Friday, March 27, 2009

Daring Bakers: Lasagna

DB Lasagna

It's here! It's here, the March 2009 Daring Bakers Challenge is here!! Ok, I'm calm. That's just how I get at the beginning of each month when the new challenge is revealed.

DB Lasagna

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 Lasagna of Emilia-Romagna from The Splendid Table by Lynne Rossetto Kasper as the challenge.

DB: Lasagna

This challenge caused a lot of debate among the Daring Bakers. I think it was mostly to do with the fact that when people think of DBers, they think of sweet creations. However, since I have joined, I have noticed an increasing number of savory challenges and have welcomed them. As much as I love sweets once in a while, I prefer savory dishes over sweets almost any time. Also, I was really excited about making a pasta sauce from scratch. All winter I craved standing over a stove and cooking something for hours. It's the kind of cooking I look forward to all winter, but unfortunately (fortunately?) living in Southern California, you don't get many opportunities for that type of cooking. I was perfectly happy standing over a stove for four hours watching my bolognese come together.

Green sludge aka future bolognese:

My pasta making work station:
My work station

I chose to do a bolognese because it was made mostly with ingredients I had on hand. I am not a huge fan of Anne Burrell...actually I don't like her at all. I just don't understand what she means "cook the crap" out of something and all her grunts and arm pumps make me tired. However, I have to admit, this sauce is really good...however there is one thing which I note below. Anne suggests tasting and salting the sauce each time you add water. I definitely agree with her about tasting, but the salt I just can't get on board with. Lucky for me, it was one of those rare times when I actually followed instructions and so each time I added water, I tasted the sauce. Besides the initial stages, I did not have to add more salt. Remember that Top Chef episode when Jamie got sent home for salty celery? I liken this sauce to that. Even though you are adding water every so often, the sauce is reducing and the flavors get more concentrated. All I am saying is salt with caution. Also, the first time I attempted the sauce, my base ingredients came out looking green and tasting green. I threw them out (ugh, such a waste) and started over (after a quick trip to the store). The ingredients still looked green, but didn't taste green so I kept going. The sauce was fantastic.

Spinach dough all wrapped up:
Spinach Dough

Bolognese after almost four hours of simmering:

I thought the pasta came together quite easily. I was worried about rolling it thinly enough because I don't have a roller, but with some patience and a lot of space (my roommate was out of town), I got thin slices of noodles that I was happy with. I got four layers of lasagna for my 8x8 dish and still had some dough left over. I didn't really do anything creative with the leftover dough which is why you don't see it here. Even though it was a long process, this was one of my most fun challenges to date. I hope the other DBers had as good a time with it as I did and to see their creations visit the blogroll. Also, check out our new amazing site to find out how you can join the Daring Bakers or the new Daring Cooks!

Lasagna of Emilia-Romagna (Lasagna Verdi al Forno)
(Adapted from The Splendid Table: Recipes from Emilia-Romagna, the Heartland of Northern Italian Food)

Serves 4-6 main dish servings

Preparation Time: 15 minutes to assemble the lasgana and 40 minutes cooking time

1 recipe Spinach Pasta cut for lasagna (recipe follows)
1 recipe Bechamel Sauce (recipe follows)
1 recipe Bolognese sauce (recipe follows)
Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Working Ahead:
The bolognese and the béchamel sauce can be made up to three days ahead. The bolognese can also be frozen for up to one month. The pasta can be rolled out, cut and dried up to 24 hours before cooking. The assembled lasagna can wait at room temperature (20 degrees Celsius/68 degrees Fahrenheit) about 1 hour before baking. Do not refrigerate it before baking, as the topping of béchamel and cheese will overcook by the time the center is hot.

Assembling the Ingredients:
Have all the sauces, rewarmed gently over a medium heat, and the pasta at hand. Have a large perforated skimmer and a large bowl of cold water next to the stove. Spread a double thickness of paper towels over a large counter space. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius).

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 lasagna 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 Lasagna:
Spread a thin layer of béchamel over the bottom of the baking dish. Arrange a layer of overlapping sheets of pasta over the béchamel. Spread a thin layer of béchamel over the pasta, and then a thin layer of the bolognese. Top with another layer of pasta. Repeat the layers until all ingredients are used, finishing with béchamel sauce and topping with a generous dusting of Parmesan cheese.

Baking and Serving the Lasagna:
Cover the baking dish lightly with foil, taking care not to let it touch the top of the lasagna. 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 lasagna rest for about 10 minutes. Then serve.

Spinach Pasta

1 large egg
5 ounces fresh spinach, rinsed dry, and finely chopped
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

Equipment: A roomy work surface, 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. 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. (I used plastic hangers)

Mound the flour in the center of your work surface and make a well in the middle. Add the egg and spinach. Use a wooden spoon to beat together the egg 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. If the dough does not come together, add some room temperature water.

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.

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 colors. Cut into rectangles about 4 by 8 inches (10 x 20 cm).

Dry the pasta at room temperature and store in a sealed container or bag if not using right away.


