Lasagne Verdi Al Forno

March 28th, 2009 · Italian

Rolling my own pasta eh? When I signed up to be a daring bakers, I was expecting challenges like baking cakes, cupcakes and all those sweet sweet yummy desserts. Who would have thought this is my only second challenge and I have to roll my own pasta, and make a lasagne dish.

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. Hand making our own pasta is the main challenge for this month. When I know I can just buy that lasagne pasta sheet at the local supermarket for a mere $2; making my own pasta from scratch doesn't sound very appealing at all.

Rule is rule, I followed the recipes provided and made my very first lasagne and I am very glad I did it.

The recipe is separated into 3 main steps: the spinach pasta, the beef ragu, and the bechamel sauce. The beef ragu takes the longest time to make, so I tackled it first and let it simmer, then I can move on to roll the pasta. The bechamel sauce comes last.

To make the spinach pasta, I can easily make the dough using the KitchenAid, but I intend not to and I am so glad that I didn't. It gives me great satisfaction to see it slowly coming together.

The recipe says two jumbo eggs for the dough, and I used two 70gram eggs and they are perfect size. Some says the mixture is too dry to form a dough, and add more egg. It actually doesn't need more egg, as my mixture is also pretty dry to start with and stick to my fingers everywhere. I just keep kneading and folding the dough for a good 10 minutes and eventually it will form a nice firm smooth dough.

As for Bechamel sauce, I was quite surprised how easy it is to make. Instead of using nutmeg, I actually add mixed spice includes cinnamon, nutmeg, and cardamon which gives the sauce a stronger flavour.

The beef ragu is the most time consuming phase. I actually cut down the recipe given and just use beef mince for the ragu, then using the prosciutto as an extra layer while assembling the lasagne. Have to say the beef ragu is fantabulous! I had some leftovers ragu, and I just heat it up and spread it on toasts. It is so so so good. :)

I baked the lasagne for an hour at 180°C, and it came out nice and hot. However, the melted cheese on top is still uninvitingly pale so I decided to crank the heat up to 250ºC and baked it for a further 15 minutes. This time the lasagne came out of the oven with a nice layer of golden brown molten cheese on top. That's how I like it.

I actually couldn't taste the spinach in the lasagne. Spinach is actually full of iron and calcium which is good for your body. This is a perfect recipe for the children who don't like vegetables to have some green in their diet. Give it a try!

(apologise in advance for a very very long recipe)

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
1 recipe Spinach Pasta cut for lasagna (recipe follows)#1 1 recipe Bechamel Sauce (recipe follows)#2 1 recipe Country Style Ragu (recipe follows)#3 1 cup (4 ounces/125g) freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Method Working Ahead:
The ragu and the béchamel sauce can be made up to three days ahead. The ragu 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 lasagne 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). Oil or butter a 3 quart (approx 3 litre) shallow baking dish.

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. Layer 3 to 4 slices of prosciutto neatly on top of the ragu. Sprinkle with 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 1 hour, or until almost heated through. Remove the foil, turn the heat up to 250 degree Celcius and bake another 15 minutes, or until the cheese on top is golden brown. Turn off the oven, leave the door ajar and let the lasagne rest for about 10 minutes. Then serve.

#1 Spinach Egg Pasta (Pasta Verde) 2 jumbo eggs (2 ounces/60g or more)
10 ounces (300g) fresh spinach, rinsed dry, and finely chopped
3&1/2 cups (14 ounces/400g) all purpose plain flour

Working by Hand:

Equipment

A roomy work surface like kitchen benchtop, 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.

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.

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. 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 lasagne, the sheet should be so thin that you can clearly see your hand through it. Cut into rectangles about 4 by 8 inches (10 x 20 cm).

Hang the pasta up and ready to be cooked.

#2 Bechamel 2 & 2/3 cup milk
4 tablespoons unsalted butter or Extra virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons corn starch
Salt to taste
1 teaspoon of mixed spice (or nutmeg)

Mix the corn starch with ½ cup of cold milk. Heat the rest of the milk in a small sauce pan until steaming but do not boil. Add the milk/cornstarch mixture to the steaming milk. Stirring constantly, raise the heat and heat the mixture until thick. Once it is thick, remove it from the heat and add the butter, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Have the béchamel warm or at room temperature ready to assemble the lasagne. Whisk the sauce occasionally if it becomes stiff or thick.

#3 Beef ragu 1 medium onion, minced
1 medium stalk celery with leaves, minced
1 small carrot, minced
500gram premium beef mince
1 packet (100gram) thinly sliced Prosciutto di Parma
2/3 cup (5 ounces/160ml) dry red wine
1 &1/2 cups (12 ounces/375ml) chicken or beef stock
2 cups (16 ounces/500ml) milk
3 canned plum tomatoes, drained
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Working Ahead:
The ragu can be made 3 days ahead. Cover and refrigerate. It also freezes well for up to 1 month. Skim the fat from the ragu’ before using it.

Browning the Ragu Base:
Heat the olive oil in a 12 inch (30cm) skillet (frying pan) over medium-high heat. Have a large saucepan handy to use once browning is complete. Add minced vegetables and sauté, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon, 10 minutes, or until the onions barely begin to color. Add the beef mince into the pan and slowly brown over medium heat. First the meats will give off a liquid and turn dull grey but, as the liquid evaporates, browning will begin. Stir often, scooping under the meats with the wooden spatula. Protect the brown glaze forming on the bottom of the pan by turning the heat down. Turn the contents of the skillet into a strainer and shake out the fat. Turn them into the saucepan and set over medium heat.

Reducing and Simmering: Add the wine to the skillet, lowering the heat so the sauce bubbles quietly. Stir occasionally until the wine has reduced by half, about 3 minutes. Scrape up the brown glaze as the wine bubbles. Then pour the reduced wine into the saucepan and set the skillet aside.

Stir ½ cup stock into the saucepan and let it bubble slowly, 10 minutes, or until totally evaporated. Repeat with another ½ cup stock. Stir in the last 1/2 cup stock along with the milk. Adjust heat so the liquid bubbles very slowly. Partially cover the pot, and cook 1 hour. Stir frequently to check for sticking.

Add the tomatoes, crushing them as they go into the pot. Cook uncovered, at a very slow bubble for another 45 minutes, or until the sauce resembles a thick, meaty stew. Season with salt and pepper.