This month’s Daring Bakers Challenge put me in a bit of a quandary since it would definitely involve long periods in the kitchen due to one of the sauces involved. I can’t make a long, simmering sauce wihout standing , tasting, and seasoning as I go along, so I knew I had to take a slight detour. The challenge for this month is a lasagna, but not just any lasagna, one I’ve already blogged about, even though it goes by another name. Initially, I was a little surprised by this challenge, as lasagna – even though ‘baked’, is not something you would think of when it comes to ‘baking’. However, with the impending advent of the new Daring Cooks group, it made sense as sort of a foray into that. Before I continue, I need to add THE PARAGRAPH. Are you ready, DB-BOT?
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. Thank you, guys!
If you want the recipe for the full Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna aka Lasagne Verdi Al Forno, since I took it in another direction, click on one of the links to the above host’s blogs.
At first I thought of doing a dessert lasagna, since it was a choice offered to us, and even planned it out with notes and ideas of something along the lines of a fruity noodle kugel in lasagna form, but then I remembered a lasagna I used to make quite a bit several years ago. I found it in a friend’s Williams-Sonoma cookbook and it was for a caramelized onion-pancetta lasagna that people went absolutely apesheeet over.
What initially made me think of this lasagna was the bechamel sauce being the one and only sauce, and I could definitely pull off a bechamel in my electric fondue pot! Not to mention, if making a savory lasagna, the hosts maintained that bechamel sauce was a must, as was pasta from scratch..which I have a lot of experience with, so another PLUS in that respect! I could *again* pull off another DB challenge without having to enter the kitchen! (I swear, I will kisssss the kitchen floor once I’m able to work in it again!).
The pasta recipe given to us was made with the addition of spinach (pasta verde). It called for the spinach to be chopped and beaten into the flour volcano with the eggs. Not being one to make things easier on myself, I ended up grinding the fresh spinach into a juicy paste in a mortar and pestle so the end result would be a pasta uniform green in color. However, I wimped out on the manual rolling. After trying to roll several sheets by hand, it was apparent I wasn’t going to get them as thin as needed without being able to stand up and roll, so I gave in and used my hand crank pasta machine. Thirty lashes for Lisa! Oh, one quick note, I had about 12 pasta sheets left over…so this does make quite a bit of pasta when rolled super thin.
I decided to use the caramelized onions from the Williams-Sonoma recipe in my lasagna (I’ll get to that in a minute), but add thinly sliced Italian sausage in lieu of the pancetta, and diced roasted red bell peppers to the bechamel – sort of a kicked up ode to the smells that wafted from the Midway during my teenage summers in Seaside Heights at the Jersey Shore. I also doubled the bechamel since I wasn’t making the meat ragu, although I didn’t use all of it..just enough to make sure the lasagna sheets cooked through and the final result wasn’t like biting into a block of Sahara or Mojave.
When you look at this recipe, I have no doubt most of you are thinking “5 POUNDS OF ONIONS? WHAT IS SHE SMOKING?” OK, you have to trust me on this one. As they caramelize, they cook down to about 1 1/2 to 2 lbs of an almost sweet onion jam that’s PACKED with SO much flavor. You won’t be getting any chunks of onions in this lasagna, just a sweeeeeet, soft, melt-in-your-mouth, silky caress on the palate, and a WOW from your taste buds! Plus, this is just the right amount of caramelized onions for each layer, which could range anywhere from 5-7, depending on how thin you spread them.
Speaking of THIN, I made sure everything in this lasagna was THIN. The pasta was rolled paper-thin (see my creatue feature-chiller photo in the pasta photo montage), the cooked sausage links were sliced paper-thin, the mozzarella cheese sliced paper-thin, the Bechamel sauce spread very thin, and the onions sliced super thin prior to caramelization. Believe it or not, this is a very delicate, albeit rich, lasagna – also known as a ‘THIN” lasagna that makes you ‘FAT’ – well..uhh, if you eat it on a consistent basis, that is. That said, I kept the Parmigiano-Reggiano in small chunks because, well…. it’s Parmigiano-Reggiano, what more can I say? (Signor Parmi-Reg nods and smirks).
Next day leftovers served to friends. Didn’t quite cut as cleanly as I hoped or brown with extra cheese (This is what happens when you have to use a torch instead of the oven because you can’t get into the kitchen and there’s no one there to help at the time….ARGH!) so I covered’ each ‘MESS’ with some homemade roasted tomato sauce I had in the freezer.
