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March Daring Baker’s Challenge: Lasagna!

March 27, 2009 at 9:00 am | Posted in Daring Bakers, Dinner | 12 Comments

So la di da- strawberries in paris is coming back in full force! Woot woot! So the Daring Baker’s are getting more fancy and exciting this month! There is a now a Daring Cook’s group, which I am most likely going to partake in…. 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 baking challenge!

Very glad this challenge happened now, since I am moving this weekend-it was a perfect all week meal! Ned, Laurita and I devoured this baby so quick! The spinach pasta, fontina cheese, portabella and cremini mushrooms and spruced up béchamel sauce worked perfect together!

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

(Serves 8 to 10 as a first course, 6 to 8 as a main dish)

10 quarts (9 litres) salted water
1 recipe Spinach Pasta cut for lasagna (recipe follows)#1
1 recipe Bechamel Sauce (recipe follows)#2
1 cup (4 ounces/125g) freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 cup fontina cheese

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 the sauce, 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 three 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 fontina and then mushrooms. Sprinkle with about 1&1/2 tablespoons of the béchamel and about 1/2 cup of parmesan cheese then with mushooms. 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. Then serve. This is not a solid lasagne, but a moist one that slips a bit when it is cut and served.

#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)
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:

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.
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.

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 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.

** I did not dry my pasta, just rolled it out with my pasta roller and then let it dry for about 30 minutes. Took only 2 minutes to cook and it turned out great! I was amazed that the chopped spinach incorporated itself so easily into the dough.

#2 Bechamel (spruced up recipe from New Best Recipe!)

Preparation Time: 15 minutes

5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup flour, organic stone ground preferred
1 cup chopped shallots
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 bay leaves
3.5 cups whole milk
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
3/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 cup parmesan cheese (fresh of course!)

Using a medium-sized saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat until foaming. Add the shallots and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until the shallots are translucent (about 4 minutes). Sift over the flour, whisk until smooth, and then stir (without stopping) for about 1.5 minutes. Whisk in the milk a little at a time and keep the mixture smooth. Bring to a boil over medium high heat. Whisk in the bay leaves, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to low and simmer 10 minutes, whisking occasionally. Remove bay leaves before use!

#3: Sauteed mushrooms- Clean with wet paper towel, slice relatively thinly. Saute over medium heat with a thin coating of olive oil on a nonstick pan for about 10 minutes until very soft!

Check out the rest of my daring bakers!

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12 Comments »

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  1. Elizabeth, you really outdid yourself! Creminis and fontina? YUM!! I can only imagine how great that tasted! Gorgeous aesthetically too!

  2. Oh, I’ll have to remember to add mushrooms next time! Yours looks delicious with the mushrooms on top 🙂

  3. Wonderful job. Your fontina addition sounds just perfect. Your plate looks delicious with all the nice dappled brown spots. Mmmmm! Good luck on your move!

  4. looks fab! i used ‘shrooms in mine, too, and loved it! fontina would be wonderful.

  5. Great job on your challenge and the lasagne looks really delicious.

  6. Mmm, your lasagne looks amazing =D!!

  7. Your cheeses and mushrooms sound great. Good job with the challenge!

  8. yum, mushrooms! looks good

  9. I was so focused on following the recipe I did not even think to add anything. The mushrooms would have been perfect. Your lasagne looks very yummy!

  10. Cheese and mushrooms = love.

  11. BEAUTIFUL! 🙂

  12. Looks perfect with the speckled brown top. Wish I could’ve made it this challenge!


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