Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna (Lasagne Verdi al Forno)

Daring LadyThe Daring Bakers have a new home in the Daring Kitchen! If you hadn’t heard of the daring bakers before, come visit with other cooks in the newly opened Daring Kitchen and participate in the monthly cooking and baking events that will be sure to challenge you and stretch your imagination.

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.

Spinach Lasagna

The recipe, as released by the hosts of this month’s daring baker challenge is posted in its entirety on the new Daring Kitchen: Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna. What I have posted here is my version (my comments in red).

I tried to take photos of each step but since this recipe involved a lot of steps requiring messy hands and I was by myself in the kitchen, I either forgot or just didn’t have time to take photos. I made this lasagna on a Sunday afternoon and it took me approximately three hours from start to finish to complete the challenge. I don’t have a pasta maker so I rolled the pasta by hand, the first time ever for me, which was the most time consuming process but I did cut some time by going all vegetarian. I didn’t make the ragu suggested in the recipe. I did stick to the béchamel sauce recipe which, I think, is what completes the flavors of this lasagna which doesn’t have that dry white cheese common in most lasagna’s we’re familiar with.

Introduction from our hosts:
Lasagne is a dish that has successfully transcended borders and is today made around the world, albeit with many variations from the Italian original. Even within Italy, there are many variations and each region has its own lasagne tradition. But, as Lynne explains in her introduction to the recipe –and Enza, as our Italian expert for this dish, also agrees – the dish should always be a “vivid expression of the ‘less is more’ philosophy of cooking. Mere films of béchamel sauce and meat ragu coat the sheerest spinach pasta. Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese dusts each layer. There is nothing more; no ricotta, no piling on of meats, vegetables or cheese; little tomato, and no hot spice. Baking performs the final marriage of flavours. The results are splendid.”

Rules for this challenge:
– make the pasta recipe as follows. Hand-making your own pasta is the main challenge for this month. While you should make your own pasta to complete the challenge, please don’t feel that you need to buy a pasta machine. Lynne’s recipe gives instructions for hand-rolling the pasta with a rolling pin and we’d like you to do the same
– a white (béchamel) sauce must be used. We’ve included a recipe but you’re welcome to use your own favourite recipe if you have one.
– we’ve also included Lynne’s recipe for the meat ragu sauce that is part of the finished lasagne. However, this sauce is optional and you are welcome to make up your own sauce (particularly if you don’t eat meat), or use your own favourite meat ragu sauce recipe. If you choose to use your own recipe, please include it with your post.
Instead of the meat ragu, I opted to make a simple tomato cream sauce. Recipe is below
– Sweet pasta is unusual but here is a traditional pasta recipe for our sweetest bloggers at Emilia-Romagna Turismo http://www.emiliaromagnaturismo.it/engl … ?Numrec=78 This pasta would be paired in a lasagna dish with things like cream, raisins, pinenuts, orange, rosewater, prosciutto etc.

All recipes below from The Splendid Table: Recipes from Emilia-Romagna, the Heartland of Northern Italian Food by Lynne Rossetto Kasper (published by William Morrow and Company Inc., 1992).

Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna (Lasagne Verdi al Forno)
(Serves 8 to 10 as a first course, 6 to 8 as a main dish)

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

10 quarts (9 litres) salted water I didn’t need the water as I opted not to pre-cook my pasta for the sake of saving time and dishes. 🙂
1 recipe Spinach Pasta cut for lasagna (recipe follows)#1
1 recipe Bechamel Sauce (recipe follows)#2
1 recipe Country Style Ragu Creamy Tomato Sauce (recipe follows)#3
1 cup (4 ounces/125g) freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano I think I used a little more than a cup. I didn’t measure.
½ cup mozzarella – I just couldn’t resist adding a little on top for added cheesiness.

Method/Assembly

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius). Oil or butter a 3 quart (approx 3 litre) shallow baking dish. I used a 9″x13″ glass dish, unbuttered.

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 ragusauce. Sprinkle with about 1&1/2 tablespoons of the béchamel and about 1/3 cup of the cheese I ended up with 7 layers that’s why I ended up using more cheese than called for in the recipe. 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 I let the lasagna cool for 10 minutes outside of the oven. It didn’t seem to hurt it any nor make a difference. Cut then serve. This is not a solid lasagne, but a moist one that slips a bit when it is cut and served.

NOW THE RECIPES
#1 SPINACH EGG PASTA (Pasta Verde)

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) I ended up using 4 eggs just to get the dough to come together. I only use grade A eggs though, which are smaller then the ‘jumbo’ called for in the recipe so that may have been why I didn’t have enough moisture.
10 ounces (300g) fresh spinach, rinsed dry, and finely chopped; or 6 ounces (170g) frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry I used fresh spinach and by the time it was chopped up, it looked like I had approximately two cups of loosely packed spinach
3&1/2 cups (14 ounces/400g) all purpose unbleached (plain) flour (organic stone ground preferred) I used unbleached all purpose flour

Working by Hand:

Equipment

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. I used my regular rolling pin with the handles on both ends. It was shorter than the Italian style mentioned here, but it worked ok considering. I didn’t have a large enough work surface anyway.
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. I’ve never had much success with the ‘mounding’ method (I always ended up with a mess, the liquids running all over the counter, so I mixed my dough up in a bowl then when it came together, transferred it to the counter.

