Friday, March 27, 2009

Daring Bakers March Challenge: Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna

It’s Daring Bakers time again—if you’d like to join our adventures at The Daring Kitchen, read all about it here.

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.

© June Scroggin, All Rights Reserved

Handmade spinach egg pasta was a main part of this challenge. Football coaches ought to incorporate handmade pasta as part of their training program—it was quite a workout for my arms as I did not use a pasta machine.

© June Scroggin, All Rights Reserved

The numerous instructions for the lasagna were intimidating at first, but everything involved was relatively easy (well, the pasta recipe is easy if not the physical aspect) even though time consuming. I learned a lot in the process which is the whole point of my having joined the group.

While we enjoyed a small batch of this challenge’s end results at my house, I actually made it for a neighboring family who needs a little love and care right now. At the end of Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, Sidalee asks, “What good manners can we show as we welcome ourselves and others into our hearts?" A gift of food is one of my answers.

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 lasagne (recipe #1 as follows)
  • 1 recipe Bechamel Sauce (recipe #2 as follows)
  • 1 recipe Country Style Ragu (recipe #3 as follows)
  • 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, re-warmed 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). 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)


  • 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 colors. 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.

#2 Béchamel

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.

#3 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). 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.

  • 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 wine
  • 1 & 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

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.

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.


Pat @ Mille Fiori Favoriti said...

It looks magnificent June! I admire how thin you were able to hand roll those pasta sheets! Brava! I did not even attempt to do it by hand as one of my elbows has been giving me a lot of trouble lately and I started making the dough after a day of working to clean up our backyard, so out came the pasta machine :-)

It was so nice that you gifted this to a neighbor in need. Truly generous after so much work went into it.

I served it to family and brought pieces to my friends that walk in the park with me each morning.

I'm looking forward to see the the new "Daring Cooks" recipes will be when it is revealed next month!

Have a wonderful weekend!

Hugs, Pat

Pat @ Mille Fiori Favoriti said...

PS: Ya Ya Sisterhood is one of my all time favorite books! I've read it over three times :-)

Jo said...

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

Bumblebutton said...

Neighbor love--such a good thing! Really terrific--loved your piles of noodles photo. Congratulations on a job well done!

Lisa Michelle said...

Beautoful job on your second challenge, Junie! Your lasagne looks delectable and gorgeous! Love the YA YA quote too AND your answer :)

Jennifer said...

Sounds divine! of course I am biased due to the inclusion of my favorite, bechamel.

Mrs. Staggs said...

Well, as wonderful as it looks, it also looks intimidating. I admire you for taking the time, and for sharing it with your neighbors, June.

I'm pretty fortunate to have the pasta making attatchment that fits onto my Kitchen Aid. It was a gift from my Dad and stepmom, and it works wonderfully well.

JMom said...

What a generous way to share the bounty! This dish was certainly perfect for sharing. Beautiful pasta!

FinnyKnits said...

You about ready to order that pasta machine now?

I think that lasagna, as delicious as it looks, would have put me over the edge.


Thimbleanna said...

Holy Cow Junie -- that's quite the recipe. A workout indeed -- it looks delicious!

Kat said...

I am so impressed you got the pasta so thin without a machine! I also rolled mine and my arms still hurt. I did not get it as thin as yours. Any tricks of the trade to share?

shannon said...

Wow, that sounds so yummy. I am totally intimidated by the amount of ingredients and directions. Great job.

Robyn said...

Ok...I bow to you! I really don't think I can manage all that! Here's what I will do...I will drive to your house from Cali and I will even bring my own silverware and be a guest at your dinner table and enjoy that fab feast! Yummy! Thanks for coming by!

raquel said...

that bowl of noodles really looks tempting! awesome job on the lasagna!

Storybook Woods said...

I am impressed June, making homemade pasta (especially without a machine) is not easy. Lasagna is not really hard, just a lotttttt of little steps. But it is soooo good at the end xoxoxox Clarice

Lauren said...

Mmm, your lasagne looks amazing!! Beautiful job =D.

Anonymous said...

Wow, you really got those pieces of pasta thin June! I've only once made pasta (though I do make noodles for soup fairly frequently). It is hard work indeed, especially if you're getting the pasta so thin!

I love your reference to the the Ya Ya Sisterhood quote. Yessirreee! :)

Bravo June, bravo