Saturday, March 28, 2009

March Madness- Whole Wheat Lasagne with the DB'ers!

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.

My favorite challenge to date has arrived! How fun. I mean, I cut myself on the pasta machine and still had a smile on my face by the end of it! Don't worry-- I didn't bleed on anything in the kitchen. Promise.

Awkward intro aside, let's get to the good stuff-- as you might be able to tell from my other posts, I am a whole wheat fiend. If something can be made with whole wheat instead of white, I am there. On a previous challenge (the tuiles) I didn't know if it could be done, and was a little hesitant to mess with white-flour recipes when they were going to be a challenge to begin with, until I read this blog. She made her tuiles with whole wheat, and I said that from now on, I'd be going for it.

Now for the bragging bit: Not to toot my own horn, except I am, but this was the best pasta I've ever had. I even said the words "I am good!" aloud after I boiled the first batch and tried a taste of them. I never knew what a difference homemade made for pasta until now. I am a changed woman.

So, as some DB'ers know, I don't have many conveniences of a regular baker's kitchen-- no springform pans, no juicer, no rolling pin. Fortunately, my future mother in law, who lives in town, has them all-- including a pasta machine. Once I got the hang of using it, I had an hypnotic blast turning out the pasta, thinner and thinner with each roll through.

Well enough chat-- onto the recipes, as I made them (some parts are different from those provided to us DBers). This included making our own pasta, bechemel, and ragu from scratch.

Whole Wheat Spinach Pasta:

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.

3 medium organic eggs
6 ounces (170g) frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry and chopped super fine.
400g whole-wheat flour

Mixing the dough (same process as original recipe):
Mound the flour in the center of your work surface and make a well in the middle. Add the eggs and spinach. Use a wooden spoon to beat together the eggs and spinach. Then gradually start incorporating shallow scrapings of flour from the sides of the well into the liquid. As you work more and more flour into the liquid, the well’s sides may collapse. Use a pastry scraper to keep the liquids from running off and to incorporate the last bits of flour into the dough. Don’t worry if it looks like a hopelessly rough and messy lump.

With the aid of the scraper to scoop up unruly pieces, start kneading the dough. Once it becomes a cohesive mass, use the scraper to remove any bits of hard flour on the work surface – these will make the dough lumpy. Knead the dough for about 3 minutes. Its consistency should be elastic and a little sticky. If it is too sticky to move easily, knead in a few more tablespoons of flour. Continue kneading about 10 minutes, or until the dough has become satiny, smooth, and very elastic. It will feel alive under your hands. Do not shortcut this step. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap, and let it relax at room temperature 30 minutes to 3 hours.

Rolling it:

Put 1/5 of the pasta through the machine at the widest setting, passing it through again at 1-setting smaller increments (I did mine in 9 increments) until you can almost see through it. If you put your hand behind it, you should be able to see its outline/shadow clearly. Cut them into shorter lengths and hang to dry.

Dry the pasta at room temperature and store in a sealed container or bag.


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

Using a medium-sized saucepan, melt the butter over low to medium heat. Sift over the flour, whisk until smooth, and then stir (without stopping) for about 3 minutes. Whisk in the milk a little at a time and keep the mixture smooth. Bring to a slow simmer, and stir 3 to 4 minutes, or until the sauce thickens. Cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes, until the sauce thickens. Season with salt, pepper, and a hint of nutmeg.

Vegetarian Ragu:

1 400 g cans diced tomatoes
1 box tomato passata
1 pint cherry tomatoes, quartered
1 medium onion, minced
1 tsp. olive oil
6 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
1/8 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 cup vegetable broth
½ C. minced fresh basil leaves (or 2 Tbsp. dried)
ground black pepper

Combine the onion, olive oil, and ½ tsp. salt in a large saucepan. Cover and cook over medium-low heat until softened, 8-10 min. Stir in the tomato paste, garlic, and red pepper, and cook until the garlic is fragrant, about 30 seconds.
Stir in the broth and various forms of tomatoes. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until the flavors are blended and sauce is thickened. Stir in the basil. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Note: I layered my lasagne with a layer of steamed, chopped broccoli (about 4 cups) and layer of sliced pan-cooked mushrooms (about 3 cups) for a little more veggie goodness. I also used a regular-sized bag of mozzarrella instead of parmesan.

Now, once all the ingredients are prepared (I made the ragu the day before, and the rest on the day of baking), you can cook the pasta. I assembled mine a little differently from the directions I was given, and it worked well for me, so I will post them

Assembling the Ingredients:
Have the sauces and veggies ready to go. Spread a double thickness of paper towels over a large counter space. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius).

Cooking the Pasta:
Bring a pot of salted (or not salted) water to a boil. Drop about four pieces of pasta in the water at a time. Cook about 2 minutes. If you are using dried pasta, cook about 4 minutes, taste, and cook longer if necessary. The pasta will continue cooking during baking, so make sure it is only barely tender. Lift the lasagne from the water with a skimmer, drain, and then slip into the bowl of cold water to stop cooking. When cool, lift out and dry on the paper towels. If you don't have much room, go head and hold off on boiling more noodles until these are in the dish.

Assembling the Lasagne:
Spread a thin layer of béchamel over the bottom of the baking dish. Arrange a layer of about four overlapping sheets of pasta over the béchamel. Spread a thin layer of béchamel (about 3 or 4 spoonfuls) over the pasta, and then an equally thin layer of the ragu. Sprinkle the mushrooms on, followed by cheese. Repeat the layers until all ingredients are used.

Mine was like this, with the bottom ingredients listed first:


Baking and Serving the Lasagne:
Cover the baking dish lightly with foil, taking care not to let it touch the top of the lasagne. Bake 40 minutes, or until almost heated through. Remove the foil and bake another 10 minutes, or until hot in the center (test by inserting a knife – if it comes out very warm, the dish is ready). Take care not to brown the cheese topping. It should be melted, creamy looking and barely tinged with a little gold. Turn off the oven, leave the door ajar and let the lasagne rest for about 10 minutes. Then serve. This is not a solid lasagne, but a moist one that slips a bit when it is cut and served.