Sunday, April 05, 2009

Happy Birthday Jeffrey!

Last night Troy had is birthday celebration with his friends. He has a leap year day birthday but we were all sick with the flu so had to postpone his party with his friends. Last night they all converged on our home. The ran around wild until 4 am and were up at 8. I was able to get in a run in the SNOWY woods with Topaz before they awoke. When they did, they were starving. I made over 60 pancakes, they drank 1 gallon of skim milk and a gallon of orange juice.

I left Steve with a kitchen full of dirty dishes, sleeping bags and boys everywhere as I wanted to get to Afton by 11. I missed the run but would make the party. He assured me it was fine. When I came home this afternoon all was sparkly and the boys were all in their own homes.

I made it to Afton at 1115 and arrived with a loaf of Country French bread I baked for Jefferey and his birthday cake. I again couldn't get it level! I guess the layers just don't bake up even, although I measured out the batter among the pans. The cake was cold from the car ride and didn't cut nicely. I was assured it tasted fabulous, however. They all loved it.

Happy Birthday Jeffrey!

This afternoon I put together Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna. The Daring Bakers created this last month. I have never rolled out lasagna noodles; only noodles for chicken soup. This lasagna has has layers of homemade spinach pasta, country-style meat ragù, béchamel and Parmigiano-Reggiano.

The boys weren't too sure of spinach pasta. I knew it would be wonderful! I was a bit intimidated at first. I thought the pasta would be very difficult to get thin enough and thought it would stick to the counter. It didn't. It rolled out wonderfully; it didn't stick at all.

After I cleaned up the kitchen - my turn ! I put the lasagna into bake and ran to they gym to lift back. I called at 40 minutes to have Tyler remove from the oven and let cool 10 minutes. I was back home and had the table set before it was ready to serve.

We all sat down for dinner wondering exactly how it would taste. I loved the pasta. The pasta sheets were thin, but rich and full of flavor. The ragu was wonderful, the bechamel smooth, all very tasty.

Troy didn't like it! He is my pasta freak. I don't think he liked the nutmeg in the bechamel. That is all we could come up with. He enjoyed the pasta sheets, liked the ragu, but didn't like something in the white sauce. The nutmeg is all that I can come up with. He decided to have Ramen Noodles instead! I never force them to eat anything; I was happy he tried it...especially since the pasta was spinach! The rest of us enjoyed the pasta dish very much. Steve and Tyler both had seconds and will be eating the rest of the dish for dinner tomorrow evening. I'm making a salad creation from Mediterranean Fresh that Troy and I will be trying.

Here is the recipe. It looks complicated, but it really isn't. It went together quite easily and you can make portions of it in advance.

All recipes below from The Splendid Table: Recipes from Emilia-Romagna, the Heartland of Northern Italian Food by Lynne Rossetto Kasper (published by William Morrow and Company Inc., 1992).
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 water1 recipe Spinach Pasta cut for lasagna (recipe follows)#11 recipe Bechamel Sauce (recipe follows)#21 recipe Country Style Ragu (recipe follows)#31 cup (4 ounces/125g) freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
MethodWorking 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.
#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)10 ounces (300g) fresh spinach, rinsed dry, and finely chopped; or 6 ounces (170g) frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry3&1/2 cups (14 ounces/400g) all purpose unbleached (plain) flour (organic stone ground preferred)
Working by Hand:
Equipment: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.
Kneading: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.
#2 Bechamel
Preparation Time: 15 minutes
4 tablespoons (2 ounces/60g) unsalted butter4 tablespoons (2 ounces/60g) all purpose unbleached (plain) flour, organic stone ground preferred2&2/3 cups (approx 570ml) milkSalt and freshly ground pepper to tasteFreshly 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.
#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 chopped1 medium onion, minced1 medium stalk celery with leaves, minced1 small carrot, minced4 ounces/125g boneless veal shoulder or round4 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 Parma2/3 cup (5 ounces/160ml) dry red wine1 &1/2 cups (12 ounces/375ml) chicken or beef stock (homemade if possible)2 cups (16 ounces/500ml) milk3 canned plum tomatoes, drainedSalt 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.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Julie --

If you want to bake perfectly level layers, the only way I know to do it is to go buy teflon strips. You wrap them around the pans, and -- voila! -- you get flat layers. Check places like Williams-Sonoma, or even Michael's crafts in the cake decorating section.

Julie B said...

Teflon strips?? Well, I never! Thanks for the tip..I never heard of such a thing. Thanks so much. I will have them for my next cake!