent to 1 pound (450g) dried boxed pasta.

2 jumbo eggs (2 ounces/60g or more each)
10 ounces (300g) fresh spinach, rinsed dry, and finely chopped; or 6 ounces (170g) frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry3&
1/2 cups (14 ounces/400g) all purpose unbleached (plain) flour (organic stone ground preferred)

Working by Hand:
A roomy work surface, 24 to 30 inches deep by 30 to 36 inches (60cm to 77cm deep by 60cm to 92cm). Any smooth surface will do, but marble cools dough slightly, making it less flexible than desired.
A pastry scraper and a small wooden spoon for blending the dough.
A wooden dowel-style rolling pin. In Italy, pasta makers use one about 35 inches long and 2 inches thick (89cm long and 5cm thick). The shorter American-style pin with handles at either end can be used, but the longer it is, the easier it is to roll the pasta.
Note: although it is not traditional, Enza has successfully made pasta with a marble rolling pin, and this can be substituted for the wooden pin, if you have one.
Plastic wrap to wrap the resting dough and to cover rolled-out pasta waiting to be filled. It protects the pasta from drying out too quickly.
A sharp chef’s knife for cutting pasta sheets.
Cloth-covered chair backs, broom handles, or specially designed pasta racks found in cookware shops for draping the pasta.

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.

Kneading: 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.

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). Note: Enza says that transparency is a crucial element of lasagne pasta and the dough should be rolled as thinly as possible. She says this is why her housekeeper has such strong arms!

Dry the pasta at room temperature and store in a sealed container or bag.

#2 Bechamel
Preparation Time: 15 minutes

4 tablespoons (2 ounces/60g) unsalted butter
4 tablespoons (2 ounces/60g) all purpose unbleached (plain) flour, organic stone ground preferred2&
2/3 cups (approx 570ml) 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’ (Ragu alla Contadina)
Preparation Time: Ingredient Preparation Time 30 minutes and Cooking time 2 hours
Makes enough sauce for 1 recipe fresh pasta or 1 pound/450g dried pasta)

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (45 mL)
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 (5 ounces/160ml) dry red wine1 &
1/2 cups (12 ounces/375ml) chicken or beef stock (homemade if possible)
2 cups (16 ounces/500ml) milk
3 canned plum tomatoes, drained
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Working Ahead: The ragu can be made 3 days ahead. Cover and refrigerate. It also freezes well for up to 1 month. Skim the fat from the ragu’ before using it.

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.


The Food Librarian said...

Wow! That is a lot of effort...good thing you have such a cute helper! I can't believe the house covered in noodles! The finished product looks soooo delicious!

Alli said...

Great step by step instructions! Alli

Cakelaw said...

Your lasagne looks great! I was amazed at the number of pasta sheets the recipe produced.

Elyse said...

WOW! Lasagna is one of my favorite comfort foods. It always takes me forever to make, but the reward is so sweet. Your lasagna looks totally amazing. I can't believe you made all that yummy pasta yourself!! How totally fabulous...great job!

Anonymous said...

Love the phot of your 'helper' barefoot, holding the 100 foot sheet of Your lasagne looks so delicious..great job!

Engineer Baker said...

Haha - I love how you had pasta drying everywhere! Too funny. And the finished product looks tasty enough that I don't blame you for worrying about a "glamour shot." :)

Isabelle said...

tout comme moi, tu as eu de l'aide ! c'est super réussi ! bravo :)

Natashya said...

Great shot of the pasta taking over the kitchen! Good thing you had help.
I am envious of your giant pan, so cool!
Great job on your lasagne. :)

Maria said...

Homemade is the best! Great photos! It looks so good!

Anonymous said...

Your lasagne looks great. I had fun making pasta,I've never done it before. I'm definitely going to do it again.

StickyGooeyCreamyChewy said...

Your lasagne looks beautiful! Your pictures of that long pasta sheet had me chuckling! Well done!

Heather said...

Great post!! I didn't get it done, too much going on here. Awesome job on your lasagna.

Megan said...

Holy cannoli that's a lot of lasagna. I hope you had an army around to eat it!

Btw - love the pokemon pj's!

vibi said...

This all looks soooo yummy, Jacque!

But hey! wait a second! You cheated! You hired elves to help ya! No fair!!!

Came out great... I'm sure you had a blast making those. WOW!

P.s.: Love the tips you give in TWD P&Q post.

Zoe said...

Wow, that is a lot of pasta! Looks fantastic =)

Anonymous said...

I made this lasagna when I was 36 weeks pregnant with my 4th son. I didn't have a pasta machine so I rolled the dough out by hand. It was hard work but man it was worth it! The best lasagna ever! Nothing else comes close.

I made it on a Thursday, went in labor on Monday and had a really fast and easy birth. Must have been all the kneading and rolling and the muscle I put into the pasta.

It brings back wonderful memories to see this recipe featured on your blog. My boy is now 6 years old and I haven't made it again yet. Perhaps on his 7th birthday I will. But this time I'm getting me a pasta machine!

Grace said...

miles and miles of green pasta--i love it. nicely done!

Lauren said...

Mmm, your lasagne looks amazing!! I love your pictures =D.

Rebecca said...

Oh, I just love that photo of your son holding the loooooooong pasta. Your lasagne looks delicious!

Aparna said...

Well, the proof of the lasagne is in the eating and I say you have ample proof! :)

BC said...

I know, I know it's not traditinal baking but it was heavy on the challenge part! Well done.

ice tea: sugar high said...

How lucky of you to have such a cute helper.. Your lasagne looked absolutely fabulous!!

ice tea: sugar high said...

It is out of the ordinary, but i thought it's a nice change from the usual challenge. Great job on the lasagna. They looked amazing!

Zita said...

After your delicious lasagne you still found time to make ice cream? Wow!!! :)

Esi said...

I'm quite jealous of your pasta roller. You did a fantastic job! That pasta is everywhere, lol.

Linders said...

Ha ha. I love the picture of all the noodles all over the house. OOh..I see you ahve a pasta roller. I bet that was a lifesaver. This is definitely one of those recipes that is for special occasions only.

Jenny said...

Wow - that's one long piece of rolled out pasta dough! I also used a pasta machine, I didn't even try to handroll... Kudos to you for trying by hand at first! Great job!

Debbie said...

I agree that the ragu was quite a bit of work ... but you know I think I will make it again for a special occasion. Now all I need is to find a "Special" occasion!! Your finished lasagne looks wonderful.