Friday, March 27, 2009

My First Daring Bakers' Challenge: Lasagne

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.

Since this was my first Daring Bakers Challenge, I was more than a little bit nervous. But... I handled it!

Our challenge stipulated that we make spinach noodles, some type of ragu, and a bechamel for this lasagne. I followed the recipes for spinach noodles and bechamel given by the hosts, but I used a vegetarian ragu that I found here.

Alright, I'll proceed in the order that I actually made the bits.

First I made Kali Tal's vegetable ragu and went from this

to this

in a matter of minutes. To be more specific, it was about 120 minutes.

And just to be mysterious, the ragu recipe demands Olive Oil and butter that it does not make use of. Be aware.

The ragu went into the freezer for a few days since I had to put off the lasagne baking until I had people to share it with.

Next up was the spinach pasta. I experimented with a basic egg pasta, but that did not prepare me for the chaos of spinach pasta making. After I completed the whole make-a-well-and-mix-the-egg-and-spinach deal, I ended up with what looked like chopped spinach ready for the fryer. I couldn't pull the stuff together and it quickly became clear that no measure of kneading would remedy this. So, I created another well in the floury spinach and added another egg.

See the cornflake-like floured spinach around the well there? Thankfully, the extra egg did its thing and I finally got a ball of dough worth kneading. I was only able to incorporate half of the spinach/flour mixture into the one egg, so I did two rounds of that egg/well rescue.

I wrapped the two balls of dough in plastic and let them rest for a little over an hour while I had lunch.

Because of my practice run with the egg pasta, I knew the stretching and thinning was going to be demanding. However, I think that I can now go back to regular egg pasta and stretch and thin that stuff like a pro. Spinach pasta is prettier, but those pieces of spinach produced a couple of holes in the dough. I just left them.

I need to figure out a better way to dry my pasta. This reminds me of Charlie's mom's laundry.

Maybe I should have slipped a golden ticket into the lasagne...

Next time.

Alright, so my first panic was over the spinach pasta, the second panic was over the bechamel. My first bechamel was... floury milk. There was no thickening and it didn't look like there would be thickening anytime soon.

My second bechamel (warmed milk this time and Pussy Cat Dolls playing for inspiration) was an overwhelming success. Everything looked just like the YouTube videos and I was feeling very on top of the world.

So...ragu ready, pasta rolled, bechamel done, guests set to arrive in a couple of hours, I assembled the troops. See them all patiently waiting for water to boil?

I didn't take pictures for the next forty minutes or so because I was frantically moving from noodles that had to boil for three and half minutes each in batches of five and then dried, to the lasagne that I was building on the right side of the stove. Here's a lasagne process pic:

(See the heft of the top noodle there? Not what I was going for.)

And here she is all ready for the oven party.

I chose this picture because you can very easily see that my noodles are not as thin or as flat as I would like them. Some other daring bakers were talking about having 12 layers. 12! That would have been fantastic. However, I think I had maybe 6. Or 7. I'm not sure though. That was my biggest gripe with the lasagne: the thick noodles. Oh well!

She came out of the oven a beaut. My guests were pleased and I was pleased that they were pleased.

I think I weirded them out with my continual photographing, but they must be used to my quirks by this point.

Everyone at the table had seconds except me (couldn't get past those dang noodles), and we all decided to call the lasagne a success.


First Daring Bakers challenge done with only two small periods of panic.

Oh, and the best part about having a dinner party featuring the lasagne, I was able to gift the leftovers to my friends and I am now blissfully lasagne free!


kmari03 said...

Cheer up, Charlie. Sweet as a song, Charlie's lucky day will come alooooong.

(I'm singing, of course.)

Evan said...

Of course, I knew this already, but I'm struck by the fact that you're so damn good at writing about food. I envy you.

The Empress said...

I'm not sure I could handle those noodles either. I try to be open minded about pasta, but deep down I just love me some regular white spaghetti. Still I envy the way your slice of lasagna held together. My slices always just spill all over the place when removed from the pan.

Hilary said...

It was my first challenge too and I also had only 6 or 7 layers. I got lazy with the pasta - my back was practically spasming from hunching over the pasta maker!

A. Fiercehair said...

kmari03: Of course you're singing! :)

Evan: Sometimes when I ramble on about food I wonder if the posts end up a snore, so I'm glad at least one reader likes it.

Empress: My family always made the slippy sloppy lasagne too, but I think what I learned is that the original lasagne has many more layers than the American-ized version. More pasta layers + thinner layers of goops = a sturdier slice.

Hilary: What?! You have a pasta maker? I don't think I can feel sorry for you. :)

ARLENE said...

This was an incredibly labor-intensive challenge. You did a very good job; give yourself a pat on the back.

BC said...

But well done despite everything! Some of the Daring Kitchen members must have Popeye arms to roll the pasta so thin.

Me! said...

Great job. Yours looks really good. I happen to like thick chewy noodles so it would have been perfect for me. I think I did about 5 layers in a 9x13 and 6 in a 9x9. I spent ages rolling the dough out as thin as I could get it, let it rest and roll some more. Side note, I thought the posting date is the 29th?

ice tea: sugar high said...

I used to have problems with bechamel too. Great job on the challenge. If it is too easy, it won't be a challenge right?