March was a big month for the Daring Bakers. Our new, extremely awesome, website was launched, complete with cute new logos. Check it out here: http://thedaringkitchen.com
Standard blurb-o'-da-month: 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.
The challenge for March was to make lasagna. Including the pasta. By hand. DUN DUN DUN. The other components required were a ragu and a bechamel sauce. But I didn't care about those aspects much. Because I was going to have make pasta. WITH MY HANDS.
So I recruited Joe to help me because as I've mentioned before, I have the upper body strength of a stick insect. And I am without a pasta maker. Without his help I would've been pounding the dough hysterically with a rolling pin for hours whilst crying. The end results probably would've been a kind of lasagna sandwich with one inch pasta slices with 9 lbs of ragu sandwiched in between.
Luckily, this was not the case. To make the challenge easier, we broke the recipe into parts and made the ragu a few days ahead of the pasta. This shaved off a few hours off the pasta making day, which probably save my sanity. Joe played a big role in the ragu too, since I've never made ragu because um, I don't meat. I wasn't sure how to go about making a vegetarian ragu and Joe, I'm told, makes an excellent meat ragu. He's used to veggifying dishes for me so he guided my efforts and the end result was excellent. Here's what we did:
Joe's Vegetable Ragu
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 small eggplant
1 large carrot
3 small onions
3 ribs celery
5 garlic cloves
1 can (7 oz) tomato paste
1 cup TVP
1 cup vermouth
1 Tbsp Vegetable bouillon paste (such as Better than Bouillon)
2 Parmesan cheese rinds
1 Tbsp Vinegar
Nutmeg to taste
Salt and pepper to taste
DIRECTIONS:Pour the TVP in a bowl and cover with water to rehydrate. Finely dice the mushrooms. Melt butter to a medium stock pot and melt over high heat. Add olive oil. Add mushrooms and cook until mushrooms are brown and water has cooked out. Finely dice eggplant and add to mushrooms, cooking until soft and brown. Dice the carrot, onions, celery and garlic and add to pot, cooking until soft. Add tomato paste and TVP. Add water to fill pot, and then add cheese rinds and bouillon. Let cook over medium low heat until most of the water has cooked out and mixture is very thick, about 2 hours. Remove cheese rinds. Add vinegar and nutmeg. Add salt and pepper to taste. Turn off heat. Chop parsley and add to finished mixture.
Mushrooms in the pot!
Mushrooms + carrots + onions + celery, etc.
After adding the water
After cooking out, the ragu should look something like this. Nice and thick.
Okay, it's hard to take an appetizing picture of ragu. Ragu is delicious but not pretty. BJ saw it and said, "Wow. Um. That looks like something you would find in the woods. And not the good kind of finding stuff in the woods." I'd like to pose the question to the internet: what is the "good kind of finding stuff in woods"? Is there some sort of male secret society that treasure hunts in the woods? Living with boys boggles my minds.
So, the pasta. The pasta wasn't so bad to make, though I'm glad I did have Joe to help out with the rolling. I am familiar with handmade pasta since I was spoiled by having a foodie father who made pasta and bread by hand pretty regularly when I was growing up. Granted, my dad has a pasta machine. But I guess I did have a pasta maker. His name is Joe.
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 lasagna, 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 lasagna 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.
Pile o' fresh basil.
The Joe 3000 Model pasta maker.
I did have to modify the pasta recipe a bit for it to come together, I added an egg and 3 Tbsp of water because my dough was still dry, dry, dry. You could probably just add 2 extra eggs if you had the same problem. I also used basil instead of spinach for my greens since our AeroGrow was overflowing with basil. In the end product you can't really taste it so use what you have around.
The bechamel was probably the easiest aspect of the dish, it came together pretty quickly with no problem. I was hesitant to make it because I generally don't like rich white sauces. But Joe convinced me that it would be good and it was, I really liked it and it worked really well in the overall product. This lasagna didn't call for a gooey cheese of any kind and the bechamel added a similar creamy richness without being overwhelming. YUM.
4 tablespoons (2 ounces/60g) unsalted butter
4 tablespoons (2 ounces/60g) all purpose unbleached (plain) flour, organic stone ground preferred
2&2/3 cups (approx 570ml) 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.------
No pictures of the bechamel, it's not that pretty. And I forgot.
WHEW. Did you get all that? So, to assemble: preheat oven to 350. Grease baking dish. Spread a layer of bechamel over the bottom of the pan. Layer cooked pasta noodles over bechamel. Spread a layer of ragu, bechamel and grated parmesan over the pasta. Repeat layers, ending the last pasta layer with a generous helping of bechamel and more cheese. Place in the oven, cover with foil, and bake for about 40 minutes. Remove foil and brown cheese for about 10 more minutes.
I can how good a dish is fairly well by how fast the three of us go through it and this was gone in 24 hours. So two thumbs up indeed. Not sure if I would make it again because it is very labor intensive and I normally don't have all of the ingredients on hand. But it was worth the effort at least this one time. I'm glad I made pasta by hand finally though if I did it again, I'd want a pasta machine to let my boyfriend off the hook.
I'm actually craving this right now so maybe I will make it again, though probably with store bought noodles. Because I'm lazy, okay? Alright, good.
Looking forward to April's challenge!