Sunday, March 29, 2009

Daring Bakers March Challenge: Lasagna??


Yes, lasagna. Quite a twist, but it is baked after all, and it highlights some of the new stuff happening with the huge gang of DBers. There is going to be another group using the Daring Kitchen website, welcome the Daring Cooks! For now, I'm going to stick with the baking folks and wait and see what the cooks do. Their challenges will be revealed mid month, and the bakers will continue to show off their work at the end of each month. It's all a work in progress, but there ought to be a blogroll available soon so you can check out other members.

The lasagna this month was fun. I enjoyed making the pasta. Kevin is the pasta maker in our house and I think I probably hadn't made any pasta in more than 10, or 12, or oh my, maybe 15 years? Wow, that makes me feel old! This pasta was right up my alley- just sheets of lasagna noodles- perfect. I loved making them with spinach, so pretty.

In addition to making the noodles, there was a ragu/bolognese sauce that began with grinding veal, pork and beef. It was a nice version of bolognese, and I find I like bolognese in stuff rather than as the primary sauce, so this was perfect.

The other element to this lasagna is a bechamel sauce which made it quite rich and sort of fluffy at the same time? It's probably the mix of fresh pasta and the bechamel together that created the light or at least soft texture. I'm struggling not to say that it was rich and light at the same time, but that's really my impression. It was meaty, creamy and light. You'll just have to give it a try and see what I mean.

Even if you don't make the sauces, you might just make some fresh pasta. It makes a world a difference in lasagna, and any other pasta dish for that matter. I've included all the instruction below, much of it is overly wordy, but the descriptions may be helpful to some of you who want to give it a try.

-Janet


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.

What we want you to do:

- make the pasta recipe as follows (we’ve included alternative instructions for those with dietary requirements). Hand-making your own pasta is the main challenge for this month. While you should make your own pasta to complete the challenge, please don't feel that you need to buy a pasta machine. Lynne's recipe gives instructions for hand-rolling the pasta with a rolling pin and we'd like you to do the same
- a white (béchamel) sauce must be used. We’ve included a recipe but you’re welcome to use your own favourite recipe if you have one.
- we’ve also included Lynne’s recipe for the meat ragu sauce that is part of the finished lasagne. However, this sauce is optional and you are welcome to make up your own sauce (particularly if you don’t eat meat), or use your own favourite meat ragu sauce recipe. If you choose to use your own recipe, please include it with your post.
- Sweet pasta is unusual but here is a traditional pasta recipe for our sweetest bloggers at Emilia-Romagna Turismo http://www.emiliaromagnaturismo.it/engl … ?Numrec=78 This pasta would be paired in a lasagna dish with things like cream, raisins, pinenuts, orange, rosewater, prosciutto etc.

The most important part of this challenge is the hand-made Spinach Egg Pasta. We’ve also included Lynne’s recipes for béchamel (white) sauce and meat ragu but you can choose to use your own bechamel and ragu (or vegetarian sauce) recipes. Please follow Lynne’s instructions for the final assembly.

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 and 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 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 Country Style Ragu (recipe follows)#3
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)


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 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

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.


10 comments:

Lisa Michelle said...

I just read through about 7 to 8 pages of your blog, and to say it was a great read, is an understatement. I LOVED hearing about your classes at La Tulipe, and the tips you learned when it comes to chocolate and other ingredients. I also love that you've gone through ALL the DB challenges after they ran. I have been dying to try the strawberry mirror cake myself!

On another note - I own Rosie's Cake Bible, and you've inspired me to 'dig into it' more than I have, since I kind of forgot sbout it..LOL

OK, slow down, Lisa LOL *clearing throat and taking a deep breath* Your lasagne came out gorgeous, and well, I really like you guys and what you've got going here! :D

Keep up the great work!

Cheers!
Lisa

Dragon said...

Great job on this month's challenge. Goregous!

Angela @ A Spoonful of Sugar said...

Your lasagne looks fantastic1 i know exactly what you mean when you say that it was rich, but light at the same time. Makes it real easy to keep digging the fork in, huh? :)

anjelikuh said...

your lasagna looks great! love the distinct layers :D

Lisa said...

The amount oif comments I get probably has to do with the fact that I'm an obsessive blog reader. Since I've been injured, one of my fav luxuries is leaning back comfortably with my laptop, a tall glass of iced tea or lemon water, and just reading blog after blog on DB posting day. Naturally, I leave a ton of comments, (which explains the return), but truth be told, rarely one as long as the comment I left the two of you, since I got so caught up in your tales of classes and delectable creations :)

Sweet Tooth said...

Wow! I love the height of the portion. This is what I would love to eat too! I always end up with "flat" versions because I am too timid to go all the way - perfect!

kellypea said...

I enjoyed this month's challenge, too. Even though I've been making lasagne for years, it's always fun to try something new, isn't it? We loved the flavors of this. Your layers of pasta came out so beautifully -- nice job!

katskitchen said...

Nice job on the challenge! I wasn't able to participate in March's challenge but hope I get a chance to make my own homemade noodles eventually!

jane of many trades said...

your lasagna looks great! even though i didn't use the ragout sauce, i understand what you are saying about the rich but light texture. it must have been the bechamel and the fresh pasta together.

jane of many trades said...

growing the mushrooms is real easy-many gardening catalogs and seed catalogs sell the kits. all you do is water them and wait for them to sprout! there are many types to try, portobellos, white buttons, shiitake and oyster as well as others. no work required!