Daring Bakers challenge March 09- Lasagne Verdi al Forno

by Sunita on March 28, 2009

This has been areally crazy month for me, but I’m glad that I could squeeze in this month’s Daring Bakers 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. Lasagna being one of our favourites, I had to squeeze it in. Although, I’ve tried my hand at making the pasta from scratch, I must admit that when it comes to lasagna, I usually use the ready made sheets.This time, however, I did make my own lasagna sheets and yes, it so much better than store bought. It does take up some time, but the results make the efforts worthwhile, and I’m really pleased that I completed this month’s challenge.

Lasagne ( plural for lasagna) is both a form of pasta in sheets as well the dish, sometimes named as lasagne al forno ( oven – cooked lasagne), made with alternate layers of pasta, cheese, and often ragu ( a meat sauce) or Tomato sauce. Lasagne verdi (green lasagne)  is egg pasta with added spinach. 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.

The main componenets of this monbth’s challenge were-

  • handmade green pasta
  • bechamel sauce
  • ragu/other  sauce

Whenever I make lasagna, I usually avoid the bechamel sauce, as I’m not too fond of it. But , for the sake of the challenge, I made that too. The instructions were quite easy to follow, and I had no problems with it. I made the green pasta sheets and the bechamel according to the given recipe. As we were given the freedom to make our own sauce if we wanted to, I decided not to make the given meat ragu recipe and made my regular chunky tomato and vegetable sauce.

The 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. 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)

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.

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.

#2 Bechamel

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)

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

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.

What I did-

  • Instead of using just plain flour, I made the pasta with a mixture of whole wheat and and plain flour (2 and 1/2 C whole wheat flour + 1 C plain flour). I also used 4 eggs instead of the two mentioned and mine were not jumbo enough :-)
  • I made my own chunky tomato, mushroom and vegetable sauce (recipe follows)
  • I also took the liberty to sprinkle a little freshly ground pepper and crushed red chillies over the top.

What’s needed for the sauce-( Use as many or fewer vegetables )

5-6 close capped mushrooms
1 C of mixed peppers, cut into small cubes ( I used yellow, red and green)
1 small carrot, finely cubed
1 small onion, finely chopped
5-6 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
a handful of sweetcorn
2 cans of peeled plum tomatoes ( 400gms each)
3 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp Italian seasoning
1/2 tsp crushed red chillies
1 tsp sugar
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

How to-

  1. Heat the olive oil in a pan and add all the ingredients except the tomatoes. Stir and cook for 2 minutes.
  2. Add the tomatoes, crushing them with the ladle.
  3. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 8-10 minutes.

I couldn’t resist  making this sauce, and we love it. It was actually a bit more than was needed, so feel free to reduce the quantities.

Overall, it was a successful challenge, more so because of the great bicep exercise in the form of kneading :-)

Thanks to Mary, Melinda and Enza for hosting. We really enjoyed it.

Related posts-

Asparagus lasagna

Bi – coloured pasta

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{ 42 comments… read them below or add one }

1 jo March 28, 2009 at 4:50 pm

Oh wow! This looks absolutely delicious. You’ve done a fabulous job and the pics are truly amazing.

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2 rachel March 28, 2009 at 5:10 pm

Gorgeous as always!

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3 Hélène March 28, 2009 at 5:30 pm

I’ve seen this lasagna around blogs. Your pictures are beautiful. You did such a nice one.

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4 Lisa March 28, 2009 at 5:47 pm

Not only is your lasagne colorful, gorgeous and mouth watering, but your photos are stunning! Phenomenal work! Also, LOVE the veggie sauce!

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5 Lauren March 28, 2009 at 6:07 pm

Mmm, your lasagne looks amazingly good!! I love all of your pictures, they’re beautiful =D!

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6 Meeta March 28, 2009 at 7:30 pm

lovely lovely looking lasagne! i like the marinara sauce here!

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7 Rashmi March 28, 2009 at 7:33 pm

OMG ! I going to make this Sunita….thanks for the recipe…..

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8 snooky doodle March 28, 2009 at 7:52 pm

what a wonderful lasagne. I m drooling . It s one of my favourite dish. So good. That sauce you used looks yummy too :)

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9 Vani March 28, 2009 at 8:32 pm

Absolutely gorgeous pictures, Sunita! That last picture looks like a little fork of heaven :)

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10 Nicisme March 28, 2009 at 8:49 pm

I do love fresh pasta.
Yours is gorgeous Sunita, very colourful and extremely tempting!

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11 Rosa March 28, 2009 at 9:17 pm

I love your take on this recipe! These lasagne look beautiful, clorful and ever so tempting! Very well done here!

Nice shots too!

cheers,

Rosa

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12 Shelly March 29, 2009 at 1:36 am

Yours turned out great and look delicious! Awesome photos as well!

