Daring Bakers Challenge: Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna

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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.

This challenge gave me some serious arm workout! I didn’t have a pasta roller so I rolled the lasagna sheets by hand. If I didn’t have my large silpat mat  to work on, I bet it would have taken me longer to roll those pasta thin.  But the end result got a two thumbs up from my husband. I only made a few tweaks on the recipe, particularly the Ragu. I used ground turkey meat and turkey italian sausage  and didn’t use prosciutto.  I assembled the pasta in a smaller baking dish (just enough for 4 people) so I ended up with a lot of leftover pasta sheets and ragu.  I froze some of the sheets, making sure I layer them with plastic (thanks Mary!) and the rest I made into ravioli (which also ended up in the freezer for future use).   Learning how to make my own lasagna prompted me to experiment in making ravioli using edible flowers(Boy, that Marigold (Calendula) and Viola next to my slice of lasagna sure was a dead give-away!) I will be posting photos of myCheck out my  Nasturtium Ravioli inspired by this challenge.  In the meantime, here is the recipe provided by the hosts:

Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna (Lasagne Verdi al Forno)
(Serves 8 to 10 as a first course, 6 to 8 as a main dish)

10 quarts (9 litres) salted water
1 recipe Spinach Pasta cut for lasagna (recipe below)
1 recipe Bechamel Sauce (recipe below)
1 recipe Country Style Ragu (recipe below)
1 cup (4 ounces/125g) freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano


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.

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#1 Spinach Egg Pasta (Pasta Verde) (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.

Bechamel Sauce

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.

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Country Style Ragu’ (Ragu alla Contadina) (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

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.

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» anna said: { Mar 27, 2009 - 12:03 }

Ooh, edible flower noodles? Great idea! Your lasagna looks great. This was such a yummy recipe!

» jo said: { Mar 27, 2009 - 08:03 }

Great job on your challenge and your lasagne looks really delicious. I do love the neat layers as well.

» Aparna said: { Mar 27, 2009 - 09:03 }

Arm workout apart, your lasagne looks very good. The orange flowers make a nice contrast in the picture.

» Sophie said: { Mar 27, 2009 - 09:03 }

It looks gorgeous, I’d like to see the ravioli too :) .

» Melissa said: { Mar 27, 2009 - 10:03 }

Lovely pictures. I love how tall your lasagna is!

» Lisa said: { Mar 27, 2009 - 12:03 }

Your lasagne looks like it came out of a magazine for down home italian nonna goodies! It looks so inviting and delicious! Great job – perfectly executed!

» stephchows said: { Mar 27, 2009 - 01:03 }

This looks and sounds amazing! I am totally going to make the pasta soon!

» Arlene said: { Mar 27, 2009 - 02:03 }

A wonderful-looking lasagna, and, I’m sure, a great tasting one. Very creative.

» JMom said: { Mar 27, 2009 - 03:03 }

I agree, this dish certainly gives you a workout! Lovely photos of a delicious looking lasagna :)

» Elyse said: { Mar 27, 2009 - 04:03 }

Maybe trainers should start recommending pasta rolling as a new workout technique! Your lasagna looks totally delicious–your hardwork seems to have truly paid off!

» Diana said: { Mar 27, 2009 - 09:03 }

Wow, this was a lot of work, you did an awesome job on this post and the spinach recipe.

» Foodie Froggy said: { Mar 28, 2009 - 03:03 }

Yes, rolling the pasta by hand is great against flabby arms, lol ! (I am not saying that you have flabby arms, I am speaking for myself, lol !). Great lasagne !
Anne

» Rosa said: { Mar 28, 2009 - 08:03 }

What scrumptious looking lasagne! Very well done!

Cheers,

Rosa

» lisaiscooking said: { Mar 28, 2009 - 10:03 }

This looks great! It sounds delicious with the turkey too!

» Manang said: { Mar 28, 2009 - 10:03 }

Great looking lasagna, and I am sure it tasted great too! I did not know marigold is edible as well (I knew nasturtium is). My SIL made lavender? or violet? jam before (I have not tasted it, though).

BTW, still waiting for your sans rival recipes. I might have questions to ask once you post those.

» virtual chef said: { Mar 28, 2009 - 11:03 }

manang: i am posting sans rival for lasang pinoy today. yum-yum! i made marigold rice and testing it for paella. it does make the dish yellow but certainly no “saffron” taste. i have lavender ricotta cheesecake chilling in the refrigerator.

» sweetiepetitti said: { Mar 28, 2009 - 11:03 }

Uh Oh, I missed the note on layering leftover pasta in plastic to freeze it…too late. But I agree, it was fabulous and a workout! My shoulders can feel it for sure. Your pictures are great, and I like the turkey substitutes. I made it on a Friday so no meat for Catholics, but I thought the original recipe was too much meat anyway. Great job!

» Lauren said: { Mar 28, 2009 - 12:03 }

Mmm, your lasagne looks amazing!! Beautiful job =D.

» lauren said: { Mar 28, 2009 - 04:03 }

great photo! i will be interested to see the ‘flower’ ravioli!

» Renee said: { Mar 28, 2009 - 04:03 }

Your lasagna looks delicious! Great job. I agree with the arm workout!

» asti said: { Mar 29, 2009 - 03:03 }

Love your photos! Stunning and very tempting! I had to restrain myself not to reach in and grab some. Well done!

» Angela @ A Spoonful of Sugar said: { Mar 29, 2009 - 03:03 }

Gorgeous photos! Congratulations on a totally yummy lasagne :d

» Tangled Noodle said: { Mar 29, 2009 - 07:03 }

So amazing! Your lasagna looks wonderful and I’m sure it was absolutely delicious.

» katie said: { Mar 30, 2009 - 11:03 }

Nice work! I rolled my pasta dough by hand as well. I couldn’t get it thin enough but it was still delicious and worth all the effort!

» Linsey said: { Mar 30, 2009 - 01:03 }

Lovely post…looks like you are having a lot of fun with all of your cooking challenges!

» virtual chef said: { Apr 2, 2009 - 04:04 }

thanks for stopping by everybody! we sure got a lot of arm exercise….(unless of course you have a pasta machine!) :)

elyse: i immediately imagine a hunky italian personal trainer after reading your comment…:)

sweetipettiti: i was glad i read Mary’s advice on how to store or i would have ended up with sticky noodles!

lauren: the nasturtium ravioli is posted here: http://www.cafenilson.com/2009/03/edible-flowers-nasturtium-ravioli/

» John (Eat4Fun) said: { Apr 11, 2009 - 09:04 }

Delicious looking lasagna! Excellent photos and write-up too!

» virtual chef said: { Apr 11, 2009 - 11:04 }

thank you! :) glad you stopped by…!


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