It’s my Daring Baker Challenge time and 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.
Before I go any further, I would like to mention that we Daring Bakers now meet at a new address. Do drop by there to take a look at our very trendy new home, where there is a public forum for non-Daring Bakers too.
Lasagne (this is the plural form of the word and how the Italians refer to this dish, though the singular “lasagna” is more popularly used) is an Italian sheet pasta though everyone knows it as the delicious layered preparation in which this pasta is used. Lasagne Al Forno means “lasagne baked in an oven” and this version is green (hence the “verdi”) because it has 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. Yet, many people consider the lasagne as it is made in the Emilia-Romagna region in central Italy to be the best and the standard against which all other lasagne are measured.
Lasagne from this region uses pasta which is coloured green with spinach puree, béchamel sauce flavoured with nutmeg, a hearty meat and tomato ragu and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.
We like pasta and the thought of making lasagne at home was a bit daunting, especially as my one and only previous attempt at it was gnocchi which was an abject failure. So I put that memory on the backburner and decided to give this pasta a chance.
Going through the provided recipe it didn’t seem too difficult. The important part seemed to be to roll the pasta out as thin as possible, and I quote “the sheet should be so thin that you can clearly see your hand through it and see colours”!
The provided recipe was for a non-vegetarian version and we were free to use alternatives to suit our dietary choices. We were required to make hand-made pasta sheets, a béchamel sauce, a ragu (or alternative sauce) and follow the given instructions to assemble and bake a lasagna. You can find the detailed challenge recipe at the Daring Bakers website.
The Lasagne Sheets : Following my usual style of “cook eggless if possible”, I used Bryanna‘s eggless version to make my delightful green spinach pasta sheets.
I halved the given recipe and used the food processor to make the dough. It really cannot get any easier than this. I cooked fresh spinach, pureed it and then used it in the dough. This gave my dough a beautiful uniform green colour.
Inspired by a fellow DB‘s suggestion, I divided the dough into smaller pieces, shaped them into rough squares, rolled them out and then cut them into strips. Rolling out the pasta into thin sheets thin wasn’t a problem, even though my rolling pin is a small wooden one which is tapered at the ends. I guess the practice from years of regularly rolling out chapattis does make all the difference!
The pasta turned out thin enough for me too see my hand through it but I’m afraid I saw no colours through it. In the above picture, it looks as if I have suddenly developed green webbed fingers!
The camera has become an indispensable part of my kitchen accessories ever since I started blogging, and with this challenge, looks like our dining chairs have joined in!!!
I let my pasta sheets dry for about 10 minutes and then cut them into strips. I put the strips into an airtight box, separated by waxed paper, and refrigerated them till the next day when I used them.
My Sauces : I made the Béchamel sauce using the provided recipe. As the provided ragu recipe was non-vegetarian, I substituted this with my own version of Marinara sauce and stir fried finely chopped eggplant and zucchini sautéed with a bit of oil and seasoned with salt, pepper and mixed dried Italian herbs.
Assembling The Lasagne : I cooked the refrigerated pasta sheets in boiling water for about 3 to 4 minutes, ddabbed them dry on a kitchen towel and then used them for the lasagne. I had the marinara sauce in the freezer, so I thawed that and warmed it a little. I made the béchamel sauce prior to assembling the lasagne.
I followed the provided layering instructions, starting with a layer of the béchamel sauce, a layer of the pasta sheets, another layer of béchamel sauce, a layer of marinara topped with sautéed vegetables, a thin layer of grated cheese, repeating till the sauces and vegetables are used up. The last layer was a thin layer of béchamel sauce topped with a generous amount of grated cheese.
I couldn’t find Parmesan here so I used Mozarella instead. I did think of using Paneer (a soft Indian cheese) as well, but my daughter loves Mozarella so that was the way I went with the cheese. I baked my lasagna for 50 minutes (an extra 10 minutes) and left it to cool for about 20 minutes before cutting it to serve.
Even though I had a feeling that my home-made lasagna wouldn’t turn out right I was very happy to be proved wrong. It was quite good and I was happy with the way the lasagne turned out.
Using as little of the sauces to make very thin layers is definitely a defining part of this preparation. It allows one to savour the flavours in the lasagne. It also prevents one’s lasagne from becoming a “gloppy” mess!
One usually sees lasagna served with bread and salad in most places, but I’m not sure how it is served in Italy. Our lasagne was a full meal by itself.
I still haven’t decided whether I will make this again, but I have a feeling I probably will with different vegetables and cheese just to see how the flavours pair up. This sheet pasta can also be used to make cannelloni and ravioli so I might just experiment with those too, when time permits. And don’t forget to visit my fellow lasagne bakers.