4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 1/2 cups milk
Salt and pepper

Add the butter over medium-low heat. When the butter is half melted, add the flour and stir to combine. When the butter is completely melted, add the milk and cook for 5-10 minutes until the mixture has reached the desired thickness. Season with salt and pepper.

(Adapted from Anne Burrell)

1 onion, cut into 1-inch dice
2 small carrots, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 1/2 ribs celery, cut into 1-inch dice
4 cloves garlic
Extra-virgin olive oil for the pan
Kosher salt
1 1/2 pounds ground chuck, brisket or round or combination (I used chuck)
1 cup tomato paste
1 1/2 cups hearty red wine
1-2 bay leaves
1/2 bunch thyme, tied in a bundle

In a food processor, puree onion, carrots, celery, and garlic into a coarse paste. In a large pan over medium heat, coat pan with oil. Add the pureed vegetables and season generously with salt. Bring the pan to a medium-high heat and cook until all the water has evaporated and they become nice and brown, stirring frequently, about 15 to 20 minutes. Be patient, this is where the big flavors develop.

Add the ground beef and season again generously with salt. Brown the beef, cooking another 15 to 20 minutes.

Add the tomato paste and cook until brown about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the red wine. Cook until the wine has reduced by half, another 4 to 5 minutes.

Add water to the pan until the water is about 1 inch above the meat. Toss in the bay leaves and the bundle of thyme and stir to combine everything. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer, stirring occasionally. As the water evaporates you will gradually need to add more, about 2 to 3 cups at a time. Don't be shy about adding water during the cooking process, you can always cook it out. Stir and taste frequently. Season with salt, if needed. Simmer for 3 1/2 to 4 hours.

Notes on making the pasta:
With just one egg, the pasta dough didn't come together very well so I ended up adding some water. Many of the other Daring Bakers added extra eggs.

Notes on making the sauce:
My onion, carrot, celery mixture turned green and tasted green the first time I cooked it out so I threw it out and started again. It turned green the second time, but I pressed on. I cooked it for about 30 minutes until fond started develop on the bottom of my pan and it ended up tasting fine with the meat.

As the meat browned, I drained as much of the oil off as I could. I didn't want to end up with an oily end product.

Taste the sauce each time you add water, but be careful of how much salt you add each time. As the sauce cooks down, the flavor gets more concentrated and you don't want a salty meat sauce

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The Food Librarian said...

Oh. my. gosh. When I saw your Tweet about spending all day on this project, I had no idea. And then I see other posts with noodles in the laundry room and throughout the house! What a project! Looks great and so tasty!

Erica said...

WOW- this looks so cool! I love that its green! You are such a creative little cookie! So fun! mmmmm

What are you up to this weekend? Farmers market action? Can I come with- pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeaasse! So jealous ;)

The Blonde Duck said...

That looks so good!

Anonymous said...

Fantastic job all around - your lasagne looks so rich, cresmy and delicious! Love your makeshift work station :) You need all the room you can get when making pasta!

Anonymous said... I opted out of this one. I'm the opposite. I would rather spend hours working on something sweet than savory. I prefer savory dishes that are super easy and take less than 30 minutes to prepare. Great job though! I'm very proud of you and the lasagna looks dreamy!

Anonymous said...

I know what you mean--it's tough trying to live up to every day in Southern California, and so many times I'd like it to be cold and rainy so I can make a big pot of something heavy! The pasta looks great!

vanillasugarblog said...

Esi I am so impressed! Holy smack-a-doodles! What a project.
What a fabulous creation here.

Unknown said...

For some reason, this seemed to be the most daring feat of the daring baker feats. Maybe it's just the loooong list of instructions! Of course it had to have tasted amazing though. Homemade pasta can't be beat.

Creative Classroom Core said...

This lasagna is beautiful! I bet it tasted incredible! Well worth the wait, I am sure!

Reeni said...

It turned out great! I love cooking sauce like this that takes hours. It's so relaxing and fun. And home-made pasta is so yummy!!

Diana said...

Sounds like you were right to listen to your gut about the salting! What a beautiful, homey dish! Makes me crave some good ole Italian comfort food... if someone brings it to me and I don't have to do all the work! ;)

Alicia Foodycat said...

This looks much more to my taste than the usual Daring Bakers efforts! Well done!

Namratha said...

That's one delish looking lasagna!

Heather said...

so beautiful! i love homemade pasta :)

Unknown said...

oooh, that spinach pasta!! amazing :) something i need to try! at some point...

Lauren said...

Mmm, your lasagne looks amazing! Beautiful job =D.

Maggie said...

Your sauce looks wonderfully rich! Great tip about watching the salting in something that is reducing.

ice tea: sugar high said...

Great Job! Looked great and I bet it tasted great too

BC said...

Green sludge! That's funny... I've never heard of "cook the crap out of it" It doesn't sound like something you want to do with food.

chess said...

Every time I ate in a restaurant I ordered lasagna because it’s one of my favorite food and I really appreciated that you have posted it here, I may try this one this Christmas!