Daring Bakers March 2009 Challenge – Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna
The March 2009 challenge is hosted by Mary of Beans & Caviar, Melinda of Melbourne Larder & Enza of Io Da Grande. They have chosen Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna from The Splendid Table by Lynne Rossetto Kasper as the challenge.
This month’s challenge has global input, with the 3 hosts living in 3 continents: Our hosts are from Canada, Australia & Italy. The recipe we’ve chosen this month is Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna from The Splendid Table: Recipes from Emilia-Romagna, the Heartland of Northern Italian Food by Lynne Rossetto Kasper (published by William Morrow & Company Inc., 1992).
Our hosts tell us that lasagne is a dish that has successfully transcended borders & is today made around the world, albeit with many variations from the Italian original. Even within Italy, there are many variations & each region has its own lasagne tradition. The dish should always be a “vivid expression of the ‘less is more’ philosophy of cooking. Mere films of béchamel sauce & meat ragu coat the sheerest spinach pasta. Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese dusts each layer. There is nothing more; no ricotta, no piling on of meats, vegetables or cheese; little tomato, & no hot spice. Baking performs the final marriage of flavours. The results are splendid.”
We had to make the pasta from scratch, a bechamel sauce & a ragu. We could also make a sweet pasta if we wanted, which was intriguing, but I love lasagne, so savory it is! I planned to make this for dinner at least a week early, but then got the flu, everyone, take your vitamins! This flu lasts for 2 weeks, minimum, yuck! Anyway, back to the lasagne. I was really excited about this one. I have made my own pasta before, my own sauce, etc. so I figured it would be pretty easy & it was. The hardest part about making your own pasta, is rolling it out. Mine could’ve been a little thinner, but it was still really good. Both of the sauces are easy to make as well. The only problem people ran into was with the ragu. Some people (including me) had a problem with the milk curdling (which is great if you want to make ricotta cheese), but it only affects the look of it, not the taste or the texture. I shared some with some non-vegan friends, & they liked it too!
Here is the recipe for you.
All recipes below from The Splendid Table: Recipes from Emilia-Romagna, the Heartland of Northern Italian Food by Lynne Rossetto Kasper (published by William Morrow & Company Inc., 1992).
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 & 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
The ragu & the béchamel sauce can be made up to 3 days ahead. The ragu can also be frozen for up to 1 month. The pasta can be rolled out, cut & 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 & cheese will overcook by the time the center is hot.
Assembling the Ingredients:
Have all the sauces, rewarmed gently over a medium heat, & the pasta at hand. Have a large perforated skimmer & 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: I skipped this step
Bring the salted water to a boil. Drop about 4 pieces of pasta in the water at a time. Cook about 2 minutes. If you are using dried pasta, cook about 4 minutes, taste, & 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, & then slip into the bowl of cold water to stop cooking. When cool, lift out & 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 4 overlapping sheets of pasta over the béchamel. Spread a thin layer of béchamel (about 3 or 4 spoonfuls) over the pasta, & then an equally thin layer of the ragu. Sprinkle with about 1½ TBSP of the béchamel & about 1/3 cup of the cheese. Repeat the layers until all ingredients are used, finishing with béchamel sauce & topping with a generous dusting of cheese.
Baking & 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 & 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 & barely tinged with a little gold. Turn off the oven, leave the door ajar & 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 & served.
The pasta, resting
#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 lb (450g) dried boxed pasta.
2 jumbo eggs 1 ½ TBSP egg replacer whisked together with 1/3 cup warm water
10 oz fresh spinach, rinsed dry, & finely chopped; or 6 oz frozen chopped spinach, defrosted & squeezed dry I used fresh
3½ cups all purpose unbleached (plain) flour (organic stone ground preferred) whole wheat pastry flour
Working by Hand: I made by hand
A roomy work surface, 24” to 30“ deep X 30” to 36“. Any smooth surface will do, but marble cools dough slightly, making it less flexible than desired.
A pastry scraper & a small wooden spoon for blending the dough.
A wooden dowel-style rolling pin. In Italy, pasta makers use one about 35“ long & 2“ 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 & 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: (I used a bowl)
Mound the flour in the center of your work surface & make a well in the middle. Add the eggs & spinach. Use a wooden spoon to beat together the eggs & spinach. Then gradually start incorporating shallow scrapings of flour from the sides of the well into the liquid. As you work more & more flour into the liquid, the well’s sides may collapse. Use a pastry scraper to keep the liquids from running off & to incorporate the last bits of flour into the dough. Don’t worry if it looks like a hopelessly rough & messy lump. I pureed the spinach in my Vitamix blender.
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 & 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, & very elastic. It will feel alive under your hands. Do not shortcut this step. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap, & let it relax at room temperature 30 minutes to 3 hours.
Stretching & 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 & 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 & push it. Shape it into a ball & 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 & 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, & repeat. Do twice more.
Stretch & 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 3 more times, turning the dough a ¼ turn each time.
Repeat the 2 processes as the disc becomes larger & 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 & see colours. Cut into rectangles about 4” x 8“ (10 x 20 cm). Note: Enza says that transparency is a crucial element of lasagne pasta & 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 & store in a sealed container or bag.
Preparation Time: 15 minutes
4 tablespoons unsalted butter Earth Balance
4 tablespoons all purpose unbleached (plain) flour, organic stone ground preferred
2 2/3 cups milk Soy Milk
Salt & 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, & then stir (without stopping) for about 3 minutes. Whisk in the milk a little at a time & keep the mixture smooth. Bring to a slow simmer, & stir 3 to 4 minutes, or until the sauce thickens. Cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes, until the sauce thickens. Season with salt, pepper, & a hint of nutmeg.
#3 Country Style Ragu’ (Ragu alla Contadina)
Preparation Time: Ingredient Preparation Time 30 minutes & 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) vegetable broth
2 ounces pancetta, finely chopped texturized vegetable protein
1 medium onion, minced
1 medium stalk celery with leaves, minced
1 small carrot, minced
4 ounces boneless veal shoulder or round omitted
4 oz pork loin, trimmed of fat, or 4 oz mild Italian sausage (made without fennel) faux sausage
8 oz beef skirt steak, hanging tender, or boneless chuck blade or chuck center cut (in order of preference) mushrooms
1 oz thinly sliced Prosciutto di Parma omitted
2/3 cup dry red wine 1/3 cup, its all I had
1 &1/2 cups chicken or beef stock (homemade if possible) vegetable broth
2 cups milk soy milk
3 canned plum tomatoes, drained
Salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste
The ragu can be made 3 days ahead. Cover & 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“ skillet (frying pan) over medium-high heat. Have a large saucepan handy to use once browning is complete. Add the pancetta & minced vegetables & 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 & slowly brown over medium heat. First the meats will give off a liquid & 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 & shake out the fat. Turn them into the saucepan & set over medium heat.
Reducing & 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 & set the skillet aside.
Stir ½ cup stock into the saucepan & let it bubble slowly, 10 minutes, or until totally evaporated. Repeat with another ½ cup stock. Stir in the last ½ cup stock along with the milk. Adjust heat so the liquid bubbles very slowly. Partially cover the pot, & 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 & pepper.
Verdict: This is a great recipe. It is not the typical American lasagne, and the green color of the pasta might scare some people, but it tastes great. What a great accomplishment as well. I will make this one again, maybe with a red sauce next time though. View everyone else’s results here: http://thedaringkitchen.com/blogroll/bakers