Friday, March 27, 2009

March Daring Baker ~ Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna

Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna - (Lasagne Verdi al Forno)

Daring Bakers March 2009 Challenge

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.

This month’s challenge has global input, with the three hosts living in three continents: Mary from Canada, Melinda from Australia and Enza from Italy.

"They explained that 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.”

The ingredients begin with preparing the sauce or "ragu", the pasta and the bechamel sauce.

Country Style Ragu’ (Ragu alla Contadina)

Preparation Time: Ingredient Preparation Time 30 minutes and Cooking time 2 hours

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

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (45 mL)
2 ounces/60g pancetta, finely chopped

1 medium onion, minced

1 medium stalk celery with leaves, minced

1 small carrot, minced
4 ounces/125g boneless veal shoulder or round
4 ounces/125g pork loin, trimmed of fat, or 4 ounces/125g mild Italian sausage (made without fennel)
8 ounces/250g beef skirt steak, hanging tender, or boneless chuck blade or chuck center cut (in order of preference)
1 ounce/30g thinly sliced Prosciutto di Parma
2/3 cup (5 ounces/160ml) dry red wine1 &1/2 cups (12 ounces/375ml) chicken or beef stock (homemade if possible)
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 the pancetta and minced vegetables and sauté, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon, 10 minutes, or until the onions barely begin to color.
Coarsely grind all the meats together, including the prosciutto, in a food processor or meat grinder. Stir 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. Cook 15 minutes, or until the meats are a deep brown. 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.

The meats and vegetables for the sauce

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)

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 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.

Dry the pasta at room temperature and store in a sealed container or bag.

Kneading the pasta until it is smooth and springy to touch.

Interesting videos of hand rolled pasta being made:

I used a pasta machine to roll out my pasta. It was definitely easier and quicker than hand rolling and cutting the pasta.
I was also able to roll the pasta into the thinnest setting of "0" so that it was translucent, as this recipe requires.


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

Making Bechamel Sauce video:


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 above)

1 recipe Bechamel Sauce (recipe above)

1 recipe Country Style Ragu (recipe above)

1 cup (4 ounces/125g) freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano


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. Sprinkle with about 1 & 1/2 tablespoons of the béchamel and 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 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).

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. Then serve. This is not a solid lasagne, but a moist one that slips a bit when it is cut and served

It tasted absolutely HEAVENLY! We ooh-ed and ahh-ed with every bite! I had never made a northern Italian style lasagne before, and while it was somewhat work intensive -- I was cooking and preparing it for a total of five hours -- it was well worth the effort, as it was so delicious. It would be something I'd consider making for a special occasion or a holiday.

One nice bonus to this challenge was that the ragu recipe and pasta recipe were large enough in quantity to leave left overs that weren't needed in the assembly of the lasagne, so I cut the remaining pasta as tagliatelle and we had it for dinner on another night, topped with some of the remaining ragu.

This was also wonderful !

Thank you Enza, Mary and Melinda for a wonderful Daring Baker Challenge!

Now for some exciting news! Perhaps you noticed that my Daring Baker sidebar badge has changed to be a new "The Daring Kitchen" badge? It's because there is a wonderful new The Daring Kitchen website! Now registered members who join The Daring Kitchen also have another choice of a challenge in addition to, or beside, "Daring Baker" there will also be "Daring Cooks"!

As of now I joined both divisions, and the first Daring Cooks challenge will be presented in May.

Please visit The Daring Kitchen website and learn more about Daring Bakers and Daring Cooks and visit some of the other blogs on the blogroll that participated in the March Challenge to see their Lasagne Verdi al Forno.
There is now a recipe archive, FAQ's, a forum, cookbook reviews and lots more on The daring Kitchen web site. You can register to join too!

I hope you'll join in on all the fun and take a Daring Kitchen challenge!


Mama said...

Pat, your Lasagne looks delicious, it's my absoloute favourite dish. how exciting international blogging at it's very best so many wonderful and talented cooks/chefs I am sure you should all have a best selling cookbook. Love the latest photo of little Leo and thank you for your sweet comments on Stephen's new job and Hayley's visit, hugs, Kathy.

Willow said...

That lasagna~oh my! It looks wonderful! One of my favorite Italian dishes. I am a good cook, but somewhat indifferent, alas. I make a thick sauce (really basic) and layer the cheeses and sauce and pasta, remembering mainly that years and years ago someone told me, lasagna should never be runny.

I am certainly vicariously enjoying your exploits in cooking and baking.

Anonymous said...

It's only 7.30 here and already I want to eat lasagne Pat! Oh my if it tasted half as good as it looks I'm on the plane over. LOL

Well done for taking up the challenge and sharing.

Gracie said...

I just had my breakfast, but I think I could have some lasagne right now! Here in Parma (Emilia-Romagna) we have one layer of "pasta verde" and one of white, alternating.

M.Kate said...

omg..SO YUMMY!!! Seriously Pat, I wish I was just living next door to you, I'd pop over for thta lasagne..which sound like my daughter's name, she's Emilea..and have a few servings..all minus the cooking of course. Have a beautiful weekend Pat, much love/M

Anonymous said...

Pat, awesome job on the lasagne, it looks gorgeous and delicious! Also, love the prep photos of every step, not to mention your ragu turned out so rich and meaty that I could almost taste it just by looking at your photos!

Tracy said...

Wait...I have to go get my fork! ;o) This is spectacular, Pat...I feel so hungry just looking at these photos--LOL! This is a beautiful lasagna. Love these cooking/baking posts. Happy weekend, my friend ((HUGS))

Ciao Chow Linda said...

I love any kind of lasagna, especially with good homemade pasta, like yours - and a wonderful ragu like yours.I'm ready to dig in.

