I will go ahead and admit that I wasn’t that excited when I saw this month’s challenge. I know there is a Daring Cooks group to debut soon, but this seemed too close to cooking, and I wanted to be more challenged in the baking arena. I also had to make the gluten free version and I thought it would be a pain. But, like the dedicated Daring Baker I have promised to be, I forged ahead and made the lasagna.
I am really glad I did, because I was very pleasantly surprised at how this turned out. The gluten free version required a mix of several different flours, but it came together fairly easily. Because of the lack of gluten, it was a bit dry and crumbly, but I added some water and it started to come together just fine. Rolling out the lasagna was much easier than I thought. I didn’t even bother to make them into perfectly even lasagna shapes, but just kept them as I rolled them. I did all of this one night and then assembled the lasagna the next day.
When I told David that I was making lasagna, he didn’t look too excited. He is not a big fan of ricotta cheese, and most lasagna is made this way. He was much happier when I told him that it involved a bechemel sauce. This bechemel sauce was so easy to make. I thought at first that it could take forever to thicken, but it actually thickened very quickly. I don’t like meat in my lasagna, so I made my usual marinara sauce instead. I am really happy about this recipe. It was nice to have lasagna again and making my own noodles was a great experience! I have wanted to make homemade pasta for a while now and this was a great way to make myself get in the kitchen and do 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.
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 Country Style Ragu (recipe follows)#3
1 cup (4 ounces/125g) freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
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.
Alternative Recipes from Mary of Beans and Caviar
#1 Gluten Free Egg Pasta
The choice of the first flour is personal. I used corn flour because the subtle taste blended well with the dish. However, this is a matter of personal taste – please feel free to substitute a different flour for the corn flour but don’t subsititute a starch.
150 gr corn flour or masa in North America – yellow with a slightly gritty feel (250 mL, 1 cup) NOT a starch
100 gr corn starch* (3/4 cup, 187.5 mL)
100 gr tapioca flour* (225 mL, 9/10 cup or a little over 7 volume ounces)
150 gr of potato starch* (250 mL, 1 cup)
100 gr of glutinous rice flour* (200 mL, ¾ cup)
10 gr of Xanthan powder (1.5 tsp, 7.5 mL)
10 gr of salt (1 tsp, 5 mL)
6 extra large eggs (60 gr each or 2.5 oz in weight, 1 fluid oz in volume)
3/8 cup of water (95 mL)
50 mL of extra virgin olive oil (1/5 cup)
Note: If you add cooked chopped spinach to this recipe, you may have to reduce the water. The recipe was not tested (yet) with the addition of spinach.
*fine white powder that squeaks when rubbed between fingers
Plastic wrap or parchment paper for your work surface
Aluminium foil to cover the lasagne
Sift all the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients.
Whisk together 3 eggs, the water and/or spinach, and the oil. Pour into the middle of the dry ingredients. Mix with a sturdy wooden spoon, gradually drawing more of the flour mix into the wet ingredients. Add each egg as needed. The dough will be crumbly at the beginning but will gradually come together as you add the eggs. You will need to use your hands to squeeze and mix the dough.
The dough will be firm and stick together when ready. It will not have the elasticity of gluten dough therefore it will crack when kneaded and pushed. Form it into a smooth ball, oil it lightly, and cover securely with plastic wrap. Let it rest for an hour.
Put a sheet of plastic wrap on your work surface. This is very important as the dough will not hold together very well when lifted. Have flour ready for dusting (corn flour etc) and dust the surface lightly. Cut a piece of dough about the size of really large egg – it doesn’t matter the size but start small for the first one to gauge how much space you need. Keep the remaining dough covered so it does not dry.
Roll the dough into a ball and flatten into a disc with your hands. Put it on your work surface and flatten with your hands. Use a rolling pin and gently push the dough down and out ward from the centre. You may have to place one hand on the plastic wrap as you push the dough down and away. Gluten free dough does not stretch like wheat dough therefore it needs gentle flattening and pushing. If it breaks, pat it back together. If it is too dry, dab a little water with your finger.
The gluten free dough will be thicker than wheat dough and you will barely be able to see your hand through the dough. Once it is flattened, cut into strips or squares that will fit your pan.
Set the dough aside on the plastic sheet. There is no need to dry the dough. But if you do dry the dough, it will not be able to hang because it will break. Stack the rolled out dough with plastic sheets in between.
Stack the sheets when dry and wrap securely. Store in the fridge until ready to use. Freezing will make the dough crumbly and difficult to work with – so freeze only as a last resort!
This dough does not need to be precooked before being assembled into the lasagne.
#2 Gluten Free Béchamel – White Sauce
2 & 2/3 cup milk
4 tablespoons unsalted butter or Extra virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons corn starch (fine white and squeaky) – another starch can be substituted
Salt and pepper to taste
Freshly grated nutmeg
Mix the corn starch with ½ cup of cold milk. Heat the rest of the milk in a small sauce pan until steaming but do not boil. Add the milk/cornstarch mixture to the steaming milk. Stirring constantly, raise the heat and heat the mixture until thick. Once it is thick, remove it from the heat and add the butter, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Have the béchamel warm or at room temperature ready to assemble the lasagne. Whisk the sauce occasionally if it becomes stiff or thick.
Assembling the Gluten Free Lasagne
The assembly is the same as the regular lasagne with the addition of water. Gluten free lasagne noodles need a little more moisture for the lasagne, so you will be adding a little bit of water to the lasagne.
Before assembly, pour plain water into the pan, enough to form a thin film of water over the bottom. A 9 x 13 inch or 25 x 33 cm pan required almost ½ cup (125 mL) of water. Once the lasagne is assembled, pour a tablespoon or 15 mL of water into each corner of the dish. Cover the lasagne tightly with aluminium foil. Be careful not to touch the top of the lasagne with the foil. Bake as directed.
This lasagne was baked in a glass baking dish. Adjustments in time and temperature may be needed if your dish is metal!
Saute 1 large onion and about 2 cloves of garlic in olive oil. Add 2-3 cans tomato diced tomatoes (If I buy these from the grocery store, I use 15-ounce cans, but often David’s grandmother gives us canned tomatoes from her garden so I use those). Add 2 (15-ounce) cans of tomato sauce and 1 (8-ounce) can of tomato paste. Then add spices: oregano, basil, salt, pepper, and sugar to taste.