I have joined the Daring Bakers Challenge group so I can try out new recipes with a group of like minded people. I was excited at the previous two months challenges, Chocolate Valentino Cake and Bouche Noel but this months challenge (my first one) really pushed me out of my comfort zone since it had neither sugar or chocolate in it! And as you all know I have a sweet tooth and there is rarely a savoury recipe on my Blog. P, my partner, thought my first challenge was highly funny and was particularly pleased since he loves any pasta dish and is usually the one in our household who makes the pasta and pizza dough.
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
Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna served with Salsa Verde
You will need to put at least four hours aside for making this recipe or like I did make it over 2 days. Day one I made the béchamel sauce and the meat ragu and day two I made the pasta. The original recipe recommends that you cook the pasta first in boiling water but I rolled mine very thin and used it fresh without any pre-cooking which certainly saved time and is what I would recommend. I served a fresh salsa verde with my lasagna to balance the richness of the meat and pasta.
Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna (Lasagne Verdi al Forno)
(Serves 6 as a main dish)
- 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
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.
#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:
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 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.
If you have a pasta maker (which we do) it is much easier and quicker and is likely to produce thinner pasta.
Method for 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.
- 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.
- 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 to fit your baking dish. 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!
- If using a pasta machine, start on notch one (largest gap for pasta to go through) and roll pasta through. Repeat process changing down one notch at a time, from two to three etc. I took mine pasta down to notch 6 which was almost paper thin.
- Dry the pasta at room temperature if you are not going to use it straight away and store in a sealed container or bag. I prefer to use mine fresh to eliminate pre cooking the pasta.
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) hot milk
- Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Method for Bechamel
- Using a medium-sized saucepan, melt the butter over low to medium heat.
- Sift flour into saucepan, whisk until smooth, and then stir (without stopping) for about 3 minutes.
- Whisk in the hot 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.
- Cover with greaseproof paper to prevent a skin forming and place in fridge till ready to use.
#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
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
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. if you can’t get hold of all of the above meats you can improvise by using other cuts, just ensure you stick to the same quantities.
Method for Ragu
- 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 Ingredients:
- Have all the sauces, rewarmed gently over a medium heat, and the pasta at hand.
- If you are using dried pasta 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. If you are using your pasta fresh you will not need to worry about this.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius). Oil or butter approx 3 litre shallow baking dish.
Cooking the Pasta:
- Only if using dried pasta. Bring the salted water to a boil.
- Drop about four pieces of pasta in the water at a time. 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.
- If using the pasta fresh without having dried it, there is no need to pre-cook it as above just use it as is.
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.
- 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. Mine looks set in the photo because I made an additional mini lasagna purely for photographing and removed the mould when cold. The one we ate from the baking dish was very moist and unattractive but very delicious!
Salsa Verde to accompany the lasagna
- Tablespoon capers
- Large handful of Italian parsley (flat leaf)
- Large handful of basil
- 4 Medium tomatoes
- Tablespoon olive oil
- Tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- Salt & pepper to season
Blend all ingredients in a food processor to desired texture, this can be smooth or slightly rough.