Friday, 27 March 2009
It's the end of the month and that can only mean one thing - Daring Bakers Time!
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.
Okay, so fresh from hosting the DB challenge in February, I have a new found respect for all those hosting DB Challenges and from the very outset, I want to thank the hosts for their hard work in hosting this challenge!
I have to admit that when I saw this challenge, I wasn’t particularly excited nor was I really all that keen to do the challenge. This in no way reflects on the hosts but rather reflects on me, the lack of time I’ve had in March and well, a myriad of other reasons.
You see, the only time I have for making DB challenges are my weekends. With one week off in March for School holidays, we wanted to take the kids somewhere - so there went one weekend. Two other weekends were no goes either so that only left the weekend of 21/22 March.
I was really tempted to skip this challenge. The more I thought about skipping it though, the more I felt I really shouldn’t. After all, the only DB challenge I’ve missed since joining was the Pizza challenge and to miss the second Italian food challenge would just go against my Italian Blood – okay, so I lie. There’s nothing Italian about me – unless of course you count that lovely Italian girl – Oh Wait, this isn’t a Bond post!
Now, the human mind is a strange thing. The minute I decided that I Would do this challenge, was the minute that I started to get excited about it. I mean, home made pasta? That was certainly a challenge and certainly something exciting. I couldn’t understand why I thought it wasn’t exciting to begin with.
I had decided straight off that I would use my own meat sauce recipe and since the béchamel recipe provided is almost like the one I use, I decided to follow that one. So all that was left was to make the pasta sheets.
Making the pasta wasn’t really all that difficult, at least not as difficult as I thought it might be. I had to use a little bit more flour as I think my spinach maybe had a bit more water in it. Kneading the dough was hard work but it finally all came together rather nicely. I also have to admit that I didn't read the instructions in as much detail as I normally do so I blanched the spinach first before chopping and that would probably also explain why more flour was needed. That probably wasn't such a bad idea as it ensured that the spinach was cooked.
I don't have a pasta machine so my arms had a great workout rolling the pasta sheets out. Again, I had to use quite a bit of flour on my countertop to stop the pasta from sticking and that explains the white powdered stuff on the sheets. I do think I managed to get the pasta fairly thin, although maybe not as thin as it should have been? I made the sheets rather large though...
Here it is drying out a little on the back of my dining chairs lined with tea towels. The Lovely Wife thought it was quite an impressive sight seeing the pasta draped that way!
Assembling the lasagne was probably the hardest part as I realised I would first have to half each sheet and than cook each sheet separately and then assemble it as I went along. I didnt have a skimmer either so I had to resort to using one of my flat ladles and then scooping it out of the boiling water and into another pot of cold water, then assembling it as I went along. All good fun really but tiring nonetheless.
It was also at this point that I realised I had forgotten the Cheese. Yes! Altogether now, WHERES The Cheese??!! For those that don't get the joke, its an old Aussie TV Advert that used to run in the late 80's (my uni days) starring Peter Russel Clarke. But I digress once again.
Anyway. I wouldn't have used the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese as it is too expensive here but I would definitely have gotten a nice block of cheese at the very least. But we all know I forgot, so once again, everybody shout - WERE'S the Cheese??!!
Well, I used about 5 slices of processed cheddar... (hangs head in shame) - but it still turned out pretty darned good!!
As instructed, I tried to go with the "Mere films of béchamel sauce and meat ragu coat the sheerest spinach pasta" and so I stinged on the meat sauce whereas I normally like lots of meat. I had to make a double measure of beachamel sauce though as there just didnt seem to be enough bechamel to go around. I used about 6 sheets for my Lasagne and bear in mind that I made two medium sized lasagne dishes and one oval dish full of Lasagne! So yes, quite a lot!
Into the oven went the three dishes of Lasagne, all covered with foil. I went to have a shower, feeling rather pleased with myself at my pasta making and thinking up Italian names to call myself in my make believe Italian restaurant in Emilia-Romagna. Incidentally, when I first saw the recipe, I though Emilia-Romagna was a person. Now I know that it is a region in Italy - an administrative region of Northern Italy to be precise. It comprises the two historic regions of Emilia and Romagna and the capital is Bologna. This is where Bolognese sauce comes from too!
See? You just learn so much from being a member of the Daring Bakers. Application forms located on the fourth table from the left. No, not that one, the other one, the table without the Lasagne on it!
The Lovely Wife and Kids had gone out for a while as I slaved in the kitchen and as they came pounding back into house, they declared they were starving and asked if dinner was ready. I told them they would have to wait a little while and I guess the wait was worth it as the kids and The Lovely Wife all enjoyed this challenge immensely. One lasagne dish together with the oval dish were polished off at one sitting! My son declared that he liked the green pasta and especially the creamy bit on top.
I really, seriously have to say that I am sooo glad that I did do this challenge! Making the pasta was a lot of work, sure, but it was so rewarding. It was such an amazing feeling being able to make my own lasagne sheets and the taste of the finished product was simply wonderful. I was surprised that with 6 sheets of Lasagne, the finished product seemed to meld together and it was only the layers of meat that could actually be seen clearly. The Lasagne tasted better the next day after being in the fridge overnight too.
All in all a highly satsfying and succesful challenge. I'm very tempted to go get my own pasta machine now as I am seriously contemplating making my own pasta from now on....
For the Meat Sauce:
300g minced beef
4 cloves garlic - chopped
1 large onion - chopped
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp basil
4 large tomatoes - quartered
1 large carrots - diced
1 small can tomato puree
[I usually add in mushrooms and capsicum but left them out this time]
Sautee Bay Leaves, Oregano, Basil, Pepper, Onion and Garlic till fragrant. Add the minced meat and continue cooking till meat is well cooked. Add fresh tomatoes and continue cooking till tomatoes are soft. Add in Carrots. Mix well
Add salt to taste. Add in the tomato puree and Capsicum. Cover and Simmer for about 15 minutes. Add some water if sauce is too dry.
And for the recipe from the Challenge:
#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:
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 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.
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.