Mamma mia! This month's Daring Bakers challenge transports us to Italy to make pasta - spinach lasagne noodles to be exact. But first, here's a word from our sponsor:
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.
I have previously shied away from making my own pasta, putting it in the "too hard" basket. In fact, I have owned a book on pasta making for more than 10 years, and a pasta machine for more than 4 years, and have used neither of them. This challenge not only forced me to confront my pasta making fear, but the pasta had to be made entirely by hand - no machine! Just as well, as I am soon to move house, and I didn't plan on opening the mint condition pasta machine after all this time right now.
Here is the birth of my lasagne noodles - flour, eggs and spinach:
I found that I had to add a significant amount of water (not in the recipe) to make a coherent dough.
Eventually, after mixing and kneading, I ended up with this lovely, silky-smooth green ball of dough:
Next came some seriously hard yakka and quality time with my rolling pin as I rolled the rested dough into transparent sheets, and cut it into smaller sheets of uniform size using a template as a guide:
Here are my lasagne sheets hanging "on the line" (or in my case, on my bathroom towel rack!) to dry:
I didn't bother drying the lasagne sheets completely, and instead used them while they were still pliable. This meant that I didn't have to pre-boil them before using them in my lasagne.
For the filling, I made the bechamel and the country ragu suggested by our hosts (recipe on their sites). The ragu itself took some serious work, from mincing the meat in the food processor through to cooking it for two hours plus. I always struggle with slow cooking things on my gas cooktop, which burns furiously even at the lowest setting, so I had to constantly top up my ragu with water during the cooking process.
Here is the lasagne mid-layering, showing all of the delicious components:
I didn't realise that I had to buy additional cheese for assembling the lasagne until after I had completed the shopping, so I just used some pre-grated light cheddar cheese that I already had.
After five hours worth of work, including 40 minutes of oven time, I ended up with a hefty dish of hand-made lasagne:
Slicing into its depths, the many layers of the lasagne are clearly visible:
Even though I was rather bemused by the length of time it took to make this lasagne, the taste was fantastic - rich, hearty and very satisfying. I could really tell the taste difference between my beautiful fresh hand-made lasagne sheets and the dried packet lasgane sheets that I usually use. For the sake of convenience, given the work that lasagne takes in any event, I will probably stick with dried packet lasagne. However, I am now inspired to make other types of pasta from scratch, which can be used in less labour-intensive dishes.
I only used half of my lasagne sheets to make this lasagne, although all the bechamel and ragu was used. I was at a loss what to do with the remaining sheets - originally I was going to take them to work and beg someone to take them. There was no way that I was going to throw them out after all of that work.
Eventually, I was inspired by the fact that I was going to make tuna pasta for my work lunches this week anyway, so I switched from packet pasta to tuna lasagne, made from this recipe, but using breadcrumbs on top instead of cheese:
Of the two, I actually preferred the tuna lasagne, simply because it is not as heavy. However, both versions are delicious.
Thanks to our hosts this month for choosing a very different challenge. You can check out all the other variations and permutations of this lasagne at The Daring Kitchen blogroll.