This month’s Daring Bakers challenge was very different to the usual challenges we’ve had in the past. This time the challenge was not really the baking but more learning a technique – of pasta making. I love making homemade pasta ever since my in-laws bought me a pasta machine for my birthday last summer.
The machine has been used quite a few times but not as much as I would like to. Good pasta takes time and effort and a lot of muscle power! So, often I succumb to the lack of time and for the sake of convenience grab the store-bought stuff instead. This challenge reminded me that homemade pasta does indeed justify the effort and time and I have to use my machine more often.
The challenge was to make a classic – Lasagne Verdi al Forno or Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna, a gorgeous region known for the wealth of its edible riches and is quite appropriately known as the food valley of Italy. Prosciutto di Parma, Parmigiano Reggiano, Aceto balsamico are just a few of the world famous food treasures that come from this region.
It’s the type of food both Tom and I simply adore and have often traveled to this region to indulge not only in the exceptional food and wine but also the breathtaking landscape.
I have made lasagna at home several times, often with store-bought pasta but a few times with homemade pasta too. We like our pasta thin and the ragu chunky. I used my food processor to bring the dough together, but my arms to do the kneading and the pasta machine to press the pasta as thin as possible. The ragu is slightly modified as we do not like celery and prefer using just beef and pork for a full bodied strong flavor. The meat was not minced but instead cut into tiny cubes to give a nice chunky sauce. The recipe below is my version of the challenge with a few useful pasta making tips.
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 (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
Printable version of recipe here
10 quarts (9 liters) salted water
1 recipe Spinach Pasta cut for lasagna (see recipe Pasta Verde-Spinach Egg Pasta below)
1 recipe Béchamel Sauce (see recipe below Béchamel below)
1 recipe Country Style Ragu (see recipe Chunky Country Style Ragu - Ragu alla Contadina below)
1 cup (4 ounces/125g) freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
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
- 31/2 cups (14 ounces/400g) all purpose unbleached (plain) flour (organic stone ground preferred)
Mixing the Dough in a Food Processor:
Place flour, eggs and spinach in the food processor and pulse until the dough resembles breadcrumbs, then tip the mixture onto your work surface and knead the dough together into one lump, using your hands. 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. You really need to work it with your hands to develop the gluten in the flour, otherwise your pasta will be limp and soft when you cook it, instead of springy and al dente. 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.
There is no special method to kneading. It just has to be whacked about a bit with your hands. Squash it, pull it, stretch it, squash it again then do the whole process again! It is a lot of hard work! When your pasta starts to feel smooth and silky instead of rough and floury that's when you stop. All you now need to do is wrap it in plastic wrap and put it in the fridge to rest for at least half an hour before you use it. The plastic wrap should cover the entire dough well or it will dry out and go crusty round the edges.
Stretching and Thinning Using a Pasta Machine:
Clamp your machine firmly on a clean long working surface. Divide the dough into smaller portions, about the size of an orange, then wrap each individual ball in plastic wrap. Dust the work surface generously with flour. Remove the plastic wrap from one of the dough balls and using your fingertips press it flat.
Set the pasta machine at its widest setting and roll the lump of pasta dough through it. Lightly dust the pasta with flour if it sticks at all. Click the machine down a setting and roll the pasta dough through again. Fold the pasta in half, click the pasta machine back up to the widest setting and roll the dough through again. Repeat this process about five or six times. In the beginning it might seem like you are getting nowhere but in fact what you are doing is working the dough and once you have folded it and pressed it through the rollers a few times, you will straight away feel the difference. Your pasta will be smooth as silk!
After you have gone through this process it is time to roll the dough out properly. Work it through all the settings on the machine, from the widest down to around the narrowest. Every time you run it though the machine you should lightly dust both sides of the pasta with a little flour. When you have gotten down to the narrowest setting fold the pasta in half lengthwise, then in half again, then in half again until you have a square-ish piece of dough. Turn it 90 degrees and feed it through the machine at the widest setting. This will give you a tidy sheet of pasta. As you roll it down through the settings for the last time, you should end up with a lovely rectangular silky sheet of dough with straight sides. Should the dough look a little cracked at the edges, fold it in half just once, click the machine back two settings and feed it through again. For lasagna, the sheet should be so thin that you can clearly see your hand through it and see colors. Cut into rectangles about 4 by 8 inches (10 x 20 cm).
Pasta dries very quickly, so while you are working the dough with the other balls, do not leave any of your pasta uncovered for more than a minute or two before cutting or shaping it. You can lay over a damp clean tea towel which will stop it from drying.
I did not dry the pasta and used it fresh for the lasagna.
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
- 22/3 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.
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, finely chopped
- 1 leek, finely chopped
- 1 small carrot, finely chopped
- 8 ounces/250 pork loin, trimmed of fat, very finely cubed
- 8 ounces/250g beef skirt steak, hanging tender, or boneless chuck blade or chuck center cut, very finely cubed
- 1 ounce/30g thinly sliced Prosciutto di Parma, finely chopped
- 2/3 cup (5 ounces/160ml) dry red wine
- 1 1/2 cups (12 ounces/375ml) chicken or beef stock (homemade if possible)
- 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.
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 chopped vegetables and sauté, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon, 10 minutes, or until the onions barely begin to color.
Stir the cubed meat and chopped Prosciutto 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, re-warmed 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 liters) 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 lasagna 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 Lasagna:
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 11/2 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 Lasagna:
Cover the baking dish lightly with foil, taking care not to let it touch the top of the lasagna. 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 lasagna rest for about 10 minutes. Then serve. This is not a solid lasagna, but a moist one that slips a bit when it is cut and served.
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 lasagna 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.
Food Guide Tips:
Yup it really is a shame that I do not use the machine as often as I should because this tasted just incredible. The machine has been nicely packed and is going to be shipped off to our new home across the seas (soon folks! I’ll tell you soon promise!). I did not dry out the pasta – I rarely do – and use it as soon as it was pressed to line the form. The entire dish was just as we like it – flavorful and aromatic, fruity yet full-bodied. I had a hard time keeping the last bit for the pictures!
Would I make this again?
Yes and will make it a point to always use fresh pasta!
What did I learn from this challenge?
That I really should always try and make fresh pasta with my machine.
More lasagna ideas from WFLH:
|Ricotta Pesto & Mushroom Lasagne||Spinach and Chicken Lasagna|
All photographs and written content on What's For Lunch, Honey? © 2006-2009 Meeta Khurana unless otherwise indicated. | All rights reserved | Please Ask First