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Sunday, October 16, 2011

Spinach Lasagna with Bolognese Meat Sauce

2 tblsp olive
1 tblsp unsalted butter
1/2 small onion, chopped
1 small rib celery, chopped
1 small carrot chopped
1 pound round
1/2 cup dry white wine (one you would actually drink)
1/2 cup milk
3 cups canned crushed tomatoes
1 tsp salt or to taste
1 recipe of master pasta or spinach pasta recipe
1 1/2 cups Bechamel Sauce
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

Heat oil and butter in a large, very heavy copper or cast-iron saucepan. Add onion and saute over medium heat until slightly wilted, about 4 minutes. Add carrot and celery and continue cooking until vegetables soften, about 5 minutes more.

Add meat and use a fork or the back of a spoon to break it into small pieces. As soon as the meat looses its red color, add wine and simmer until the aroma of the wine fades, about 4 minutes. Add milk and simmer until liquid in pan is clear again, about 4 minutes.

Add tomatoes and 1 tsp salt and reduce heat to low. Allow sauce to simmer very gently (sauce can be ruined by high heat but not by low heat), stirring occasionally, for 2 1/2 to 3 hours. Finished sauce will be thick with no excess liquid floating on top. Taste for salt and set aside.

Cook and drain pasta. Preheat oven to 400 F.

Grease a 13x9" lasagna pan. Smear 3 tblsp bechamel across bottom. Line bottom with a layer of pasta, making sure noodles touch but do not overlap. Smear 2/3 cup meat sauce over noodles and drizzle with 3 tblsp bechamel. Sprinkle with 2 tblsp cheese. Repeat layering of pasta, meat sauce, bechamel, and cheese four more times. For the sixth layer, coat noodles with 6 tblsp bechamel and sprinkle with remaining 6 tblsp cheese.

Bake lasagna until top turns golden brown in spots and sauce is bubbling, about 20 minutes. Remove pan from oven, let lasagna settle for 5 minutes, and serve.

Cooks note: Since this meat sauce takes so long to cook (preparation time is actually less than 30 minutes), consider making a double recipe. Leftover sauce can be frozen and is perfect with fettuccine, ravioli, gnocchi, or tortellini.

Bechamel Sauce

2 cups milk
4 tblsp unsalted butter
3 1/2 tblsp all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt

Gently heat milk in a small pan so that it is warm but not scalded.
Meanwhile, heat butter in a medium sized saucepan. When butter is foamy, whisk in flour until smooth. Stir and cook for 2 minutes over medium heat. Do not let flour brown.

Add several tblsp of the hot milk, whisking constantly. When milk is thoroughly blended into butter and flour mixture, add several more tablespoons. Repeat until all the milk has been added and the sauce is smooth. If at any time the sauce sparates or lumps form, whisk vigorously until smooth.

Add salt and cook sauce over medium heat for several minutes or until it thickens slightly and has the texture of heavy cream. Do not let it bubble. Remove pan from heat and use sauce immediately, or pour into a glass measuring cup and cover with plastic wrap, placing the plastic directly on the surface to keep a skin from forming. Keep at room temperature for up to 2 hours or refrigerate overnight. Reheat if chilled and whisk before using.

Master Recipe for Egg Pasta
Makes enough pasta for 6 layers in a standard 13/9 Lasagna Pan
2 Cups all-purpose flour
3 large eggs
5 Quarts water
1 tblsp. salt

I'm going to post the book cover picture for each Lasagna recipe as this book has no pictures, but I have found the recipes to be very good.

Place flour on a clean, dry work surface (a counter top or wood surface is best). With your hands, shape flour into a 6 inch ring with an empty well in the center. Crack eggs into this well and beat lightly with a fork. Slowly work in some of the flour from the inside of the ring. Continue incorporating flour from around the inside of the ring as the egg mixture becomes thicker.
Eventually the walls of the flour ring will collapse. Continue using a fork to incorporate flour into the sticky egg mass. Use your hands to knead dough into a solid ball for about 1 minute. Incorporate as much flour as necessary to keep dough from being very sticky.
At the point, set dough aside (it will still have chunks of unincorporated flour in it) and clean your hands and the work surface thoroughly. Small bits of dried flour will cause lumps in the pasta and must be removed. so wash and thoroughly dry the work surface. Wash and dry your hands and dust them lightly with flour.

Return dough to work surface and continue kneading by hand. If small bits of hardened dough fall off, sweep them to the side of the surface or move dough ball to a clean part of the work surface. In any case, do not try to incorporate these pieces into the dough. Continue kneading until dough is quite smooth and not sticky. As a Florentine pasta teacher would tell you, "Pasta dough should be as smooth as a baby's behind." Kneading should take about 10 minutes.

Shape dough into a ball, wrap tightly in plastic, and set aside for at least 15 minutes to let dough relax. If tightly wrapped, the dough can be set aside at room temperature for several hours.

Set up a hand-cranked pasta machine and cover a large area with paper towels. Unwrap dough and knead for about 1 minute to incorporate the moisture that has formed on its surface.

Slice a 1/2 inch piece of dough (you should be able to get about 6 slices from the dough ball) and flatten it into a disk. (Rewrap remaining dough to prevent it from drying out as you work). Run disk through widest setting on pasta machine. Bring ends of dough toward the middle and press down to seal. Run the open end through the first setting again. Repeat folding, sealing, and rolling once. Without folding, run pasta through first setting two times or until dough is smooth. (If dough is at all sticky, lightly dust it with flour.) Continue running dough through rollers, narrowing the setting each time until dough is quite thin and the outline of your hand is visible through the pasta (usually setting 6 on the Atlas Machines). If at any time the dough breaks of holes from, roll pasta back into a ball, return machine to the first setting, and begin process again.
Set pasta sheet aside on paper towels. It will probably be quite long and should be sliced in half. Continue the process until all of the dough slices has been rolled into sheets.

Bring the water to a boil in a large stockpot. Add salt and four sheets of pasta when water is at a rolling boil. Cook pasta, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 2 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to retrieve lasagna noodles and transfer them to a bowl of cold water. Once noodles are refreshed, about 30 seconds, transfer them to a clean kitchen towel to dry. Repeat process, cooking about 4 noodles at a time. Use cooked noodles within 1 hour.

Spinach Pasta
1 cup water
1/2 10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach, thawed
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3 large eggs

Bring water to a boil in a small pan.  Add spinach and cook until tender, about 3 minutes.  Drain and refresh spinach under cold running water.  Use your hands to press out all the liquid from the spinach.

Transfer spinach to a cutting board and chop fine.  Press your hands against spinach and tilt the cutting board over a sink to squeeze out any remaining liquid.  There should be about 1/3 cup very finely chopped, completely dry spinach.

Place flour on a clean, dry work surface such as a counter top or wood surface.   With your hands, shape flour into a 6 inch ring with an empty well in the center.  Crack eggs into this well and add spinach.  Beat eggs and spinach lightly with a fork until well mixed.  Slowly work in some of the flour from the inside of the ring.  Continue incorporating flour from around the inside of the ring as the egg mixture become thicker. 

Knead, roll, and cook the pasta as you would in the master pasta recipe.

Cooks note Frozen spinach is easier to work with than fresh, and this is one of those rare occasions when nothing is sacrificed by using the frozen product.  If you have fresh spinach on hand, boil about 1/2 pound in abundant water until tender, about 2 minutes, and follow the same directions for frozen spinach.

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