Mar 27
2009

Lasagne Verdi al Forno

in Uncategorized

I always look forward to posting the Daring Bakers challenge every month, as it gives me a sense of accomplishment–another challenge finished! This month’s challenge was a bit more unusual, as it entailed making lasagna entirely from scratch, from the handmade spinach egg noodles, to the béchamel, and finally to the sauce.
I was excited because I love making homemade pasta and find the process strangely therapeutic.

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.

Any time you get Lynne Rossetto Kasper’s name attached to a recipe it is guaranteed to be delicious, and this time was no exception. The finished product was fantastically yummy. I wondered if I would miss the taste of ricotta in the lasagna, but I definitely didn’t. The dish was flavorful and filling and an instant hit with the Fujis.
The whole process was relatively easy. I started out by making the pasta dough. Maybe part of what I love about pasta making is that it takes me back to my preschool days, as pasta making utilizes many skills developed through working with playdough and playing in the mud. I mean, c’mon, who wouldn’t love heaping a pile of flour on their countertop, and mixing up a bunch of egg and spinach in a well in the middle?
I love watching all of the ingredients come together, and then take shape into a cohesive smooth dough through lots of kneading.
Then there’s the bicep-building process of rolling out the dough into thin sheets and cutting it into noodles. This is where I encountered my only problem. I just couldn’t get my noodles thin enough. They were very thin, but I just couldn’t achieve that almost translucent quality that I was going for.
Although the noodles were thicker than I would have liked, the lasagna was still fabulous.
Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna (Lasagne Verdi al Forno)

From The Splendid Table: Recipes from Emilia-Romagna, the Heartland of Northern Italian Food by Lynne Rossetto Kasper (published by William Morrow and Company Inc., 1992).

(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 Simple Bolognese (recipe follows)#3
1 cup (4 ounces/125g) freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Method
Working Ahead:
The bolognese and the béchamel sauce can be made up to three days ahead. The bolognese 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 bolognese. 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)

From The Splendid Table: Recipes from Emilia-Romagna, the Heartland of Northern Italian Food by Lynne Rossetto Kasper (published by William Morrow and Company Inc., 1992).

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.
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 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 Simple Bolognese
Adapted from recipe by Giada De Laurentis, Everyday Italian
Makes about 1 Quart

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, minced
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
1 celery stalk, minced
1 carrot, peeled and minced
1 pound ground beef chuck
1-2 Tbsp. crushed red pepper
1 (28-oz.) can crushed tomatoes
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
handful of fresh basil leaves, chopped (I like TONS of basil in my sauce!)
1/2 tsp. salt, plus more to taste
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
1/4 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese

1. In a large skillet, heat the oil over a medium flame. When almost smoking, add the onion and garlic and saute until the onion is very tender, about 8 minutes. Add the celery and carrot and saute for 5 minutes.

2. Increase the heat to high, add the ground beef and crushed red pepper, and saute until the meat is no longer pink, breaking up any large lumps, about 10 minutes.

3. Add the tomatoes, parsley, basil, and 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper, and cook over medium-low heat until the sauce thickens, about 30 minutes.

4. Stir in the cheese, then season with more salt and pepper to taste.

** The Daring Bakers have a new home! The Daring Kitchen launched on March 7th and is fabulous. If you haven’t been over there to check it out, you should go!

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }



lisaiscooking March 27, 2009 at 9:32 am

Looks delicious! I haven’t made pasta with spinach, but I want to!

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LollyChops March 27, 2009 at 10:21 am

Oh wow…. Those noodles look just fine to me! I think I like my lasagna pasta a little thicker anyway!

I wish I could have a piece for lunch today!

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Bob March 27, 2009 at 11:55 am

Man, that looks good. I wonder if I could get my girlfriend to try it, her main beef with lasagna is the ricotta and she loves spinach and bechamel. Hmmmm, possibilities. :)

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oysterculture March 27, 2009 at 2:35 pm

wow – I love making homemade pasta – I find it relaxing, this dish sounds incredible

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Amber March 27, 2009 at 2:44 pm

Wow, I made lasagna last night, but it was nothing like this! Looks delicious!

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K and S March 28, 2009 at 1:52 am

it looks so good, I love how you had to make each component too, good job!

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Lauren March 28, 2009 at 1:04 pm

Mmm, your lasagne looks amazing!! Awesome job on this challenge =D.

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mamakd March 29, 2009 at 4:45 pm

Once again your culinary prowess amazes me! This dish looks absolutely amazing. I am definitely going to have to square away some time to make those noodles. DELICIOUS!

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Tangled Noodle March 29, 2009 at 6:45 pm

The pasta dough looks good enough to eat on its own but I’ll gladly take a bite of the finished dish, thank you!

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Sheltie Girl April 2, 2009 at 7:23 pm

You did a fabulous job on your lasagne!

Natalie @ Gluten A Go Go

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