Friday, March 27, 2009

Lasagne Verdi al Forno

Making my own pasta... this was a first for me. Oh, you think since I live in Italy I should have this down pat by now? Not so much. See, in Italy I can go to any market or store within miles of my house and get freshly made pasta. Why go to the trouble of making your own when it is so readily available?

Well, I was glad for this month's Daring Bakers challenge. It forced me to learn the technique.. which I will be grateful for when I move back to the States. Then I will be missing the fresh pasta and need to make my own!

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 admit I was a bit nervous about making the pasta. After watching this video I was inspired and feeling confident that I could do it. I mean, this Italian woman could roll out that dough in under 5 minutes... it couldn't be that hard! (I neglected to consider that she has probably been doing this for 60 years!)

Over all, I had a good time making the lasagna noodles. It does take a bit of work and patience, but it was worth it. I certainly felt accomplished after I was done. However... I don't plan on doing this again anytime soon. For now I think I'll just cheat and head down to the local market!

Instead of using the suggested ragu, I chose to make a vegetarian smoked mozzarella ragu. The flavor was amazing. I will probably use this ragu recipe in other pasta dishes as well.

This dish got 2 thumbs up from my husband. His only criticism is that it tasted "too Italian"... which is not exactly a criticism. We just eat things that taste like this all of the time. I'll consider it a compliment that I was able to achieve such an authentic taste! (He thinks it was the smoked mozzarella and eggplant flavor that closely resembles some of the dishes we get at our favorite local ristorante here in Napoli.)

Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna (Lasagne Verdi al Forno)
(Serves 8 to 10 as a first course, 6 to 8 as a main dish)
Preparation Time: 15 minutes to assemble and 40 minutes cooking time

10 quarts (9 litres) salted water
1 recipe Spinach Pasta cut for lasagna (recipe follows)
#1 - 1 recipe Bechamel Sauce (recipe follows)
#2 - 1 recipe Smoked Mozzarella Vegetable Ragu (recipe follows)
#3 - 1 cup (4 ounces/125g) freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano


Working Ahead:
The ragu and the béchamel sauce can be made up to three days ahead. The ragu can also be frozen for up to one month. The pasta can be rolled out, cut and dried up to 24 hours before cooking. The assembled lasagne can wait at room temperature (20 degrees Celsius/68 degrees Fahrenheit) about 1 hour before baking. Do not refrigerate it before baking, as the topping of béchamel and cheese will overcook by the time the center is hot.

Assembling the Ingredients:
Have all the sauces, rewarmed gently over a medium heat, and the pasta at hand. Have a large perforated skimmer and a large bowl of cold water next to the stove. Spread a double thickness of paper towels over a large counter space. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius). Oil or butter a 3 quart (approx 3 litre) shallow baking dish.

Cooking the Pasta:
Bring the 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. Repeat until all the pasta is cooked.

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 with about 1&1/2 tablespoons of the béchamel and about 1/3 cup of the cheese. Repeat the layers until all ingredients are used, finishing with béchamel sauce and topping with a generous dusting of cheese.

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.

#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)

Working by Hand:
Equipment: A roomy work surface, 24 to 30 inches deep by 30 to 36 inches (60cm to 77cm deep by 60cm to 92cm). Any smooth surface will do, but marble cools dough slightly, making it less flexible than desired.A pastry scraper and a small wooden spoon for blending the dough.A wooden dowel-style rolling pin. In Italy, pasta makers use one about 35 inches long and 2 inches thick (89cm long and 5cm thick). The shorter American-style pin with handles at either end can be used, but the longer it is, the easier it is to roll the pasta. Plastic wrap to wrap the resting dough and to cover rolled-out pasta waiting to be filled. It protects the pasta from drying out too quickly.A sharp chef’s knife for cutting pasta sheets.Cloth-covered chair backs, broom handles, or specially designed pasta racks found in cookware shops for draping the pasta.

Mixing the dough:
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.

Stretching and Thinning:
If using an extra-long rolling pin work with half the dough at a time. With a regular-length rolling pin, roll out a quarter of the dough at a time and keep the rest of the dough wrapped. Lightly sprinkle a large work surface with flour. The idea is to stretch the dough rather than press down and push it. Shape it into a ball and begin rolling out to form a circle, frequently turning the disc of dough a quarter turn. As it thins outs, start rolling the disc back on the pin a quarter of the way toward the center and stretching it gently sideways by running the palms of your hands over the rolled-up dough from the center of the pin outward. Unroll, turn the disc a quarter turn, and repeat. Do twice more.Stretch and even out the center of the disc by rolling the dough a quarter of the way back on the pin. Then gently push the rolling pin away from you with one hand while holding the sheet in place on the work surface with the other hand. Repeat three more times, turning the dough a quarter turn each time.Repeat the two processes as the disc becomes larger and thinner. The goal is a sheet of even thickness. For lasagne, the sheet should be so thin that you can clearly see your hand through it and see colours. Cut into rectangles about 4 by 8 inches (10 x 20 cm). Note: the transparency is a crucial element of lasagne pasta and the dough should be rolled as thinly as possible. Dry the pasta at room temperature and store in a sealed container or bag.

#2 Bechamel
Preparation Time: 15 minutes

4 tablespoons (2 ounces/60g) unsalted butter
4 tablespoons (2 ounces/60g) all purpose unbleached (plain) flour
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.

#3 Smoked Mozzarella Vegetable Ragu

1 large eggplant, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
2 cups finely diced mushrooms
3/4 cup water
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup diced smoked mozzarella

-Toss the eggplant cubes with 1 teaspoon salt and place it in a colander to drain for 30 minutes. Squeeze the eggplant to extract liquid and then pat it dry.
-Cook the eggplant, onion, garlic, oregano, and crushed red pepper in the olive oil in a large skillet set over medium heat, covered, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
-Stir in the tomatoes, mushrooms, and water and simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, until the eggplant is very tender and the mixture is thick, about 10 minutes.
-Stir in the mozzarella, then simmer, stirring, until the cheese just begins to soften, about 2 to 3 minutes.


  1. Beautiful photos and your lasagne looks fabulous! Very well done!

  2. Perfect looking lasagne! Very well done!



  3. Great job on your challenge and it looks really delicious.

  4. Oh how lucky to eat stuff that taste like this all the time! Your pasta came out great and I love how you photographed it on the board.

  5. Tasted too Italian.... that's funny.
    Great job!

  6. two thumbs up from the primo taste-tester is not bad! just confirms you can cook italian!! great job!

  7. Mmm, your lasagne looks awesome!!

  8. Have to give you a big thank you Lauren for introducing me to the world of food blogs. Great food on there. A package will be wending its way to you as a little thank you. Your last dish sounds delightful.

  9. Love your photos! Great job on the challenge. I like your blog name.. so quirky!

  10. your lasagne looks great! it looks so professional!


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