Sunday, March 29, 2009

Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna (Lasagne Verdi al Forno)

***The March 2009 Daring Bakers challenge is here!!! This month's 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.

Every once in a while, a recipe comes along that just knocks your socks off. This is such a recipe! If you've ever made lasagne from scratch, you know it's a labor of love...however, this is SO worth the effort. Plus, you'll get a major arm work-out from all the kneading and rolling...haha.

I was so excited when I logged on this month and read the upcoming challenge. I was sitting in our hotel room in Italy, and the challenge was none other than an authentic Italian recipe...I was thrilled. Plus, I had never before made my own pasta.
I have to say, that the whole experience of making pasta was pretty rewarding. It takes a lot of muscle (without a pasta machine!), but the results were fabulous. The pasta was a beautiful green color, thanks to the spinach in the recipe.
I made the Ragu sauce a few days in advance (you can refrigerate it up to 3 days), and then I made the pasta and bechamel sauce this afternoon. I couldn't wait to dig into this lasagne! I'm so glad that there are left-overs sitting in the fridge.

Buon appetito!***
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
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.

Pasta dough...before all the rolling...
Fresh pasta...hanging so that it can dry...

#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)... (I had to use 5 large eggs to make the dough come came out perfectly. So, don't worry if you have to improvise.)
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:
- 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.Note: although it is not traditional, Enza has successfully made pasta with a marble rolling pin, and this can be substituted for the wooden pin, if you have one.
- 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: Enza says that transparency is a crucial element of lasagne pasta and the dough should be rolled as thinly as possible. She says this is why her housekeeper has such strong arms!

Dry the pasta at room temperature and store in a sealed container or bag.
Right out of the oven...
#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

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.
Fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano...the best!!!

#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, minced
1 medium stalk celery with leaves, minced
1 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
Working Ahead:
The ragu can be made 3 days ahead. Cover and refrigerate. It also freezes well for up to 1 month. Skim the fat from the ragu’ before using it.
Browning the Ragu Base:
Heat the olive oil in a 12 inch (30cm) skillet (frying pan) over medium-high heat. Have a large saucepan handy to use once browning is complete. Add the pancetta and minced vegetables and sauté, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon, 10 minutes, or until the onions barely begin to color. Coarsely grind all the meats together, including the prosciutto, in a food processor or meat grinder. Stir into the pan and slowly brown over medium heat. First the meats will give off a liquid and turn dull grey but, as the liquid evaporates, browning will begin. Stir often, scooping under the meats with the wooden spatula. Protect the brown glaze forming on the bottom of the pan by turning the heat down. Cook 15 minutes, or until the meats are a deep brown. Turn the contents of the skillet into a strainer and shake out the fat. Turn them into the saucepan and set over medium heat.

Reducing and Simmering:
Add the wine to the skillet, lowering the heat so the sauce bubbles quietly. Stir occasionally until the wine has reduced by half, about 3 minutes. Scrape up the brown glaze as the wine bubbles. Then pour the reduced wine into the saucepan and set the skillet aside.

Stir ½ cup stock into the saucepan and let it bubble slowly, 10 minutes, or until totally evaporated. Repeat with another ½ cup stock. Stir in the last 1/2 cup stock along with the milk. Adjust heat so the liquid bubbles very slowly. Partially cover the pot, and cook 1 hour. Stir frequently to check for sticking.

Add the tomatoes, crushing them as they go into the pot. Cook uncovered, at a very slow bubble for another 45 minutes, or until the sauce resembles a thick, meaty stew. Season with salt and pepper.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Croque Madame & Monsieur


***DRUMROLL PLEASE...The Europe photos are officially ready for the web!!!!!!!!! The posting can now begin!
Right this minute, they are uploading to our photography website. Just click on the link below to see them all....all 700 of them!!! We had a hard time narrowing it down to 700...we started with over 2,600 photos from the trip!

In my next post, I'll write all about Day 1 in Paris, but I had to start out with an absolutely scrumptious recipe from our very first day in the beautiful City of Lights in this post. Our first dinner in France was a Croque Madame for Brad and a Croque Monsieur for me. These sandwiches are France's version of a grilled ham and cheese. Sounds simple, right? Don't let that description fool you! This sandwich is anything but a plain ole' grilled cheese. These sandwiches are decadent, comforting, mouth-watering, delicious, fabulous....okay, I could go on but you get my point.
They aren't particularly complicated to make. You start by making a simple bechamel sauce that's perfectly cheesy thanks to the yummy Gruyere. Then, the sandwiches are assembled, with the bechamel sauce smothering the top. Next, they're baked and then topped off with a fried egg. WOW!
Basically, the only difference in the two kinds of sandwiches is that the Croque Madame has an egg on top, while the Croque Monsieur does not. Pretty clever, huh? I think that part is pretty cute.
I already know this recipe is going to be a staple around our house. Every time I bite into one, I'm going to be transported back to the streets of Paris. ;)
They served the egg a little runny in Paris, so that's how Brad wanted his!
I like my fried eggs to be cooked a little longer...

