Daring Bakers. 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.

Every month, hundreds of bakers across the world band together in an effort to push their own culinary boundaries. Daring bakers is certainly not thirty minute meals. This month, we were making lasagna of Emilia-Romagna, a three part adventure which included home made spinach pasta, a home made ragu, and a creamy béchamel.

Ok, I thought. I’m going to make lasagna from scratch this month. Well I have another confession to make. I really, really, really enjoy Stouffers lasagna. Somehow, even after microwaving the stuff instead of baking it, it fulfills my every need and want. Somehow, this microwave boxed food is entwined with thoughts of Italian grandmothers slaving away in the kitchen, and remarkably the deception pulls itself off. Somehow, even though it pains me to say it, I love the stuff. So the idea of making a real lasagna, all from scratch… a challenge that would no doubt be fun to make, and delicious, was intriguing… but could it beat my trusty standby? You laugh, maybe you even scoff, but I was skeptical.


Challenge part #1: Homemade spinach pasta. Home made pasta is incredibly easy to make. You take just a few ingredients, usually just flour and egg, and mix, knead, roll, and voila- just a few minutes in a boiling pot of water, and done! The only difficult part: rolling out the dough. I’d highly prefer doing it with a Kitchen Aid mixer with the pasta attachment, but alas, all I have here is my own forearms, and a nice silpat rolling pin.

lasagna-spinach-pasta-doughAnother wonderful bonus of home made pasta is that the pasta dough is another good place in which to hide vegetables in for the picky eater. For this pasta, I used two eggs, 3.5 cups of flour, and I added spinach, about 6 ounces of defrosted frozen spinach, which I had emulsified with my hand held emulsifier. This makes the paste smooth, and easily workable into the dough. If I were to do this dish again, I’d probably add some basil as well, but you could easily puree any vegetable and add it to a basic dough.

Challenge part #2: A delicious ragu. For this part, I did a cheat move, using jarred pasta sauce as a base. I added meat, and cooked it for about an hour, so ultimately it doesn’t save any time, just imparts some fantastic flavor. Yes, part of it was jarred, but I don’t feel bad. The stuff is delicious.

“Cheats Ragu”

1/2 onion
an ounce of bacon
1/2 lb ground veal
1/4 cup of red wine
a jar of really good store bought tomato sauce
(I used Trader Joes Rustico- Southern Italian sauce), but I might easily have substituted barilla.

Saute the onion for about ten minutes, with some good olive oil. Add the bacon, and saute, add the half cup of wine, and cook for a minute, dump in the jar of pasta sauce. Cover really loosely (more of a stain catcher), and stir occasionally, cooking at a slow bubble for about 45 minutes or more.

Challenge part #3: A Bechamel (white sauce) This is the key to a rich, hearty lasagna. In a medium saucepan, melt 4 tablespoons of butter, and then sift in 4 tablespoons of flour, whisking it all until smooth. Slowly whisk in 2 2/3 cup of milk, whisking constantly to avoid lumps forming. Bring to a slow simmer, and stir until the sauce thickens, about seven or eight minutes. Season with salt, pepper, and most importantly some freshly grated nutmeg. The nutmeg imparts the most wonderful flavor that gives the whole lasagna something special.

Finally, with the three parts prepared, I put together the lasagna, layering the (boiled) pasta, sauces, and some freshly grated parmesan, and baked it all (covered loosely with foil) for 40 minutes at 350 degrees F.

lasagnaUltimately, this lasagna was delicious. Painfully delicious. As in my forearms. All of the rolling. I spent three days eating it, hot, cold, microwaved, for breakfast, until I could lasagna no more. Was it better than my Stouffers? Er… Yes. Would I make it again? Yes. Although, probably sooner if I had a Martha Stewart Blue Kitchen Aid Mixer. (Hint, hint…. nudge, nudge…) Until then, I’ll savor this experience.

Aside: If anyone is interested in slaving away recreating this, I have the longer, much more detailed recipe for the pasta and assembly that I would be more than willing to email.