Friday, March 27, 2009

My first Daring Bakers challenge

Wow! Where did the time go this month? I have so much to post, but no time to do it. It's a good thing there's a target date for Daring Bakers or I probably wouldn't get this up in time.

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:
#2 Bechamel
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...........


  1. I agree, longest recipe ever!!

    Your lasagna looks fantastic! Good idea with using hangers. I was literally running out of space to put all of the noodles.

  2. Love your plating! Your lasagna also looked fantastic.

  3. Three! Wow.

    With the Daring Bakers and Daring Cooks emerging, we'll have fewer recipes that straddle the line... but you never know!

  4. You did a great job on the challenge. I love how beautifully your pasta turned out. I think I didn't use enough frozen spinach in mine to get the lovely green - mine was standard color with just lots of specks of spinach throughout. Oh well. I hope next month is a dessert!

  5. So pretty! I like the way you cut your lasagna. I wish I had documented each step in the process like this. Well done!