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13 alana March 29, 2009 at 1:40 am

This looks so great! Your pictures are just gorgeous.

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14 Chris March 29, 2009 at 2:09 am

Looks beautifully dellicious. Love the veggie marinara!

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15 Aparna March 29, 2009 at 4:04 am

Looks gorgeous, Sunita.
I made an eggless version of the lasagne in the processor, so my arms had an easier time.:)

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16 Priya March 29, 2009 at 4:13 am

Your lasagna has stacked up beautifully Sunita! The sauce looks soo good and I also like the sprinkle of pepper on top. It goes right into my must try list, but I wish I could simply drop by at your place for dinner instead :-) Gorgeous photos.

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17 A&N March 29, 2009 at 4:17 am

aaaaaah! Sorry for being presumptous :D I just love your blog. I come here first every month to check DB. So I was shocked when I opened your site and couldn’t find the DB challenge :)

Lovely, lovely, beautiful, Sunita :)

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18 Simran March 29, 2009 at 7:25 am

Homemade pasta – now that’s a true dare! Looks delicious

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19 asti March 29, 2009 at 7:40 am

Stunning photos!! What sort of lighting do you use?
Great job on the challenge, they looked fabulous

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20 billy@atablefortwo March 29, 2009 at 10:21 am

yumm.. gorgeous photos! love your version of the lasagne.

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21 SJ March 29, 2009 at 11:37 am

Oh my! *I just fainted*

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22 Sunshinemom March 29, 2009 at 12:56 pm

You are tempting me! Making these sheets at home is a pretty long task!

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23 Poornima March 29, 2009 at 2:21 pm

This was a really tough challenge…the lasagna looks beautiful. The pictures are stunning.

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24 kellypea March 29, 2009 at 4:04 pm

Wow. Just plain fabulous. I’m loving your veg sauce quite a bit and would like to try it. You’ve really captured the yumminess of this lasagne in those photos. Very nice.

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25 Madhumathi March 29, 2009 at 8:34 pm

Lasagna looks scrumptious! You have a great job..The pictures are as usual stunning!

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26 Sig March 29, 2009 at 9:53 pm

Oh my, that’s a lot of work… Results look totally worth the effort though! :)

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27 Namratha March 29, 2009 at 10:02 pm

Looks just right to welcome Spring, lovely colours! Well done Sunita, this was one tasty challenge wasn’t it? :)

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28 fairy_mi March 29, 2009 at 10:17 pm

Really enjoyed your blog, the presentation and the pictures is amazing!
Would need to take a deeper look :)
And the lasagna looks amazing!
Pitty I checked it in the middle of the night because it made me pretty hungry…
Nice to meet you,
Inbal (a new Daring baker)

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29 Linda March 29, 2009 at 11:04 pm

So beautiful! Your vegetarian sauce sounds wonderful…I’m bookmarking this.

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30 Dragon March 29, 2009 at 11:44 pm

Your lasagna is too beautiful for words. Wow! Well done.

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31 Rupa Sengupta March 30, 2009 at 12:31 am

Just one word : YUMMMMMMMMY !!

This looks soo delicious, wish I could just taste it off the screen ! Beautiful.

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32 Hayley March 30, 2009 at 4:43 am

Your pictures are amazing, as is that lasagna! Thanks for sharing!

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33 Nirmala March 30, 2009 at 7:02 am

Sunita, I was about to lick the screen :) Totally drool worthy!

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34 Miri March 30, 2009 at 7:04 am

What a beautiful stack of lasagna Sunita! those pictures are simply amazing – but I’m sure the taste must have transcended all that the picture can express!

Miri

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35 CurryLeaf March 30, 2009 at 11:36 am

Beautiful and perfect.Amazing pics

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36 sandeepa March 30, 2009 at 4:13 pm

Wow what a beautiful dish, so vibrant !!!

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37 Friedl March 30, 2009 at 5:10 pm

Beautiful !

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38 Lakshmi March 30, 2009 at 6:21 pm

Gorgeous lasagna!! I wish to make lasagna at home…let me start with store bought sheets and sauces first!!hehe.
Honestly, I got tired just by reading the recipe itself (still haven’t finished). I really admire your patience and enthusiasm in your culinary adventures. The end result must have felt truly worth it for you though. Awesome work girl!

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39 SuperChef March 30, 2009 at 10:57 pm

its just amazingly good!! love all the pics!

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40 Audax Artifex March 31, 2009 at 12:48 am

What a great experience you had making this challenge. I just love your comments on this posting.

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41 sushma March 31, 2009 at 6:59 am

I hv lost my words you r truely amazing lady appriciate your patience. I would love to have it :)

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42 Deeps @ Naughty Curry January 18, 2012 at 12:57 pm

wow! u made pasta on ur own? looks awesome :)

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