Friday, March 27, 2009

LASAGNA OF EMILIA-ROMAGNA

Bathing suit season is just around the corner. If you want to have arms that are the envy of all your friends, then this month's Daring Bakers' Challenge is for you. While I may disagree with pasta making falling under the duties of a baker, there will be no disagreement that this is an ethereal pasta dish, well worth the time it takes to prepare.
The March 2009 challenge was hosted by Mary of Beans and Caviar, Melinda of Melbourne Larder and Enza of Io Da Grande. They chose Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna from The Splendid Table by Lynne Rossetto Kasper as the challenge.
I opted to make the ragu the day before and it benefited from its time in the fridge, the flavors deepening and melding perfectly. I mixed the pasta dough early Sunday morning. A word about the dough--it was quite dry at first (wish I had taken a picture of it as I was incorporating the flour, eggs, and spinach but I didn't want my camera smeared in goo). Finally, it came together. Others have written that they added more egg or added water, but I didn't want to tamper with the recipe the first time out. I kneaded the dough for 13 minutes, working up such a sweat I needed to mop my brow constantly!
I would have liked the dough to be even thinner, but it was starting to tear. I will definitely try this pasta again using a machine to roll it out. There was no mention in the recipe of how long it needed to dry. It seemed to take a few hours for it to feel somewhat dry.
The bechamel recipe is no different from the one I use for macaroni and cheese and came together quickly. My only problem when making bechamel is I have a ceramic top stove and most of my pans spin around, making the gradual addition of liquid a nightmare. Rather than make myself dizzy or have to ask DSO for a hand--the word gradual has many shades of meaning between a man and a woman--I used my heavy, LeCreuset Dutch oven. Problem solved.
I had enough ingredients for 3 layers since I opted to use a 9 X 13 inch pan. I'd have liked a taller lasagna; DSO pronounced 3 layers the ideal. Here's the first layer as it came together.
I followed the baking directions exactly and must emphasize that it is critical that you allow the lasagna to rest for 10 minutes. It set up perfectly in this time. Even the first piece came out of the pan with no muss or fuss.
I will confess that though I don't love ricotta cheese, I was afraid this bare bones filling would not be a hit with DSO or with me. I couldn't have been more mistaken. Our first bites confirmed that this lasagna was in a special category. I gobbled up one piece and quickly cut myself another half slice. It was that good!
I do have a suggestion if you are not serving this lasagna to a crowd. While still tasty, the leftovers become dry. The noodles absorb most of the bechamel and even extra ragu doesn't make up for that. If you'll be serving leftovers, make another batch of bechamel. Other than that, this was an incredible pasta and one I'll be making again.




Here is the recipe for this toothsome treat. It looks way more complicated than it really is. If you don't make the homemade pasta, by all means make the ragu. It would enhance any pasta dish. I'd even encourage you to make the lasagna with store-bought fresh pasta if you don't want to make your own.

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 recipe Bechamel Sauce (recipe follows)

1 recipe Country Style Ragu (recipe follows)

1 cup (4 ounces/125g) freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano


Method 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)

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 (14 ounces/400g) all purpose unbleached (plain) flour (organic stone ground preferred)


Working by Hand:
Equipment
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.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). 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 preferred

2&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 wine

1 &1/2 cups (12 ounces/375ml) chicken or beef stock (homemade if possible)

2 cups (16 ounces/500ml) milk

3 canned plum tomatoes, drained (I used 6 tomatoes from the can; 3 wasn't enough)

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.

33 comments:

  1. Hi,
    Great and long Job hi hi hi ;-)
    Bravo !!!

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  2. Your lasagne look delicious and these pasta sheet are perfect!

    cheers,

    Rosa

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  3. The kneading is great exercise, isn't it? Unfortunately, I ended up chucking mine in the food processor with the dough blade after 5 minutes..lol

    That said, your lasagne turned out beautiful and it looks delish! Awesome job!

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  4. What a lovely lasagne - I think that the 3 layers was perfect too.

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  5. Congrats to you! Quite the ordeal, wasn't it? I always swear I'm not going to gunk up my camera and then fail miserably. It still has flour on it...That's a gorgeous looking lasagne you've got there. ; )

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  6. I didn't want to get my camera dirty either so I didn't take as many photos of the dough. lol!

