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.
I have to admit, I wasn't excited when I read that our challenge would be lasagna. I love lasagna, but it still didn't excite me nor did it really challenge me since I make homemade pasta often. But I persevered... Procrastinated, but persevered. I waited until the 11th hour and made it for dinner last night -- though I had made the ragu on Monday.
This lasagna is made up of fairly simple components:
- spinach pasta sheets
- meat ragu
- béchamel sauce
- Parmesan cheese
-- you read that right; no mozzarella and no ricotta! This is "classic" lasagna which comes from the Emilia-Romagna region of Northern Italy (mozzarella is made in the South) and was traditionally made with the above listed items - even specifically the spinach in the pasta. It's also called Lasagne Verdi al Forno which means "baked green lasagna".
This challenge was centered around that spinach pasta and making it by hand. It was not requested or even suggested that we run out and buy a pasta machine, but I have to conclude that those of us who already owned one (or did in fact run out and buy one) had a much easier time of making this pasta. And had use of their arms and backs the next day as well! The rest of the dedicated Daring Bakers used a rolling pin, some swear words and a lot of upper body muscle! I'm a bit humbled to say that I fell into the former group. I already owned the pasta making attachments for my KitchenAid mixer. Which makes it even easier than having a hand-crank pasta machine (like Mom's). All I had to do was stand there, feed pasta sheets through, and trim them. Not much of a challenge per me. Lazy b@s+@rd...
I really never thought it'd come together with no water...
When I read the pasta recipe (3 1/2 cups flour, 2 jumbo eggs and 6 ounces of spinach) I was SURE I was reading something wrong. Where was the other liquid? There's no way 3 1/2 cups of flour is gonna be absorbed by 2 eggs and some spinach. NO WAY. I started mixing and kneading and even had a small bowl of water at my side - just WAITING to need to incorporate it. But sure enough... after enough kneading - all was fine. I was floored! That spinach held more liquid than I could have ever imagined!
I rolled my sheets to 6 thinness on the KA attachment. It was very delicate and thin and I could see the light from the window through it. Just beautiful pasta with barely a hint of spinach flavor.
The ragu was really fantastic. It's not a very tomato-y sauce like I'm used to in lasagnas. It's all about the meat and reducing flavors into the meat. This recipe called for veal, Italian sausage, beef, pancetta and prosciutto. I went out and bought all the meats the recipe called for - even getting actual Prosciutto di Parma imported from Italy (at $TWENTY-SEVEN$ per POUND!) Good thing I only needed 1 ounce!
Mirepoix = onion, celery, carrot
The ragu starts with a mirepoix (onion, celery, carrot) to which you add the ground up meats. Reduce some wine into the mix and then a significant amount of milk (yes) and chicken stock. I luckily had some homemade chicken stock leftover from the weekend! Perhaps needless to say - this sauce was FLAVORFUL. It's such a sophisticated "gourmet" flavor that can't even compare with a tomato meat sauce.
The béchamel was of course, a piece of cake. Butter, flour, milk -- season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. I over salted my béchamel which led me to cook my noodles without salt...and all was fine!
Ready to bake
Assembly seemed like it'd be quick but took quite a while because of the layering:
1) spread béchamel
2) cook 1 layer of noodles and lay on top of béchamel
3) spread more béchamel and ragu
4) sprinkle Parmesan
-repeat- (I repeated 4 times)
The verdict?... Just eh. But, that would be my own mistake. When I made the ragu, I made half a recipe thinking we'd not need an entire 9x13 lasagna for the 2 of us. However, a couple days later, when I continued with the other ingredients and assembled - I did so in a 9x13 and did NOT half anything. Basically my brain farted. The end result was a tasty, but overly creamy and rich lasagna. I was craving more ragu (of course). I LOVED the tenderness of the homemade pasta sheets however and might never buy dried lasagna sheets again!
Those delicate sheets of pasta were worth it all
Out of pure curiosity - if anyone on this planet has read this entire entry, will you leave me a comment? I recently realized that one of my closest friends (a dedicated blog reader) can't even make her way through my long-winded DB posts. So if you do - I'd like to know and thank you!! Ha!
Follow the hosts' links to find the recipes, should you decide to tackle on your own. And don't forget to visit the other Daring Bakers for their versions as well! A new blogroll is coming soon, but until then click here. Ciao!