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Saturday, January 11, 2014

Intense Lasagna

 Labor intensive, flavor intensive, and full of love and concentration,
this is the epitome of lasagne, 100% homemade from A to Z.. even more homemade than my last lasagna, and much tastier.  I made away too much pasta dough, and I rolled them out into noodles before realizing, so I ended up throwing over half of them away, which is something I absolutely hate doing.  I had nightmares afterwards.
So I'll give the full recipe, but keep in mind that you should probably freeze more than half of the dough for later usage.. or just half the dough recipe.  I got it from Amateur Gourmet, who got it from an Italian cookbook, and nobody seemed to comment about dough excess, but I definitely had dough excess I ended up throwing out.  Avoid breaking my heart, please.
There are several steps that go into making good lasagna.  The process is long and messy, but the end result is totally worth it.
This recipe feeds 8-9 people.  That first photo above is half of the yield.  Perfect for feeding a crowd or freezing individually sized portions for a later date.
Part 1:  Too Much Dough
That dough.. is it really green?
3 cups all purpose flour (500g mix of T65 and T110)
1/2 tsp salt
4 eggs + 1 egg yolk
1 cube frozen spinach, defrosted and blended (or handful fresh)
some EVOO for your hands and for coating
1.  Sift together the flour and salt in a large bowl.  Make a well in the middle and add the eggs and spinach.  To make the spinach blending easier, I put it into my magic bullet with 1 egg and blended until smooth.
2.  Oil your hands and use your fingers to pop the yolks in the well.  Make small circular movements until the eggs and spinach are beaten together, incorporating the flour little by little.  I enjoy this process very much.  It takes some time, so do this in a comfortable place.
3.  Eventually it will all come together.  Knead well for at least 10 minutes.  The dough should be firm, elastic, and slightly sticky.
4.  Make a ball with the dough and rub oil all over it.  Wrap in plastic and let sit at least 30 minutes before working it.  (You can do part 2 while you wait or you can do this the day before).
5.  Unwrap your lovely green dough ball and knead well, for another 5 minutes.
6.  Separate the ball into 4 or 5 equal pieces.  At this point, I suggest you freeze half of it for later because it would be a pity to make all those lasagna noodles and not be able to use them.
7.  On a well floured surface, make a disc with one of the pieces to fit it through the pasta machine.  Start at the largest setting and pass it through several times until you start to get something nice and flat and shiny.  Running it through the pasta machine is tricky when without help, but I got the hang of it.
8.  Run it through to setting 8 (second to last setting)
then cut into 30cm long pieces and set aside on very well floured parchment paper to avoid them sticking to each other.
Oh how pretty.
There's controversy as to whether or not to boil them before assembling.  I happened to boil them, but had I read before doing so that it was not necessary, I never would have put myself through all that.  If you do want to do that, you will need some salted boiling water with 2 Tbsp EVOO and an ice bath.
Boil 4-5 pieces at a time for 1 minute, then transfer to the ice back until ready for Part 4 Assembly.

Part 2 : The Best Meaty Tomato Sauce I've Ever Made

No kidding.  I don't think I've ever made one that tasted this good.  It must be the top quality vegetables and crushed tomatoes I used.
800g lean ground beef (almost 2 lbs)
5 large cloves garlic, grated
2 onions, diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 pack fresh mushrooms, washed and cut into chunks
3 cans top quality crushed tomatoes that taste like sunshine (I used Polpa)
2 bay leaves
1 tsp thyme
2 tsp oregano
1 tsp dried basil
lots and lots of fresh cracked pepper
drizzle of EVOO
3 Tbsp basalmic vinegar
salt to taste
1.  In a very large pot or dutch oven, brown the meat with the garlic and a few cracks of pepper.  Remove the meat and set aside.
2.  Add a drizzle of EVOO into the meat juice leftover from the browning.  Add the onions, bay leaves, thyme, oregano, and basil.  Cook until translucent.
3.  Add the carrots and celery and cook, stirring regularly until it starts sticking or seems dry.
4.  Add the mushrooms and a pinch of salt.  This should get some more liquid going.  Cook about 5 minutes, then deglaze with some basalmic vinegar.
5.  Add the crushed tomatoes and stir.  Bring to a boil, then simmer for 5 minutes.
6.  Add the meat back in.  Bring to a boil, then add some more basalmic vinegar and simmer, covered for about 1 hour.  Taste and adjust the seasoning.  Add more pepper because that's delicious.  During the hour waiting time, stir every once in a while.  Remove from heat while you do Part 3.  You can use this waiting time to go back to Part 1 and roll out your lasagna noodles.

You should be left with a thick ragu sauce that is not runny, but that is very meaty.  If it seems too dry, add just a bit of water.

Part 3 : The Béchamel

This is something I very rarely make, but a good béchamel is really one of the secrets of an excellent lasagna.
5 Tbsp butter
1/3 cup flour
2 1/2 cups whole milk
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp nutmeg
few cracks fresh pepper
1.  Melt the butter on medium heat and whisk in the flour.  You should be left with a brownish pasty layer called a roux.
2.  Reduce the heat to a simmer, and pour in the milk, a little bit at a time while whisking.  As you do this, the sauce should thicken.
3.  Add in the salt, pepper, and nutmeg.
It should not be watery, but it should not be as thick as mashed potatoes. It should be like a thick sauce. Watch it, though, because you don't want it to burn. Once it is at its desired thickness, take it off the heat and get ready for Part 4.

Part 4 : The Assembly
Get all your stuff together so all your layers are within reach.  One layer we haven't talked about yet is the cheese.  There is only one rule about this:  There must be parmesan in each cheese layer.  The rest of the decision is up to you.  I used mozzarella parmesan in one layer, then swiss and parmesan on the 2nd layer, and finally just parmesan on the top layer.
1.  Start with the layer of tomato sauce.  Don't overdo it, but there should be sauce covering the bottom of the dish.
 2.  Then a layer of cheese.  This layer was mozzarella and parmesan.
 3.  Then a layer of noodles.  Be generous.
4.  Then a layer of béchamel.  Spread it gently with the back of a spoon... and who's that snoop?
5.  Then repeat the layers and top with noodle-béchamel-parmesan
6.  Then into a 185° oven for 40-45 minutes until the top is golden and bubbly and beautiful.
and try to wait at least 15 minutes before serving yourself.  I know you're starving and it smells really good, but if you don't wait, it will fall apart while you serve.

I didn't wait long enough.. but seriously, after 4 1/2 hours of intense labor, I have a right to dig in and have my piping hot lasagna fall apart in my plate.  I earned it!

One it cooled to a decent temperature, I made individual portions with my other dish to freeze.  Those portions stayed together perfectly during the transfer.
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