Speaking of cheese, you don’t often see mozzarella cheese in a lasagna with bechamel, but as I mentioned in my Lasagna Bolognese entry, J LOVES mozzarella, and realistically, who doesn’t…so why not? I cannot fathom anyone passing on a lasagna with bechamel because it contained creamy, gooey, melty slices of mozzarella between each layer. Well, there are some ‘traditionalists’ out there, but the hell with tradition!
Finally, I’m in quite a goofy mood as I type this, so I’ve decided to introduce you to the fillings in my lasagna..LOL
Bechamel Sauce with Roasted Red Pepper Bonjour! I am one of zee mother sauces of French cuiseeene, though I am second to none of them, hrmmph! Lisa left me in zee fridge last night, so I am quite thick and chilly!! Tsk Tsk! Why iz dere leettle red lumps floating in me? I demand an answer!
Caramelized OnionsHey there, baby *cue Barry White music*. I was given a day at the beach, a slow, long saute, slathered in olive oil – turning me a gorgeous golden brown. This made made me soooo soft and sweet that I’m going to melt in your mouth..mmmmm.
You tawkin ta me? How ya doin? I wasn’t going to take dis gig until I heard my old cronies, peppuhs and onions were joinin’ in. Man, she sliced me up pretty @#$%&$# good, I feel like I’ve been whacked with one of Johnny Goomba’s overcooked meatballs ……GEEEEEEEZ. No big deal, I kinda like being da only meat here.
Fresh Mozzarella Cheese Yo, I’m Mozzarella, but some people call me ‘Mootz’ or ‘Mootzarell’. I originally wasn’t invited to dis party, but Lisa’s guy made sure she let me in at the door. I’m sick of being blown off in deez froo froo lasagna’s – Yeah, I’m lookin’ at you, bechamel!
Parmigiano-Reggiano Bongiorno! Im-a da KING of Italian hard cheeses! You no believe? I can only be made-a by a cheesemaker who is a member of da Consorzio Formaggio Parmigiano-Reggiano! Just tasta me and you’ll see! Loook at how beeeyoootiful I am – molto bene..MWAAA!!
Caramelized Onion and Sausage Lasagne with Roasted Red Pepper Bechamel and Pasta Verde
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:
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.
Roasted Red Pepper Bechamel Sauce (I doubled this recipe)
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
- 2 red bell peppers, roasted, skinned and diced
- 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. Stir in diced roasted peppers, Season with salt, pepper, and a hint of nutmeg.
- 1/2 cup clarified butter or pure olive oil
- 5 lb. yellow onions, peeled, halved and very thinly sliced
- 1 Tbs. olive oil
- 1 lb. hot and/or sweet Italian sausage, cooked and sliced VERY thin
- 3/4 lb. fresh mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced
- 2 cups crumbled Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
- Approximately 15 lasagna sheets
- 6 Qts. water
- 1 Tbs. kosher salt
- Fresh flat-leaf parsley sprigs
1. To make the caramelized onions, in a large, heavy fry pan over medium heat, warm the clarified butter. Add the onions, cover the pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are completely limp, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove the lid, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are golden brown and sweet, 35 to 45 minutes. Do not let them burn. Remove from the heat, cool and use immediately, or cover and refrigerate for up to 10 days or freeze for up to 2 months.
2. Preheat an oven to 350ºF. Coat the inside of a 9 by 13-inch baking dish with oil.
3. In a large pot over high heat, bring the water to a boil. Add the salt and lasagne noodles and cook until al dente (tender but firm to the bite), about 2 minutes, or if using packaged lasagna – according to the instructions. Drain well, rinse in cool water and drain again. Immediately toss noodles lightly with the olive oil.
Assemble the Lasagne:
Spread 1/4 cup of the béchamel sauce in the bottom of the baking dish. Cover with 3 lasagne noodles, touching but not overlapping. Make 5 layers of the caramelized onions, sausage, mozzarella cheese, Parmigianno-Reggiano, bechamel and noodles, ending with noodles. Top with the remaining bechamel sauce and cheeses. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake for 30-40 minutes (knife inserted into center of lasagna should be hot). Remove the foil and bake until the top is just beginning to brown, about 10 minutes more.
To serve, let lasagne cool for 10 minutes and divide among warmed individual plates. Garnish each serving with a parsley sprig. Serves 6-8.
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