I, for one, was very exited to make this month Daring Bakers challenge. Not only do I have far too much time on my hands (curse you, unemployment!) and not only was I thrilled to have a new pasta dish to make everyone eat, but there was the enjoyable fact that I've kind of always wanted to make my own pasta. My camera, on the other hand, apparently was a little over-excited because when I turned her on, she whirred to life and then flickered out.
Broken? No, not really. Just refusing to work. I wasn't even concerned because I knew it would be back in order before all the lasagne was eaten.
Oh, what a fool I was. I'm glad I took a couple of cell phone pictures because, seriously, this did not stick around very long. And on that note, I would like to apologize for the fact that my pictures of this are so very, very bad.
It isn't a very good camera phone. But it is a very good recipe!
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 a delicious, amazing meal of multiple steps. I did a large chunk of it at about four or five in the morning, but I wouldn't suggest that. Unless you, like me, are having some insomnia issues and figure that hand-rolling some pasta out is the ultimate cure.
Step One: Make The Spinach Pasta
2 jumbo eggs
10 ounces fresh spinach, rinsed dry, and finely chopped
3&1/2 cups all purpose flour
"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."
My pasta? Did not want to behave. I presume it was because my eggs were simply large, so I chucked in an extra one. And you know what? This really did help.
"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."
At first, I thought this would not work. At first, I thought I had done something wrong. At second, I cursed that extra egg. And finally, I held the green dough in my hands and said "oh! alive! I get it!" and giggled happily, wrapped my dough in foil, and watched a movie.
"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."
All I can say is I have no doubt, at all, that Enza's housekeeper has probably the best guns at the gun show because oh my goodness, this was intense. I don't own a rolling pin, but I do have wine bottles! So I used one of those. I sprinkled some flour on the counter and set to work using little bits at a time. Limited space and all.
I was actually really pleased with how this worked out, but was terribly concerned that I didn't have my pasta thin enough. I had a drying rack set up that that held all my pasta. It looked like real, honest to goodness pasta. And on some level, I thought this might be victory enough.
Thankfully, it also tasted like awesomeness in my mouth. So. I didn't have to settle.
Step Two: Make White Sauce
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 tablespoons all purpose unbleached flour
2 2/3 cups 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.
* I didn't have nutmeg, but I did have this cinnamon/nutmeg/christmassy spice that I used instead. I also added a dash of dill. I like dill. And I like this sauce. And I like that this is the first time I didn't freak out over the roux and do it the "mix butter and flour together by itself and then sprinkle in towards the end" thing that I like to do. I like doing it that way, but doing it this way was exciting.
Step Three: Making the ragu.
I opted to use my own pasta sauce recipe, that is based off of (what else?) a Jamie Oliver recipe. Oh, be still my beating heart.
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely sliced
1 can of whole tomatoes
1 can of diced tomatoes with basil and onions
courgettes, sliced and chopped
First I cooked some onion and garlic in the oil, then chucked in everything else. I let this simmer for about a half hour, drizzled a litle balsamic in, and later added:
chicken, mushrooms, a little more garlic - all cooked and delightfully seasoned
and allowed to reduce. Holy mother of pasta, this was amazing.
You can find the actual Jamie recipe here.
Step Four: Making the actual lasagne.
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."
This was sort of amazing.
I was concerned about my pasta being too thick, so I was very careful about the noodles and exactly which ones I used. As it turned out, it worked out wonderfully.
Also, I am now a hero to my people. (hero to my stomach?)
Also, I feel like I wrote this whole entry in a very odd way. I apologize. I am sick. I have some meds in my system and sort of feel like cotton. It really is entirely my bad. Still, I didn't want to be late.