When I saw that this month's Daring Bakers Challenge was a return to the savoury, I was quite happy. I was even more delighted in the fact that it was something that would take care of dinner and lunches for a couple of days. 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.
We've had an incredibly busy month, having just moved into our new condo this past week. Knowing that things would be getting crazier as the month went on, I completed the Daring Bakers Challenge quite early. Since we were only required to follow the pasta recipe verbatim, and were able to alter the fillings, I chose a sweet tomato sauce, a simple bechamel sauce and a mascarpone & ricotta mix to complete my lasagna.
I found the pasta quite simple to make, but I could have added a tad bit more flour as it was quite sticky when rolling out. I own a pasta maker, which made the whole process that much easier. Many of the Daring Bakers had to do it by hand. 'Respek' to them, as my arms were sore enough after kneading the dough for ten minutes; I can't imagine what they would have felt like after rolling the dough paper thin!
The sauce I made was basic, but very flavourful. Since spring has just arrived, garden fresh tomatoes are not available; I was forced to use the trusty canned variety. I simmered them in a pot with sauteed onions, garlic and carrots (to add a touch of sweetness). When the sauce got a bit thick, I added some fresh basil, and took my hand blender to it. And, of course, I tossed in a few swigs of a full bodied red wine at the end for good measure!
For the cheese portion, I mixed ricotta with a cup of mascarpone. I added an egg, fresh basil and salt & pepper. The bechamel sauce was made with an equal weight of butter to flour with a few cups of whole milk. I have to admit, I had quite a bit left over. If I was thinking properly, I would have made a nice cheese sauce from the rest, but I just tossed it.
Each layer of lasagna was glued with a generous helping of freshly grated parmesan cheese... yum!
I must say the lasagna went over quite well with family and friends. Although pasta is not something I make often, I would definitely revisit this recipe whenever the urge bites me!
Pasta Verde (Spinach Egg Pasta)
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)
Working by Hand:
A roomy work surface, 24 to 30 inches deep by 30 to 36 inches (60cm to 77cm deep by 60cm to 92cm). Any smooth surface will do, but marble cools dough slightly, making it less flexible than desired.
A pastry scraper and a small wooden spoon for blending the dough.
A wooden dowel-style rolling pin. In Italy, pasta makers use one about 35 inches long and 2 inches thick (89cm long and 5cm thick). The shorter American-style pin with handles at either end can be used, but the longer it is, the easier it is to roll the pasta.
Note: although it is not traditional, Enza has successfully made pasta with a marble rolling pin, and this can be substituted for the wooden pin, if you have one.
Plastic wrap to wrap the resting dough and to cover rolled-out pasta waiting to be filled. It protects the pasta from drying out too quickly.
A sharp chef’s knife for cutting pasta sheets.
Cloth-covered chair backs, broom handles, or specially designed pasta racks found in cookware shops for draping the pasta.
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.
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.