Sunday, March 29, 2009

Daring Bakers: Lasagna

For those of you who know me, this wasn't exactly my first time. I may have had a pan or 2 of lasagna in my time. Let's just say I know my way around the big thick noodles and any type of sauce you can think of. If you are under the age of 18 you should cover your eyes and leave this webpage now.

But if you are old enough and think you can handle it... here's the pic

Hehehe. I amuse myself. And I amuse you too. Admit it.

Anyway, surprisingly, this is my first lasagna post. I actually stuck with the original recipe pretty much, with just a few minor changes here and there, and really it's just more fudging than changes.

So this is how it's gonna go. It took about 4 hours total. You start the ragu. You get it simmering. Then you make the pasta dough. While it is resting you add the tomatoes to the ragu and simmer more. Then you roll out the pasta dough. Then you start the water boiling for the pasta. Then you make the bechamel. Then you cook the pasta in batches while you assemble. Then bake. Eat. Repeat from the top.

So let's start with making the ragu. Start with a carrot, 1 rib celery and a medium onion.

Chop them up fine.

Then get about 2 oz of pancetta and chop that up fine too.
Add the pancetta and veggies to a pan with a couple tbsp of olive oil over medium heat. Allow to sweat a bit until they just start to brown.

While those are going, let's get the meat. Where I used to live you could buy meatloaf mix, which was ground beef, pork and veal. Then you could just buy a lb and you'd be good to go. Not the case here. So I ended up buying a lb each of pork and veal and 2 lbs beef. So put those together in a bowl.
And mix them all together. The only way to do it is to stick your hands in and just do it. mmm feel the way the fat coats your hand. And don't even try to deny knowing what I'm talking about.

Since we only need 1 lb for this recipe the other 3 lbs get portioned and frozen. You know how lotsa recipes ask for this mix so just batch it up for later.
Take each 1 lb bag and press them flat so that they fit better in the freezer. Or they can be stacked or whatever. They just handle better this way. Just do it and quit yer whinin'.
And add the 1 lb of the mix to the veggies.
Just let it cook, tossing it and scraping the bottom every once in a while.
Keep going. You want it really dark brown.
There you go. Now you're pretty close. It smells so good and brown right about now. I don't know how else to describe it other than brown. I've never browned meat this way but it was really good. Will definitely keep it in mind when making sauces in the future.
Now you start adding the beef broth, about a half a cup at a time.
Let it cook off between each addition until you get to about 2 cups, give or take.
The sauce looks creamy for a bit but when you let it simmer for about an hour it just ends up a dark brown.
While the ragu is simmering, let's get the pasta started. Combine 6 oz of spinach, thawed and squeezed dry and 2 eggs in a food processor. I don't have a food processor so I used the Magic Bullet. It worked. Though maybe a food processor would have gotten the spinach smaller. I guess we'll never know. Unless you try.
That looks so unappetizing. After you blend it up it looks better, at least a little bit. See?
Make a well with 2 cups of AP flour on your counter. Pour the spinach mix in the center. Scoop might be a better word than pour but you get the idea.
No pics from here until the pasta was done because my hands were covered in flour. Start mixing together the flour into the spinach egg mixture, gradually adding bits of flour. Your hands are going to be a mess. Just accept it. So is your kitchen. Get over it.

Keep kneading until it forms a nice smooth dough. You may need to add more flour depending on the exact amount of spinach, how well you drained it, the weather and your mood. Cover the dough and let it rest for about a half an hour or more.

Back to the ragu. Add a small can of peeled whole tomatoes. Though this sauce isn't very tomatoey so if you want more go for it. You could add tomato paste or sauce if either of those make you happy too. Crush the tomatoes with your spoon and resume simmering. Oh and taste and season to your liking.

You probably have a couple minutes about now to start writing your blog post. But don't plan on finishing the post because otherwise dinner will be really late. I suppose you could do something else but what else could you possibly want to do? Oh I guess you should get your counter reasonably clean so that you can roll out your pasta.

Cut off knobs of dough. Depending on how much counter space you cleared, you decide how big of a knob to cut. Flour your rolling pin and counter and put your knob down and start rolling. You just want to roll, don't push on the dough or it will tear.

Roll out the dough until it's thin. Very thin. You should be able to see light through it thin. See the light? It'll help keep your lasagna lighter (because lasagna is a real light dish, right? hah)
Cut into strips about the length of your pan. Repeat until you have used up all the dough.

Bechamel time. Bechamel is a cream sauce. Pretty standard one for this recipe. Start with half a stick of butter and 4 tbsp flour in a pan. Melt the butter and mix into the flour. Add whatever you need to so it looks about like this.
Add about 2 cups milk (I just finished the carton I had and called it close enough.
And bring it up to a simmer so it thickens. Now add salt, pepper and nutmeg. Taste and see if you are happy with it.
Then I decided to add some ricotta, just for kicks and giggles. About a cup. Or because I had some and figured it would be a good way to use it up. Whatever makes you happy.
Stir it in until smooth. Or at least kinda smooth.
Put a thin layer over a 9"x13" pan.
Now back to the water you boiled for the pasta. You did that didn't you. Make sure it's salted and have an ice bath. Cook the pasta for 2 minutes. Put it in the ice bath to cool it. And into the pan to form your first layer.
Next is a layer of bechamel.
Followed by the ragu.
Followed by some freshly grated parmesan.
Repeat until you run out of stuff. It will all fit in a 9x13" pan. This would make a nice thick lasagna. Or you could do what I did and also make a 9x9" pan and have both be a bit thin. Whatever makes your skirt fly up. Hehe. I copied that from Pioneer Woman. It cracks me up. Yes I am easily amused.

It should end with pasta, bechamel, cheese. I topped mine with some shredded mozzerella. Because I like that stringy brown stuff on top. Bake for about 45 minutes or until browned. Let it rest for at least 15 minutes so that it firms up enough to cut. And dig in.

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.


Amanda said...

Wow. You seem to be quite the lasagne pro. I'm very impressed with your pasta rolling!

Do you usually make your own pasta?

Me! said...

I don't always make fresh pasta, I definitely just picked up a few boxes of barilla (especially cavatappi, the best shape ever) to keep in the pantry when I don't feel like it. Probably about half the time I use fresh pasta, though I don't always make it fresh. When I make fresh pasta I'll do a double batch and freeze half of it for later. Then I just have to remember it's there.

The Irreverent Cook said...

Wow, I love the step by step directions! Must have taken a lot of work to put together =D Glad you enjoyed the challenge!

Jaime said...

great job! love all the process photos

BC said...

Fantastic! I've read 11 hours from one post. You are obviously a lasagna ninja!

Michele said...

Wow! Your pasta, and lasagna look terrific! It's awesome that you do step-by-step photos!