Friday, March 27, 2009

Daring Bakers - Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna

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.


Scate said...

props for hand rolling pasta! A pasta roller that plugs into your kitchen aid is a god send - even the kind that you clamp down on the table or counter is pretty handy in getting it nice and thin.

looks great!

Tammy said...

well done! I think if I had added water to mine it would have ended up ok. I ended up giving up -seeing yours makes me wish i had persevered!!!

jesse said...

FIVE hours?!! My god, I bet it tastes beautiful though!

Engineer Baker said...

Wow, that's fabulous. I'm impressed that you hand-rolled - that's a lot of work! And I love the layers in your lasagne, it's so pretty!

lawsiepawsie said...

Congratulations! Your lasagne looks delicious :)

Lorraine @NotQuiteNigella said...

Fantastic! Bravo! It looks delicious :) Although I thought were weren't supposed to post it until the 29th? No matter, it will help inspire many others I'm sure.

A_and_N said...

You guys rock, man!

Anonymous said...

Love the tuna lasagne, and your meat lasagne came out perfect! Great job on the hand rolling too!

ARLENE said...

Great layering, wonderful job. I need to get that pasta attachment! Never thought of using my towel racks for drying, lol.

Cakelaw said...

Hi Scate, will have to look into the KitchenAid attachement.

Hi Tammy, I was aghast when I first started to make this, because the dough seemed hopelessly dry. I added a fair bit of water, but it seemed to do the trick.

Hi Jesse, yes, a little OTT on effort, but it does taste devine.

Thanks Caitlin - it certainly felt like an achievement at the end of it.

Thanks Lawsiepawsie :)

Hi Lorraine, thanks. They changed the rules for positing on 27th, but for this challenge, they will accept the old date of the 29th as well.


Thanks LisaMichelle. That handrolling sure develops muscles.

Hi Arlene, I am considering the pasta atatchment too after reading about so many happy pasta makers in DBs who use it.

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

Your lasagne look delicious! what beautiful pasta sheets! Great job!



kellypea said...

Congrats on the completion of this challenge. It was quite an undertaking wasn't it? Smart of you to use the towel rack to dry the pasta! I cooked my extra sheets and added fresh tomatoes, olive oil, garlic and parmesan. Just tossed it. So yummy...

Elyse said...

Good job hand rolling!! Your lasagna turned out fabulously. Wish I could have partaken in a slice. Heck, I'd even take one right now--for breakfast! What a magnificent creation. Many a back pat for you!

Courtney said...

h my goodness you just gave me insight to my pasta, mine were not dry but i still boiled them, now i think i know why they weren't my favorite, hehe!!

Candice said...

Tuna lasagne, what a great idea! :)

Erin said...

Very well done! Glad you conquered homemade pasta!

The Blonde Duck said...

That looks so good! I love the pics of them drying!

Cakelaw said...

Thanks Rosa.

Thanks Kellypea, it was quite an undertaking! I love your idea for using up the leftover lasagne sheets - yum!

Thanks Elyse - wish you were closer so that you could. (I still have about half of the meat one and two thirds of the tuna one living in my freezer!)

Hi Courtney, I know - I was scratching my head about the boiling part (I've never done that, even with dried pasta), and when I read that Zorra used it as is, I thought, heck, I'm not doing that to this lovely fresh pasta.

Thanks Candice - it was a serendipitous thought because I'd bought tuna to make tuna pasta for work.

Thanks Erin - it was something that I had thought sounded nice in theory, but too daunting in practice - til now!

Thanks Duckie, I like that pic too - like washing on a line, heh, heh.

Arlette said...

hello there,
nice lasagne, i like to try the tuna version one day, sounds interesting. take care.

Jacque said...

Good call, using the fresh sheets of pasta. Boiling them took forever and a day!

Anyway, your lasagna looks terrific. I'm impressed by how cleanly it sliced.

Y said...

I did the same as you, with regards to not precooking the pasta sheets. Why create more work for yourself, I say! :)

StickyGooeyCreamyChewy said...

Your lasagne looks beautiful! Congratulations on conquering your fears and plunging in! Well done!

Aparna said...

Looks great. And you got to use that pasta machine.:)

Lauren said...

Mmm, your lasagne looks amazing!! Awesome job on this challenge =D!!

Chris said...

Well done! Well done! Looks delish! I didn't do well when it came to the drying part...was running out of room in my kitchen!

ice tea: sugar high said...

Love how you actually made a pattern to cut your lasagna sheets. Very professional! Well done

Mary said...

Your lasagne is beautiful! I love how you hung the pasta on the towel rack to dry! And I wish I had thought of making a template for cutting the pasta!

Anonymous said...

Well done you for sticking at handrolling the pasta, I confess I gave up after a while and used the machine instead.

Cakelaw said...

Thanks Arlette.

Hi Jacque, I couldn't have been bothered boiling them, and it tasted great without.

Exactly Y!

Thanks Susan - this tasted very good.

Thanks Aparna.

Hi Lauren, thanks!

Hi Chris, I had the same issue, so I was keen to get the pasta put away somehow ASAP.

Thanks Icetea - one of my few strokes of inspiration.

Hi Mary - it reminded me of washing!

MaryMary said...

Never thought of this as "birthing" pasta...but it probably took as much time. :) Looks fabulous--great job on this month's challenge!

Cakelaw said...

LOL MaryMary - that is about right. Thanks for dropping by.

TeaLady said...

I had never made my own pasta before and it was lots of fun. Your lasagna looks fantastic. Great job.

Sheltie Girl said...

You did a great job on your lasagne! I love how thin your pasta turned out.

Natalie @ Gluten a Go Go

Cakelaw said...

Thanks TeaLady - I was pleasantly surprised by this.

Thanks Natalie :)

Linda said...

What nice work on your lasagna! And to think that you got not ONE, but TWO, dishes out of one pasta recipe is great. Mine all went into the lasagna, but I probably didn't get it as thin as you did. I kind of wish I had used cheddar or mozzarella cheese. The parmagiana was very, very strong, I thought.