March was a very big month in Daring Bakers land. The highly anticipated new website finally went live, and it’s a beauty. Even if you’re not a Daring Baker, there is still lots that will take your fancy, so go and check it out. There is also a brand new set of icons, you can see the sassy ‘Miss Measure’ over in my sidebar. Another addition to the Daring Kitchen community was announced – The Daring Cooks, and I am looking forward to hearing more about that and participating soon. And last but not least, this month’s challenge once again found me trying something I’d never done before – making fresh pasta.
The March challenge consisted of:
– Making fresh spinach egg pasta (pasta verde)
– Making béchamel (white sauce)
– Making a ragu
– Assembling the lasagne
I have to say, I really liked this challenge. I found kneading the pasta to be almost like a cardio workout, but rolling it (with the help of a pasta machine) was quite relaxing, and with all the separate elements prepared in advance, assembling the lasagne was a breeze. Even though I followed the pasta recipe to the letter, I found that I needed to add another egg but this helped immensely and I was very happy with the result. I definitely want to try making ravioli in the future as well, and experiment with other pasta flavours, though the spinach used here was delicious.
I used an alternate recipe for the ragu, using veal and pork that we had minced ourselves using the mincer attachment for our stand mixer. It was delicious and meaty, and after simmering for a few hours, it had a great depth of flavour. The béchamel recipe given was also very easy to prepare, though we had the option to use our own. On the five-hour plane trip to Perth earlier this month, I was watching the cooking channel and heard a tip about infusing the milk with some garlic and onion before adding it to the butter and flour mixture, which could give it a very interesting flavour, and may be something I’ll try in the future.
To make things a bit easier, I split the process up – making the sauce one day, and then making the pasta, béchamel and assembling it the next. The whole process was quite time consuming but I would have to say it was completely worth it. The sauce can even be made in advance and frozen which cuts down the preparation time significantly.
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
Spinach Egg Pasta (Pasta Verde)
• 2 jumbo eggs (I found that I needed 3)
• 300g fresh spinach, rinsed, dried and finely chopped
• 3 ½ cups unbleached plain flour
• 60g unsalted butter
• 60g unbleached plain flour
• 2 2/3 cup (570ml) milk
• Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
• Freshly grated nutmeg, to taste
• 1 tablespoon olive oil
• 1 large onion, finely chopped
• 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
• 800g mixed beef and veal mince
• 3 x 400g cans chopped tomatoes
• 2 x jars tomato paste
• ¾ cup red wine
• Finely chopped rosemary, to taste
• Fresh red chilli, finely sliced, to taste (optional)
• ¼ cup olive oil
• Salt and pepper, to taste
• 1 cup (or more) freshly grated Parmigano Reggiano
1. To make the ragu, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large fry pan until hot. Add the onion and garlic and fry, stirring, until slightly browned. Add about 1/3 of the mince and continue to cook until mince is well browned. Transfer to a large saucepan. Cook the next 1/3 of the mince, transfer to a bowl and repeat for the last third.
2. Set the saucepan with mince over the heat, add tomatoes, tomato paste, red wine, olive oil, rosemary, chilli (if using), salt and pepper. Stir until it reaches the boil. Turn the heat to low and simmer for 2-3 hours.
3. To make the pasta, mound the flour in the center of your work area and make a well in the middle. Add the eggs and spinach, and use a wooden spoon to beat them together. Gradually start incorporating flour from the sides of the well into the liquid. Use a pastry scraper to keep the liquids from running off and to incorporate the last of the flour into the dough. It should look like a rough, messy lump.
4. Start kneading the dough, using the scraper to scoop up any unruly pieces. Once it becomes a cohesive mass, knead for about 3 minutes. It should be elastic and a little sticky. If it is too sticky, knead in a few more tablespoons of flour. Continue kneading for about 10 minutes, or until the dough becomes smooth, satiny and very elastic. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let it relax at room temperature for 30 minutes – 3 hours.
5. Cut off about a quarter of the dough, and re-wrap the rest to prevent it from drying out. Roll into a roughly long and thin rectangular shape. Set your pasta machine to its thickest setting and roll the dough through the machine. Continue rolling through each setting, cutting the dough into sections if it becomes too difficult to handle, until it becomes as thin as possible without tearing. You should be able to see your hand through the dough.
6. Repeat with remaining dough, and either use immediately or dry at room temperature and store in a sealed container or plastic bag for 1 day.
7. To make the béchamel sauce, melt the butter in a medium sized saucepan over medium heat. Sift in the flour and whisk until smooth, stirring without stopping for at least one minute. Whisk in the milk a little at a time. Bring to a slow simmer, and stir for 3-4 minutes or until the sauce thickens. Season with salt, pepper and a hint of nutmeg.
8. To assemble the lasagne, have all ingredients on hand. Preheat the oven to 180ºC (350ºF). Layer the ingredients repeating in this order – pasta sheets, béchamel, ragu, Parmigano Reggiano, and finishing with a layer of pasta, béchamel, cheese, salt and pepper. Cover the baking dish with foil, taking care not to let it touch the top of the lasagne. Bake for 40 minutes or until almost heated through. Remove the foil and bake for another 10 minutes. When cooked, turn the oven off and let the lasagne rest inside for a further 10 minutes, then serve. This is not a solid lasagne but one that slips a bit when cut and served.