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups hot milk
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Pinch nutmeg
12 ounces Gruyere, grated (5 cups)
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
16 slices white sandwich bread, crusts removed (I used Sourdough Bread)
Dijon mustard
8 ounces baked Virginia ham, sliced but not paper thin
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Melt the butter over low heat in a small saucepan and add the flour all at once, stirring with a wooden spoon for 2 minutes. Slowly pour the hot milk into the butter–flour mixture and cook, whisking constantly, until the sauce is thickened. Off the heat add the salt, pepper, nutmeg, 1/2 cup grated Gruyere, and the Parmesan and set aside.

To toast the bread, place the slices on 2 baking sheets and bake for 5 minutes. Turn each slice and bake for another 2 minutes, until toasted.

Lightly brush half the toasted breads with mustard, add a slice of ham to each, and sprinkle with half the remaining Gruyere. Top with another piece of toasted bread. Slather the tops with the cheese sauce, sprinkle with the remaining Gruyere, and bake the sandwiches for 5 minutes. Turn on the broiler and broil for 3 to 5 minutes, or until the topping is bubbly and lightly browned. Serve hot.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Ravioli Panna e Prosciutto - Straight from Venice!

***The Europe photos will be ready in the next few days! Brad is working hard to get them ready for the web. In the meantime, I thought I'd share one of my favorite pasta dishes from the trip.

While we were in Italy, this quickly became one of my favorite things to order. It seemed like almost every restaurant had a version of this dish. And I know is DELISH! Of course, any pasta with a cream-based sauce isn't the healthiest thing you can eat, but come on...this is worth it! My love for prosciutto has grown exponentially since the trip...hah. This recipe is one of the reasons. Prosciutto is widely used in Europe...they eat it for breakfast, on sandwiches, in pasta, etc. I LOVE it! I only wish it were easier to find in Alabama!

This is my first attempt at re-creating the recipe. It came really close. Not surprisingly, any pasta dish just tastes better when you're sitting in a cozy ristorante in Venice...just steps away from the Grand Canal, perhaps with a musician softly playing an accordion down the street. Fresh, handmade pasta would also make this dish even better. I took a short-cut tonight and used pre-packaged ravioli.

Buon appetito!***

4 tbsp butter
4 oz. prosciutto, torn or chopped into small pieces
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup parmesan, grated
1 cup mushrooms, roughly chopped
1 pkg Buitoni Four Cheese Ravioli

Cook the ravioli in boiling water according to package directions, adding about 1 tbsp. olive oil to the pasta water to prevent them from sticking together.

Melt the butter for the sauce in a large sauce pan over medium heat. When the butter is melted, add the prosciutto and mushrooms. Sauté for about 4-5 minutes, stirring often.
Add the heavy cream and bring to a simmer. Allow the cream to reduce. Stir in the parmesan cheese.

When the pasta is done cooking, add the pasta to the sauce and cook for 1 minute more. Add a little more cream if needed.

Serve with additional grated parmesan.

Source: Two Yolks food blog (I used this recipe as a base and altered it slightly)

Monday, March 9, 2009

We're Back from Europe!!!

WOW...have I got a lot to share with you!!! Brad and I just returned from our 2 week journey across Europe. It was absolutely incredible. We did so much and saw so many things, that it just blows my mind. We started in Paris and then went to Germany. Next, we spent a week in Italy traveling from Venice to Florence and then Rome.
What a journey! I'm going to share all the details with you right here on my blog. This week, I'll begin making a post for each day that we were there. I'll start with Day 1 in Paris, and share tons of photos and details about the trip. Brad and I took over 4,100 photos!!! Once they are edited and ready for the web, I'll start posting them. We took photos of everything...the entire trip is documented - from the food we ate to the places we saw. And the food...oh, the food!!! I have an entire list of dishes that I can't wait to recreate. Of course, I'll post those recipes along the way too.

I look forward to sharing our trip with you!