    I used a 9x13 inches pan too, but I only used three strips of pasta for each layer. I think that was why I ended up with more than three layers.

    Your lasagna came out beautifully! I'll have to try out that ragu next time.

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  7. I ended up kneading for 20 minutes or so, but the fresh pasta noodles are so worth it!

    Your lasagna looks wonderful.

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  8. After reading everyone's I realize that I misunderstood the recipe - I used three cans of tomatoes. Oh well, it was good!
    I agree with you, double the bechamel would be best.
    Looks great!

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  9. I too couldn't believe how the pasta dough came together. I was so tempted to add some water or another egg, but like you - I didn't want to tamper with the recipe. And lo' and behold (as you know) it came together!

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  10. Thanks for the encouragement, Arlene. :)

    I'm becoming more impressed with myself as I read other people's experiences and look at their pictures. I can't wait to do this again next month!

    Also, I'm quite impressed with your list of recipes on the side. I'm going to enjoy looking through those.

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  11. I agree about the kneading -- my husband was timing me to make sure I didn't slack, like I do when I bake bread. I didn't include the pictures he took of me glaring at him snapping pictures while I was kneading!

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  12. This looks wonderful. I have always wanted to make my own pasta, and spinach is my favorite flavor!! Awesome job!!

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  13. Hard work paid off !!! Love those layers :)

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  14. Hi Arlene

    Your lasagne looks wonderful! Brava for rolling it out yourself. Did you have leftover pasta?

    I had left over pasta AND I also had leftover sauce because I read "add three CANS of tomatoes" (I'm so use to doing that) and that's what I did...lol! I didn't even realize I made a mistake until I read your comment to me and re-read the recipe. Gee -- three tomatoes doesn't seem to be enough, and I don't think I'm the only one who made the same mistake as I've seen lots of red looking sauces out there in DB land..lol. Even one of the videos that they had links to show a man ladling in a lot of red sauce!
    Oh well, I always wish I could be creative and try a variation like other DB's do, and I did it without knowing ..lol.

    I'll definitely make this again! We loved it!

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  15. What a great job you have done on this challenge. I found that the amount was correct only after about 12 mins of kneading done in very easy stages. Just love the colour of your lasange

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  16. Your lasagna looks beautiful. I agree with the idea of making the ragu for a variety of dishes. It was so yummy!!

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  17. awesome job! i had the same scary experience about the dough not coming together immediately and was also tempted to add more --of everything!

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  18. You really worked hard on this and your lasagna is beautiful. Love the spinach pasta! :)

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  19. Mmm, your lasagne looks amazing!! Great job =D!

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  20. Great job! I cannot believe you managed to knead it with no extra moisture. Frankly I just assumed I had squeezed my frozen spinach too dry and sprayed the dough with water.

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  21. Your pasta dough looks great Arlene!

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  22. Well done! this month's is seriously need some elbow greasing. It is all worth the effort though

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  23. I must confess that I slipped on a pair of gloves to get some pictures of the dough, so I can sympathise :) Your lasagne looks fantastic! Well done :D

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  24. What a beautiful Lasagna, Arlene!

    And I agree, if there is any leftovers it's a very good idea to have extra sauce for them. I gave the last slice away to a co-worker and tucked in a small container of the bechamel. He said it was perfect, so I'm glad I did that.

    Wonderful job!
    xoxoxxo

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  25. Wow that's some of the best lasagna I've ever seen!! Spinach pasta... Yum! :D

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  26. Hi Arlene! Thanks for stopping by my blog because now I've found yours! Love all your pasta recipes and chicken recipes. I bookmarked the Mojito Chicken and am going to make it soon!

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  27. Your pasta turned out fabulous!!! Nicely done!

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  28. Great looking lasagna you made! I'm looking at your lasagna pictures and it's making me hungry. :)

    PS... Thanks for the comment on my challenge. :)

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  29. AH-HA!! Found it! Oh well piffle...there goes that idea. Finding veal in any capacity here is like finding gold nuggets. Gold is easier. Even a mere four ounces...but I'll search. And when I find 4 ounces of veal...the rest will follow! Kind of like if I find Spanish chorizo, the rest of the ingredients for chorizo CAN be had!! Thanks for sharing Arlene! ~ Glennis

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