The Daring Bakers' March Challenge - Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna
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. (Recipe HERE.)
You may be as surprised as I was to see lasagne (aka lasagna) as a Daring Baker challenge! At first I was a little resistant to the idea. After all, my dad and grandpa were bakers, and they never sold lasagne as a baked good in their bakeries. But after giving it a little thought, I realized that the mixing and kneading of the dough for the noodles was certainly a close cousin to mixing and kneading bread dough. And, after all, the entire dish is baked at the conclusion! Besides, I find it hard to pass up a tasty challenge.
The noodles for this lasagne recipe are spinach noodles. I have to be honest . . . I'm not a fan of spinach. But the Daring Bakers' challenges stretch me in more ways than one. They stretch, both, my creative and my epicurean boundaries.
There are four main parts to this dish, the spinach pasta, the Bechamel sauce, the Ragu sauce and the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. I started with the Ragu sauce, which included a combination of five ground meats, as well as minced vegetables, red cooking wine, chicken broth, tomatoes and milk. It cooked for a total of two hours, and filled the house with its wonderful aroma.
Next I made the pasta, completely by hand. We were allowed to use a pasta machine, if we had one, but I didn't. The simple ingredients - flour, eggs and spinach - worked up into a nice, pliable dough, but only after I added an extra egg and a little bit of water. Until then, it was too dry to form the dough. (I think our arid climate is the reason I often have to add more liquid to recipes.) The pasta dough was kneaded for a total of 15 minutes, and then allowed to rest, covered in plastic, for three hours. I divided the dough into fourths in order to roll it out. It had to be rolled very thin, and my kitchen counter would not have been large enough to hold the entire rolled-out sheet of dough. I cut the pasta into noodles approximately 4" x 8" and dried them over the towel-covered backs of our dining room chairs.
While the noodles were drying, I ran to the grocery store to buy the cheese - Parmigiano-Reggiano. I only needed 4 oz., but they didn't have a chunk that small. At $20/pound, the smallest piece in the case set me back $12.00! There was one wedge, weighing five-plus-pounds, with a price tag of $112.00! And to think that I've complained, in the past, about paying $8.00 for a two-pound loaf of Tillamook cheddar!
The final preparation, before the dish was assembled, was the Bechamel sauce, which is just a simple white sauce, with some ground nutmeg added.
I really did have fun making this authentic Italian dish; and fun is the reason I am a Daring Baker! I assembled it all and baked it off for dinner on Thursday of my Spring Break vacation. Dan was really happy with it, and I liked it too. I'm still not a true fan of the spinach pasta, so if I made it again, I would probably use plain pasta. And I would add some mozzarella cheese; I missed that! I'm pretty sure that I will make the Ragu again, though. That combination of meat and veggies was really savory. Here are a couple pictures of the baked lasagne, on our dinner table.