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.Making homemade egg-free pasta has been one of my back burner projects, so I was very excited to try adapting this Spinach Pasta, which is layered with a Bechamel Sauce and a Country Style Ragu.
10 oz frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and squeezed completely dry
3/4 C water
1/4 C olive oil
3 1/2 C AP flour
1/2 tsp salt
Combine the spinach, water, and olive oil a food processor, and pulverize until smooth. Sift flour and salt together into a mixing bowl. Stir in spinach mixture and knead (by hand or machine) until smooth and elastic. Add additional flour or water if necessary. Wrap in plastic wrap and allow to relax at room temperature for three hours. With a pasta machine, roll out into paper thin sheets, cut to approximately 4" by 8". (You'll need plenty of flour to keep from sticking.) Use immediately or set aside and allow to dry.
For the Bechamel, I would have preferred an alternative to soymilk (to avoid the aftertaste) or coconut milk (to avoid the fat.) Since inspiration didn't strike and the lasagne was filled with plenty of other strong flavors, I went ahead with the soymilk, and was very happy with the sauce once it was integrated into the dish.
1/4 C dairy free margarine (Earth Balance, as usual)
1/4 C AP flour, sifted
2 2/3 C soymilk
salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste
freshly grated nutmeg to taste
Melt margarine in a medium saucepan over medium low heat. Mix in flour and stir while cooking for three minutes. Gradually whisk in soymilk, keeping the mixture smooth. Bring to a simmer and continue to stir while sauce thickens, about five minutes. Season to taste.
The original Ragu included pancetta, veal, pork loin or sausage, beef skirt steak, and prosciutto. Although the challenge allowed for freedom in making the sauces, I decided to try to stay as close as possible to the original while substituting poultry for the meat.
Country Style Ragu:
3 Tbs olive oil
6 slices turkey bacon, divided (4 slices minced)
1 medium onion, minced
1 medium stalk celery with leaves, minced
1 small carrot, minced
1/2 lb ground turkey sausage
1 pound turkey thigh meat
2/3 C dry red wine
2 1/2 C turkey stock (from my frozen Thanksgiving batch)
1 C soymilk
1 can plum tomatoes, drained
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add minced turkey bacon and vegetables and cook until soft, about ten minutes. Combine remaining meats in food processor and grind together. (I will be very happy to never put raw meat in my food processor again.) Stir into pan and cook until all pink is gone, about fifteen minutes. Remove mixture from pan in order to deglaze.
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 rest of the 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.
The original instructions called for the lasagna noodles to be cooked before layered into a pan, but I discovered that removing the paper thin leaves from a pot of boiling water was like trying to grasp a jellyfish. Once they came from the pot, they also collapsed into an invertebrate heap. So I took a leap of faith and layered them into the pan uncooked. They turned out perfectly.
To prepare the final dish, preheat the oven to 350°F. In a three quart baking dish spread a thin layer of Bechamel. Cover with overlapping noodles. Spread another layer of white sauce, then meat sauce, then more noodles. Repeat until top layer of noodles is arranged, then place a final layer of Bechamel. Since I'm not able to sprinkle with cheese as per the original recipe, I combined some panko, olive oil, and seasonings to cover the top.
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). Turn off the oven, leave the door ajar and let the lasagne rest for about 10 minutes.