Daring Baker’s Challenge: Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna
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.
Get your arms ready, and while you’re at it, charge up those brain-cell batteries. This challenge is a fierce one, but the outcome is undeniably, wonderful!
The challenge is three-fold, beginning with the hand-rolled spinach lasagne, and the preparations of a bechamel and a ragu sauce. The beauty of this dish is that it can be prepped and completed in stages. I opted to make my ragu sauce one day, the lasagne noodles and bechamel another, while compiling them together on day three. The flavors melded beautifully, and even upon a repeat dinner, the warm-up results were exceptional. This has now become our family’s favorite lasagne sauce and will replace a heavier tomato sauce recipe that has been our favored for almost 35 years.
Don’t be dismayed by the length or the steps of this item. You’ll be thanking Mary, Melinda, Enza and especially, Lynne Rossetto, for years to come. I promise. The following is my take on their exquisite offering. My thanks to all who are responsible for this lovely, quite challenging surprise. It was, and is, magnificent!
Spinach Egg Pasta (Pasta Verde)
This makes plenty of noodles, and in my case, gave me a reserve for another bake day.
- 2 jumbo eggs (each weighing approximately 60 grams) … I used room-temp eggs fresh from market
- 10 ounces (300 grams) fresh spinach, rinsed, dried and finely chopped … I used my mini food processor
- 3 1/2 cups (14 ounces/400 grams) all-purpose unbleached flour … King Arthur A-P was my choice
You’ll need a bit of room for this effort, clear and clean a counter offering at least 24 to 30 inches of depth and 30 to 36 inches of width. Grab a pastry scraper and a wooden spoon and a large rolling pin. (If you’re lucky enough to own a pasta maker attachment, ‘go for it!’ just don’t let on that you had help. ;)
Mound flour, and within the center , carve out a well (not unlike the technique used in biscuit making), add eggs and spinach . Use your spoon to break the egg yolks and carefully swirl the eggs to mix, lightly. Gradually work to incorporate small scrapings of flour from the sides of the well, working into the liquid , knowing that as you work the sides of the well will collapse. Using your pastry scraper to corral the liquids and continue working flour-to- spinach-to-egg. Fret not, this is going to look rather messy, rough and lumpy; things will change, I promise. ;)
Next comes the kneading, and please do this by hand just so you can get the real feel of the dough. Initially, knead the mass for three minutes; It’s coming together, isn’t it? Yep! Its consistency should be elastic and a little sticky, just keep working the remnants of your flour into the ball. If it becomes too sticky to move easily, knead in a tablespoon of flour at a time. Be judicious when adding additional flour from the bin, less flour added will mean a more tender pasta, at end, but having said this, by all means: Do use additional flour if needed. Continue kneading for 10-12 minutes. You will note that the mass has now become satiny, smooth and very elastic. Whatever you do, please DO NOT SHORTCUT THE KNEADING. This is by far the most crucial note in the pasta making. Once the kneading is complete, wrap the dough in plastic wrap and allow it to relax at room temp for 30 minutes to 3 hours. (I allowed mine to rest for 1 1/2 hours as I prepared and cooled by bechamel sauce.)
STRETCH & THINNING (process to rolling & cutting of pasta):
Unwrap and cut a piece of dough (approximately 1/4 of the mass), and form it into a ball; working with a dusted (floured) rolling pin and a floured surface, begin the process of ‘pushing’ the dough off of the pin and stretching and turning it as you go. (Use one hand to push the roller, the other to pull.) Resist trying to roll this as you would a pie crust, our goal is to achieve the thinnest possible dough with a rectangular shape, using the pin and our hands. DO NOT OVERWORK THE DOUGH! You will be cutting these into 4 x 8 inches (10 x 20 cm). Enza tell us that the transparency is a crucial element in this dough making. I struggled in my initial undertaking and tore portions of my dough, but by the time I had worked into my second section of dough I was on to a technique. You will be too, and if you are confused by my instructions, by all means, take a moment to Google for some techniques assistance (video clips and written). They are out there, and plentiful, and most likely, much clearer than my words.
I used a regular school-house ruler to sections my pieces of dough, cutting them with a bench knife. As you can see from my photo, they were somewhat irregular and a bit on the thick side. After all of the noodles were cut, I dried them on my little indoor clothes drying rack. …..
Bechamel (white sauce…DIVINE)
- 4 tablespoons (2 ounces/60g) unsalted butter
- 4 tablespoons (2 ounces/60g) all purpose unbleached flour
- 2 2/3 cups (appox 570 ml) milk I used 1 1/3 cup milk + 1 cup half-and-half*
- salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- Freshly grated nutmeg to taste (it’s illegal to use that stuff that’s been in the jar, ground in 1982 ;))
In a medium-sized saucepan, melt butter over low-to-medium heat. adding flour gradually, whisking until smooth, but continuing to stir WITHOUT STOPPING for about three minutes. Slowly add milk, being sure that you continue with the stirring to achieve a smooth, velvet-like silkiness. Once the milk is incorporated, bring mixture to a slow simmer and cook until sauce thickens. CAUTION: Don’t rush this process! I cooked my white sauce for 12-15 mins., opting to season it upon completion. Don’t forget to add the hint of nutmeg. (After my sauce had cooled, overnight in the fridge, I tasted it again and opted for a second addition of nutmeg.)