Kneading:
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. At times it may look like your kneading is futile, but keep kneading anyway and the dough will eventually come together and be smooth and elastic as described. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap, and let it relax at room temperature 30 minutes to 3 hours.

dough at rest
My dough, resting from all that kneading

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.

Spinach Pasta
As I mentioned before, I didn’t have a large enough counter space to roll out a large pasta disk. My first attempt at rolling a fourth of the dough looked like the photo on the left. On the subsequent sheets, I decided to work with smaller batches. I remember seeing a comment from another daring baker where said that he rolled out the dough in a long column first then took pieces and rolled out individual strips. Check out the photos of how he did this on his blog, Audax Artifex. I followed his method of rolling out strips but instead of hanging them to dry, I went ahead and started layering as I was rolling. I developed a rhythm after a while and this method actually worked well for me.

bottom layer
Spread a small amount of Bechamel Sauce in the dish

1st layer
The bottom layer, with the wide pasta sheet and strips on the edges

more layers
The rest of the layers were constructed using rolled strips of pasta

#2 BECHAMEL SAUCE

Preparation Time: 15 minutes

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.

red & white sauces
The bechamel sauce and creamy tomato sauce

#3 CREAMY TOMATO SAUCE

Makes enough sauce for 1 recipe fresh pasta or 1 pound/450g dried pasta)

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (45 mL)
1 medium onion, minced
1 medium stalk (rib) celery with leaves, minced
1 medium carrot, minced
2/3 cup (5 ounces/160ml) chicken broth
2 cups (16 ounces/500ml) whole milk
½ cup heavy cream
12 oz. can Tomato Puree
2 Tablespoons Tomato Paste
½ teaspoon Red Pepper Flakes
1 teaspoon Dried Basil
Salt to taste

Heat the olive oil and add the minced vegetables and sauté, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon, 10 minutes, or until the onions barely begin to color. Add the red pepper flakes and dried basil. Add the broth and tomato puree and paste. Stir and let it come up to a low boil. Add the milk and cream, season with salt to taste.

I have to agree with the other Daring Bakers who commented that this was the best pasta they have ever tasted. My pasta loving daughter, I knew would be all over this one but for the rest of the family, my husband especially, aren’t as in love with pasta, especially lasagna. However, when they tasted this version, all I heard was a lot of moaning. 🙂 Yep, they loved it and wants more! They want me to make it again this weekend! At this rate, I think I will be investing in a pasta maker soon though. All that kneading and rolling have gotten me well on my way to having Michelle Obama arms. Well, at least it’s in good time for the short sleeve season!

All I can say is, the recipe may look long and has too many steps, but if you dare to try it, you’ll find it’s not that difficult after all, and the taste will be just so worth it!

lasagna

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23 comments on “Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna (Lasagne Verdi al Forno)
  1. Marie says:

    Looks so yummy and tasty 😀

  2. Sounds like the family loved the lasagne…. who needs a gym membership when there’s pasta to be rolled! 🙂 Also, a very nice pictorial detailing the lasagne making steps.

  3. Kat says:

    Your lasagna looks very good! I like the creamy tomato sauce. Great job!!

  4. Ruth E says:

    Love how many layers you got in yours! Looks so yummy and delicious

  5. raquel says:

    awesome pictures! i love extra cheese in my pasta dishes, too! great job!!!!

  6. erica-57 says:

    I would like to taste it…it looks very good!

  7. nutuba says:

    What a great looking recipe! I can’t wait to try this.

  8. Anzj says:

    I see you like “Lady Whisk” too. Lovely lasagna.

  9. Beth says:

    3 hours start to finish – you go girl! Looks cheesey and delish.

  10. asti says:

    Fantastic! Great job on this month’s challenge.

  11. asti says:

    Fabulous job! Great idea on making it vegetarian. Saves a lot of time!

  12. Meryl says:

    I love that you made this vegetarian–great way to cut down on the time, and it looks yummy!

  13. oh my, this looks like a lot of work, JMom! i have to train for this! hahaha! but the lasagna does look gorgeous. yummy to the max! 😀

  14. gine says:

    Looks delicous :-)! Yummy!

  15. I just love the photo of the completed lasange all those layers of green pasta. Yes this is one of the best pasta dishes I have made. Great step by step photos of the process

  16. Lisa says:

    What do you mean you didn’t have a chance to take pictures of the steps?! You did GREAT at showing the steps! Better than most! 🙂 And look at all those pasta layers. Mmmmm!

  17. jo says:

    Great job on your challenge and your lasagne looks delicious.

  18. Rosa says:

    Your lasagne look mighty good with all that oozing sauce!

    Cheers,

    Rosa

  19. lisa says:

    LOVE the creamy tomato sauce in lieu of the meat ragu, and your layers are beautiful as is the lasagne itself. Very well done!!

  20. Alli says:

    Lovely pictures, looks delicious! I am not a big lasagna fan either but I did enjoy this one, although my partner ate most of it!

  21. Elizabeth says:

    That looks so cheesily delicious!

  22. Mary says:

    Your lasagne look divine. I love the personal notes that you put into the recipe – everyone has to change it a bit to make it work for them. Congratulations.

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