Since I had to miss last month's challenge (it's hard to bake in isolated hospital quarters), I was really looking forward to getting back in the kitchen with the Daring Bakers. When I found out that we had to make our own pasta, I was even more excited. I tried to follow the instructions as well as I could, but had some difficulties along the way. The end result, however, was fabulous and the experience reminded me of just how much I love getting down and dirty in the kitchen and the memories it makes for me and the entire family.
Here is the recipe and my notes...
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 - I used my own recipe
1 cup (4 ounces/125g) freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano - I couldn't afford the real deal, used my domestic parmesan instead
#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) - ended up using 4 large eggs
10 ounces (300g) fresh spinach, rinsed dry, and finely chopped; or 6 ounces (170g) frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry - used the frozen
3&1/2 cups (14 ounces/400g) all purpose unbleached (plain) flour (organic stone ground preferred) - used AP bleached
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.
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 BechamelPreparation Time: 15 minutes
4 tablespoons (2 ounces/60g) unsalted butter - used Smart Balance Light
4 tablespoons (2 ounces/60g) all purpose unbleached (plain) flour, organic stone ground preferred - used AP bleached
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.
"Meat" Sauce: Since I keep kosher and don't mix meat and milk, I used the Boca Crumbles instead of the ground beef, etc. Since I have three kids running around, I used the simplest recipe I could find: 1 bag of crumbles, 1 jar of marinara, 1 tsp. basil, 1 tsp. oregano, 1 clove minced garlic - simmer 10 minutes.
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.
The simplest of ingredients:
I couldn't get this to stick together for the life of me, even after I added an additional egg:
I resorted to my KitchenAid to get the process started, adding 1 more egg (total of 4). I did not knead it in here, just got it going:
This is how it looked after a full 10 minutes of kneading - perfect!
After it rested for a couple of hours, I was ready to roll. No offense to the hosts of this challenge, but I could not understand how they wanted us to roll it by hand. I only have a limited source of energy and patience and the hand kneading took most of that. I was hoping it wasn't totally against the rules and brought out Danny's Zaido Michael's (Macie's namesake) pasta maker that he gave to me many years ago. I rolled and I rolled and I continued rolling. Amelia came and helped with the rolling and it was wonderful to have her there. We've done alot in the kitchen before, but this process was a true "start to finish" type of thing and she was really enjoying herself.
Once I had the lasagna in the oven, it was Amelia's turn to make her dinner. I only used 1/2 of the pasta recipe, made 16 or so sheets of lasagna noodles, used 1/4 more for Amelia's dinner and the rest is in the freezer. So, anyway, I had told Amelia that she could use cookie cutters to make any shapes she wanted - a very exciting prospect. The pasta dough was a little too thick, though, so she decided to make some fettuccini and some spaghetti. Leo was scared of the end result ("I don't want the yucky hair pasta!", but Amelia fell in love with it. "I love it too much!" she told everyone and even took it to school the next day for Lunch Bunch. The pasta was really tasty all by itself, I couldn't help noshing it on while the lasagna baked. During dinner, we looked through a pasta recipe book to decide what shapes we want to make next time. Amelia chose the bowties ;) Can't wait, babe!