I was so excited to receive my email letting me in on this exclusive society and just couldn't wait to get started on my first challenge. I have to admit though, I was a little disappointed that it wasn't a dessert - for some reason I just associate baking with dessert, rather than main meal dishes. After reading the quite lengthy instructions, it was abundantly clear that this was really going to be a challenge after all. Anyway..... on to the lasagne!
And now the requisite info to prove I actually did it:
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.
This could probably win the award for longest recipe I have ever made. One part of this challenge was to make the lasagne noodles by hand. Yikes! Have you ever tried making pasta by hand? Quite a challenge indeed. Luckily, I just happen to own a pasta machine that has only tasted pasta once before in its lifetime. Let me just state for the record that I tried to hand roll the pasta but there was just no way they were going to get as thin as I wanted them to.
Here's the recipe:
#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)
Here's what a 16oz bag of frozen spinach looks like when all the water is squeezed out. Sheesh - good thing I didn't buy the 8oz box or I'd be making another trip back to the store. It was nice of them to put exactly 6oz of spinach in a 16oz bag.
LOL!! Part of the instructions say "Don’t worry if it looks like a hopelessly rough and messy lump." There's the understatement of the year. I thought it would never come together and transform into a smooth elastic ball of dough.
Maybe it was because I took a shortcut... I beat the eggs, then mixed them with the spinach before mixing it into the flour.
Here's mr. egg-enriched spinach awaiting his destiny to meet the love of his life, ms flour.
After much rolling and passing through the pasta maker, finally, success. I had no idea I would be making so much pasta! Wow, I could've had a block party and fed everyone with this recipe.
I think my noodles were fairly successful. They were thin, kind of transparent (I could see my hand through them), but best of all, they tasted Yum-O! Not even very spinach-y.
The only weird part was that it looked like I was hanging a bunch of nori around the kitchen.
Phew! wasn't that tiring? And that was only one part of the recipe.
Onward to Part 2: (yes, I had to be a rebel and do them out of order)
#3 Country Style Ragu’ (Ragu alla Contadina)
Preparation Time: Ingredient Preparation Time 30 minutes and Cooking time 2 hours
Makes enough sauce for 1 recipe fresh pasta or 1 pound/450g dried pasta)
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (45 mL)
2 ounces/60g pancetta, finely chopped
1 medium onion, minced1 medium stalk celery with leaves, minced1 small carrot, minced
4 ounces/125g boneless veal shoulder or round
4 ounces/125g pork loin, trimmed of fat, or 4 ounces/125g mild Italian sausage (made without fennel)
8 ounces/250g beef skirt steak, hanging tender, or boneless chuck blade or chuck center cut (in order of preference)
1 ounce/30g thinly sliced Prosciutto di Parma
2/3 cup (5 ounces/160ml) dry red wine
1 &1/2 cups (12 ounces/375ml) chicken or beef stock (homemade if possible)
2 cups (16 ounces/500ml) milk
3 canned plum tomatoes, drained
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Okay, I had to make some substitutions here. First of all, veal shoulder.... um, no. Can't do anything with veal because it goes way against my conscience. Let the substitutions begin.
I used Italian sausage with fennel since I couldn't find any that was made without it; I used some nice boneless short rib meat for the beef since that's what was on sale; I threw in a few pieces of bacon instead of prosciutto and some homemade Canadian Bacon instead of the pork and pancetta. I know... I'm weird.... but I really like trying to make things that most people buy (Canadian Bacon, cheese, etc) So I put all those meats through my Kitchen Aid grinder (I looove that thing!) and browned all of it together in a pan. Can I just say Wow!? This meat sauce was out of this world. It must have been the red wine, heh, heh! I wanted to have just the meat sauce for lunch. It smelled heavenly while it was cooking! Lucky for the rest of the family that I resisted and we all had something to eat for dinner.
And finally, Part 3:
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
This was a new one for me. I gotta say, I tasted this while it was cooking and, er... ick! not tasty at all! Flour-y milk. No excitement there. Even with added butter and probably more nutmeg than necessary. Fortunately, once it was assembled and baked and everything melded and married - it blossomed into something nice.
Here's a before and after baking:
Of course I couldn't make my life easy and just make one lasagne. Noooo, of course not, I had to go and make three. Yes, you heard me correctly, I said three. One had to be vegetarian for my daughter - instead of meat sauce, that layer was replaced with a spinach sauce, then there was the cheesy lasagne (with homemade mozzarella of course) because what is lasagne without all that gooey cheese :) and then there was the recipe version. I'm exhausted!
Left to Right: Cheesy Mozarella-added Lasagne, Spinach Lasagne, Lasagne of Emilia-Romangna
And the finished product - drumroll please...........