Oh god, so good. SO. DAMN. GOOD.
This is not the first time I've made my own lasagna, but this was the first time that I had a real, honest-to-god hand-crank pasta maker. (you'll note that I say that as if these are rare and hard to find. although, to be fair, this was a brilliant find at Village Discount. well played, me. and excellent addition.)
Add in a bechamel sauce that is gratifyingly simple and a ragu recipe that I've been tinkering with and, quite frankly, would confidently call "nailed", and then some sweet Italian sausage and Italian cheeses? Blammo. Victory.
Now, none of this is as hard as you think and, technically, you don't really need the pasta maker. But I'd suggest it, if you'd like to make your own pasta more than just once or twice, that you go ahead and get one of these magical items. Even if it isn't from a thrift store, it's not expensive. And as nice as those electric ones are, they don't exactly make large sheets. Get both!
I am not paid by pasta makers.
For the spinach lasagna pasta, I used a recipe from an old Daring Bakers challenge - modified slightly for my needs, but essentially the same. All you need is...
- two jumbo eggs (I needed four large, but I had a lot of spinach involved, last time I used three eggs and it was fine.)
- ten ounces fresh spinach, rinsed and chopped finely
- three and a half cups of flour
Have a large clean surface. I put a large cutting board down on my counter and then heaped the flour there, made a large well in the circle. Add the eggs and the spinach and then mix them together, slowly pulling flour in as you stir. It'll be a rough mess for a while, but after you've got it all mixed in - start kneading and it will come together and be smooth and elastic. Knead for about three minutes. Your aim is to have the dough, when held in a ball in your hands, feel alive.
Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and leave on the counter at room temp for 30 minutes to 3 hours. I suggest going more towards the hours, it gives it more time to do...whatever exactly it's doing in there.
Follow the instructions on your machine how to roll out the pasta - mine you just want to lightly flour a surface and a bit of the dough, then roll it through. Start at either the 1 or 2 setting, then go on down to 5 or 6, depending on how thin you'd like your noodles to be.
Then boil the noodles - in batches of about four at a time - in salted water. You'll want to have them in the water for two minutes if fresh, but for 4 - 6 if dried first. Put them in a bowl of cold water after, then pat them off so they are dry and use in your lasagna dish.
The sauce! Oh, this sauce. The bechamel is simple.
- 4 TBS butter
- 4 TBS flour
- 2 2/3 cup milk
- ground nutmeg, to taste (I used a teaspoon or so)
Melt the butter in a saucepan and sprinkle flour over it, then whisk until smooth and then keep stirring for three minutes. You're forming a delicious little roux. Don't worry, it's easier than you think it is.
Now, pour in the milk, slowly, whisking continually. Bring to a simmer and stir for three or four minutes - the mixture will thicken and you can cook it for another five minutes. Season with salt and pepper and nutmeg (to taste).
Next up, the delicious ragu!
This is easy as well and you can customize it as much as you like. I made a sausage version and vegetarian version, simply by cooking up some Sweet Italian sausage in a different pan and sprinkling it in my meat-version.
This really is a fantastic sauce.
No, really. Do it.
- 1 tin of diced tomato
- 1 small tin of tomato paste
- 1 small onion, diced
- 4 cloves of garlic, diced
- 1 bell pepper, diced
- sliced mushrooms (I probably used about 3/4 cup)
- basil, pepper, salt
- 2 TBS balsamic vinegar
- olive oil
What you want to do...
Splash some oil, basil, onion, and garlic in the bottom of a saucepan and cook for a few minutes, stirring occasionally, until softened. Add in mushrooms and bell pepper, with a touch of butter, and cook for five minutes. Add in the tomato tins (both paste and diced) and stir. Add the balsamic and seasonings, then top with a lid and let simmer and reduce. It took about twenty minutes.
On to the delicious assemblage.
This was the vegetarian version and, also, IT IS AMAZING.
You'll need all the other ingredients, as well as
- grated Parmesan cheese (one package)
- a meat, if using, cooked and prepared to add with the ragu or use as desired in layers
I drizzled some oil on the bottom of a baking dish, then a layer of the pasta noodles. Spoon a thin layer of the white sauce over the noodles, followed by a thin layer of the red sauce. I then sprinkled some crumbled sausage on the top, but that was my choice - it's still super delicious even without the meat. Vegetarians love it! Then sprinkle cheese on top. Add another layer of noodles and repeat.
When you finish layering, you'll want to sprinkle the top of whole thing with cheese.
Cover the dish with foil and bake for 40 minutes at 375 F. Then remove the foil and cook for another 15 minutes, until the cheese is lightly browned. A knife inserted into the middle will come out hot. Let the dish rest for a few minutes so it settles more and then, slice and dig in.