Nola @ the Alamo said...

That pasta is so beautiful, such a pretty shade of green. It's making me hungry already! I've never made my own pasta, but had a friend with a pasta maker that would regularly make it fresh; yumm!

Linda Lou said...

Love lasagna, but this looks like a lot of work Pat, I am impressed!! This is definitely a challenge, I am going to check out the Daring Kitchen website though, sounds intriguing!!

Vee said...

"Somewhat work intensive" Yup, I can see that, but it looks incredible! In all honesty, I shall never try this dish unless I visit you. ;> Wow! When they call these "daring baker challenges" they aren't kidding. What a lot of labor-intensive steps. Bravo!! Glad that it was worth the work...

Junie Moon said...

Awesome, Pat -- your challenge results are exquisite.

black eyed susans kitchen said...

This post had to be a labor of love. It is so detailed and it looks heavenly. Pat, this lasagne is just the sort of recipe that my husband would love to work on, and I will be copying it and handing it over to him. We have really enjoyed your authentic recipes and will happily try this one too. Have a wonderful weekend.
♥, Susan

GMG said...

Hi Pat! Sorry for the absence! It has been hard to get some free time... ;)
WOW! This looks yummy! I'm going to try it! Definitely!!

Now, «The Masterpiece» waits you and your comments at Blogtrotter. You shouldn’t miss it, believe me... ;). Enjoy and have a great weekend!

MuseSwings said...

Mouth watering! Beautiful post on my favorite subject - pasta.

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

Your lasagne look mighty scrumptious! I love the way that sauce oozes out! Very well done!



BC said...

Gorgeous green pasta sheets! I'm happy that you enjoyed this challenge - I'm hoping for an easy one next!


Medhaa said...

Looks delicious, I loved this month.

The Quintessential Magpie said...

Dearest Pat! I could watch you cook all day long. Oh, this looks positively divine! I have my bags packed and will be at the train station as soon as I can! ;-)


Sheila... who wants desperately to move in with Pat! :-)

Tara said...

Pat You may not be Italian but you ARE Italian! Wow, doesn't this look marvelous!!

Jojo said...

Your lasagne looks mouth-watering! Oh I wish you were my next door neighbor as I would enjoy coming over to just watch you prepare this scrumptious looking dish! It was almost the same thing reading your post minus the smells! Terrific post.

ARLENE said...

Pat, your lasagna is picture perfect and, I'm sure, tasted delicious. I have to agree that the taste was wonderful. I have a question, though. Did you use just 3 plum tomatoes? My sauce was not nearly as tomato-y. I think I should have used a full can of plum tomatoes. The ragu, while delicious, was a bit too thick for my taste. I would make the pasta again, but need a roller to get the sheets as thin as I'd like. Great challenge, though.

Strider said...

Wow! You put a lot of work into this post....and the dinner. I'm hungry now!!! Take your meal with a nice glass of red wine and it is a great way to start the weekend. Blessings. Strider

Lisa B. said...

Wow Pat! That looks amazing!! You are a daring baker. Cooking for 5 hours! OMG. If it took you 5 hours surely it would take me least. But what a reward for all your efforts!! You inspire me. Someday...I am going to take a day off from work to cook us a meal like that:)

Cori G. said...

Whoa Pat! I wish I could have come to dinner for this meal! It looks heavenly! I'm always amazed by your daring baker challenges and how complex they are. I guess that's why they're daring :).

Have a wonderful evening!

xoxo Cori

steviewren said...

Pat, if I had spent as long you did to prepare the lasagna it better have been wonderful! I'm glad you and your hubby really enjoyed it and had enough left to enjoy it some more.

Diane@A Picture is Worth.... said...

Your lasagna looks delicious! I can tell how much you love to cook through your posts! Your husband and family love it I bet!

Y said...

Both your lasagne and tagliatelli look so tasty. I love how green your pasta sheets look too. Mine turned out several shades lighter than that, so didn't look as dramatic.

Bo said...

Hi Pat...I followed each & every photo with anticipation of the final result...and boy, does that look delicious! Never in a million years would I attempt to make it...I'm not that good of a cook...but I am an excellent eater! LOL... Baby Leo is so his bunny outfit!
;-) Bo

Laura @ the shorehouse. said...

Unless I have a significant burst of energy tonight, I may be living vicariously through your delcious looking lasagne! (Oh MY...five hours?! So. Much. Work. ;-)

I really do want to make this pasta, though. I have the pasta attachment for my Kitchen Aid and I've been looking for a good pasta recipe to try with far I haven't exactly knocked it out of the park.

Thanks for the inspiring photos!

Cynthia said...

Ummmmm, such fluffy layers of pasta!

Proud Italian Cook said...

Wow Pat! Fantastic job! Look at all that meat in the ragu! Looks like a feast, and I love the tagliatelli, slurp, slurp!

Rhonda Hartis Smith said...

Pat, I'm totally impressed that you have a pasta press and make your own pasta. Your lasagna looks scrumptious and since I had popcorn for my evening meal, I'm hungrey now. Thanks for sharing.

Betsy said...

That looks heavenly! And the color of that pasta is so rich and beautiful! If you love cooking like you and I do, sometimes taking the whole day to prepare a dish is actually fun! You wouldn't want to do it every day, but now and then it's a wonderful way to spend the day!

StickyGooeyCreamyChewy said...

Your lasagne looks gorgeous! I'm so glad you loved it. I did too. I usually make the southern version, but I like this one so much better.

My cousin's MIL makes hers with bechamel and sliced hard boiled eggs. It is fabulous too.

Anzj said...

That is some really GREEN pasta you have got going on there! Plus, you can feed an army with that amount of lasagna. Great.