Country Style Ragu (Ragu alla Contadina)
This recipe made only enough for one lasagne … as noted earlier, I had addional pasta left from the making. (I chose to freeze these for a future bake.)
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (45 ml)
- 2 ounces/60 g pancetta, finely chopped (yeah, it is pricey…but do it!)
- 1 medium onion, minced, I used a sweet yellow onion
- 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, hangingtender, or boneless chuck blade or chuck center cut (in order of preference) My option was the beef skirt steak, tenderized by my butcher
- 1 ounce/30g thinly sliced Prosciutto di Parma (pricey, but YOU are soooo worth it!)
- 2/3 cup (5 ounces/160ml) dry red wine, I used a Chianti, Gabbiano 2007; I owe you a disclaimer here, I am CLUELESS when it comes to wine….hey, what can I say? If it ain’t coffee, I’m ignorant… ;)
- 1 1/2 cups (12 ounces/375ml) chicken or beef stock homemade….recipe to follow*
- 2 cups (16 ounces/500ml) milk, I opted for 1 cup milk, 1 cup half-and-half
- 3 canned plum tomatoes, drained, I used 5 fresh Capriana’s
- salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Coarsely grind meats, either by hand or with a food processor (my choice was to hand trim and cut my meats into small morsels), but hold the pancetta to the side, but do be sure to dice it as well. Mince onion, celery and carrots. Process tomatoes in food processor, or cut and smash in a bowl … you’ll want them basically pulverized, but separated from the other veggies.
Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat, add pancetta along with minced vegetables and saute, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon. Cook until the onions show transparency. Add pancetta and saute stirring frequently with a wooden spoon, approximately 10 minutes. Stir meats into the pan and slowly brown over medium heat. Initially the meats will give off a liquid and turn a dull grey color, but as the liquid evaporates and the browning begins you will need to scoop under the meats turning the mass to protect the glaze that is building. Continue cooking your base until the meats turn a deep brown. Drain the contents into a colander and strain over a large glass bowl, reserving the renderings. Return these drippings to a skillet and simmer. Add the wine, lower your heat and allow until the wine begins to bubble slightly. Continue stirring and cooking until wine reduction is 50 %. Now begin adding your broth into the wine sauce at 1/2 cup increments, allowing each addition to cook for ten minutes. When you are to your last portion of broth, add the milk mixture and stir to combine all juices. Adjust the heat and allow sauce to bubble slightly. Partially cover the pot, but check back frequently for any sticking that might occur, reduce heat if necessary. Cook the rendering/wine/milk sauce for one hour.
At the end of the hour, pour the contents of the skillet into a medium stockpot, including the vegetable mix. Add the crushed tomatoes. Cook, uncovered for several hours at a very slow simmer. NOTE: This is where I veered away from the instructions completely. The initial recipe says to cook the final sauce-makings for 45 minutes. I chose to reduce my sauce and allow the flavors to meld gradually.
When sauce is completed it should resemble a very thick, meaty stew.
Preheat oven to 280 degrees for a room temp bake, if you are baking a refrigerated lasagne I would increase the oven temp to 300 degrees. Completed bake time for my room-temp lasagne was 65 minutes.
And…here are the directions used to compile my dish: they do vary a bit from those given in the challenge, but not much:
BEFORE assembling the lasagne dish, boil your noodles in salted water for 2 to 4 minutes, allowing them to become tender. Fully drain the water away before you begin the assembly.
Lightly oil a baking dish (I opted for a 9 x 9 ceramic, Le Creuset). Begin by spooning a light layer of bechamel sauce, followed by a layer of noodles (overlap them a bit to seal your layer), and then add a light layer of ragu. Finish this layering with a sprinkling of your favorite Romano, Parmesan cheese* (about two tablespoons per layer) go lightly on the cheese, though; the beauty of this dish comes from the melding of the bechamel and ragu sauces.
Continue layering for three to four layers, depending upon the depth of your baking dish. Finish the completed dish with a more generous layer of cheese, perhaps 3 to 4 tablespoons.
* My choice of cheese for this bake was a Fulvi Pecorino Romano.
I used the following recipe to create my beef broth. It is a compilation devised from items available within my kitchen. The broth was cooked on a slow simmer for the better part of a full day, cooled, skimmed, and used in the making of my ragu sauce.
*Homemade Beef Broth
- 2 lbs. chuck roast (cut into six large pieces of meat)
- 2 tablespoons canola oil
- 1 medium yellow onion, minced
- 1 large celery stalk, minced
- 1 medium carrot, minced
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 quarts water
- salt and fresh ground peppercorns, to season
- 2 large garlic cloves, minced
- 1 medium-sized potato cut into large chunks
Heat oil in a medium sauce pan over medium heat. Add onion, celery and carrot and saute until onions become transparent; add garlic and continue to braise for another 3 to 4 minutes. Pour water into pan, add meat, potato, bay leaves and one teaspoons Kosher salt and a half teaspoon of cracked, fresh ground black pepper. Cover stockpot and allow this to cook for a full day on low heat. Check, stir from time to time and within the final two hours of cooking, remove lid from pan and allow evaporation to continue.
Pour completed item into a large bowl and remove meat, potatoes and vegetables. Strain the liquid, removing all tidbits of residue. (Serve this item for supper alongside some cornbread or another crusty loaf.) Cool the broth completely before storing or using in the above recipe.