Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Most Amazing Lasagna-Labour-Of-Love

As you may have guessed based on the title of this post, this lasagna is not a quick one. It requires several hours of your time. But I promise you - if you follow all the steps, you will have a lasagna that will make people swoon. Maybe even cry. But they definitely won't be hungry. You can definitely make it over a couple days if you can't afford to slave (for love) in the kitchen for a 1/2 day. If you do want to break it up, make the bolognese in advance. The rest, do day-of. If you're ready to be blown away by a meal, read-on:

NOTE: You will need a pasta machine for this recipe.

Ingredients for the Bolognese:
  • 5 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 carrot, finely chopped
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 celery rib, finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 1/4 lb pancetta, minced
  • 1lb ground veal
  • 1lb ground pork (not lean)
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 1 cup dry white wine (I used red instead, but the original calls for white)
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper

Ingredients for the Pasta Dough:
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 1 cup firmly packed spinach
  • 4 extra large eggs (or 5 large eggs)
  • 1/2 tsp olive oil
  • about 4 cups unbleached all purpose flour
Ingredients for the Bechamel:
  • 5 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 1-1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
Ingredients for assembling the Lasagna:
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 9 tablespoons finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (or more, if you're like me and a bit of a cheese whore)
Make the Bolognese:
  1. Heat oil and butter over moderate heat until the butter melts, then cook carrot, onion, celery, and garlic, until tender but not browned, 10 to 15 min. 
  2. Increase the heat to high and stir in pancetta, beef, and pork until meat is starting to brown; about 15 min. 
  3. Stir in tomato paste, milk, and wine and simmer over low heat stirring occasionally, until almost all liquid has evaporated, but ragu is still moist, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Add salt and pepper and remove from heat. This ragu generally takes about 3 hours start to finish.
Make the Pasta Dough while Bolognese Cooks:
  1. In a 4- to 5-quart pot, bring 3 quarts of water to a boil and add salt (1 tablespoon). Have ready a large bowl of ice and cold water next to the stove. 
  2. Blanch the spinach in boiling water for 45 seconds, then drain it in a sieve and immediately chill the spinach completely in the ice bath. Drain the spinach and squeeze it dry in a kitchen towel, removing as much liquid as possible, then chop it very finely. 
  3. Stir together the spinach, eggs, and oil (1/2 teaspoon) in a small bowl until combined well. 
  4. Mound 3 1/2 cups flour in center of a large cutting board (preferably wooden). Make a “well” in the center of the mound of flour and add the egg mixture into the well. Using a fork, beat the egg mixture, incorporating the flour a little at a time, starting with inside wall of the well and keeping wall intact by supporting the outside with your other hand. 
  5. When you have a thick paste that you can’t beat any more, and about half of the flour is incorporated, start kneading the dough with both hands, using the palms of your hands (not your fingers) and kneading in some of the remaining flour (from board). Once you have a cohesive mass (you will still have 1/2 to 1 cup flour unincorporated), remove the dough from the board and scrape the board clean with the pastry or bench scraper, discarding any leftover bits of dough and flour. 
  6. Lightly dust the board with clean flour and continue kneading until dough is elastic, about 8 minutes. (Dough will be firm). 
  7. Wrap the kneaded dough in plastic wrap and allow it to rest at room temperature for 30 to 45 minutes. (Dough will soften as it rests.)
Make the Bechamel while the Pasta Rests:
  1. In a 2- to 3-quart heavy saucepan, melt the butter over moderate heat. Whisk in the flour until smooth, then cook, whisking frequently, until pale golden brown - 4 to 6 minutes. 
  2. Meanwhile, in a separate 1- to 1 1/2-quart saucepan, heat the milk until it is just about to boil. Add the milk, 1 cup at a time, to the butter mixture - whisking constantly until very smooth. Bring the sauce to a boil, whisking, then cook it, whisking, for another 30 seconds. 
  3. Remove the sauce from the heat and whisk in the salt and nutmeg. Cover the sauce with a buttered round of wax paper (buttered side down) and cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally.
Roll Out the Pasta While Bechamel Cools:
  1. Cut the pasta dough into 8 equal pieces. Cover 7 of the pieces with plastic wrap and pat out the remaining piece of dough into a flat rectangle. Lightly dust with flour. 
  2. Set the rollers of your pasta machine on the widest setting. Feed the rectangle, a short end first, through the rollers. Fold the rectangle in half crosswise and feed it, folded end first, through rollers 7 or 8 more times, folding it in half crosswise each time, feeding a folded end first, and dusting with flour if necessary to prevent sticking. 
  3. Turn the dial to the next (narrower) setting and feed the dough through the rollers without folding, a short end first. Continue rolling once at each (narrower) setting, until the narrowest setting is reached. Lay the pasta sheet on a lightly floured surface to dry until slightly leathery but still flexible - about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, roll out remaining pieces of dough in same manner. 
  4. Trim the ends and cut the pasta sheets crosswise into-5-inch lengths, then cover with a barely dampened kitchen towel.
Assemble and Bake the Lasagna:
  1. Position an oven rack in the middle position and preheat the oven to 375 degrees. 
  2. Bring a 6- to 8-quart pot of water (about 3/4 full) to a boil and add salt (2 tablespoons). I also like to add some olive oil for fresh pasta, so it doesn't stick - about 1 tbsp right into the pot. Have ready a bowl of ice and cold water next to the stovetop and add oil to ice bath. Drop 6 pieces of pasta into boiling water and cook until just tender, about 1 minute. Transfer with a slotted spoon to ice bath to chill, then transfer to clean kitchen towels, laying pasta flat, and pat dry. Keep the water at a boil. 
  3. Spread 1 cup of the bolognese over the bottom of the lasagne pan (the sauce will barely cover the bottom) and sprinkle over 1 1/2 tablespoons of Parmigiano-Reggiano, then cover with cooked pasta (pieces can overlap slightly). Spread 1/2 cup bechamel over the pasta (layer will be thin). 
  4. Cook, chill, and dry remaining pasta, 6 pieces at a time, and layer it with the remaining ingredients, in the same sequence as above, 4 more times (first bolognese, then cheese, pasta, and bechamel; the final layer of bechamel will be 1 cup). Sprinkle the top of the lasagne with the remaining 3 tablespoons (or more) of cheese. 
  5. Bake the lasagna, uncovered, until the top is pale golden in spots and the sauces are bubbling - about 45 minutes. Allow the finished lasagna to stand for at least 10 minutes before serving.
Note: you can make the lasagna in advance and keep it covered and cool. You could also freeze the lasagna ... just remember your cooking time will be much longer when cooking from frozen.

Love. On a plate.

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