Daring Bakers: Savory in layers

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.

Yes, you read that correctly - this month, the Daring Bakers made lasagna. From scratch. With a spinach pasta.

The challenge itself presented three different elements for a traditional, Italian lasagna: the fresh made pasta, a homemade ragu, and a bechamel sauce. The required component was the fresh made pasta, either sweet or savory.

I chose to go with the traditional recipe, making a "normal" lasagna rather than a sweet variation, and was not disappointed with the results.

I had an slight advantage over some of my other Daring Bakers, however. Not only have I made lasagna from scratch before, but I had one of our hostesses, Mary of Beans and Caviar, nearby if I needed to call for help. And I did call!

My pasta started out just fine: my well of flour, my well dried, chopped spinach, my eggs. Everything weighed out and ready to go. I rose my eyebrow a bit when I read the weight for the eggs: 60g or more, but also saw it said 2 jumbo eggs. Well my eggs were the large variety and one of them weighed 57g. Still, I used two and started mixing with a spoon, as per the instructions.

The spoon, btw, was a bad idea. More egg and spinach mixture stuck to the spoon than wanted to stick with the flour. After trying to patiently coax everything together, I ended up with this:

It was dry and most of the flour was still on the counter, not coming together. At which point I called Mary.

And she wasn't home.

I fired off a rapid email and then did something I don't normally do on a Daring Baker challenge: I cheated.

I scrapped the entire mess into Bob's mixing bowl, attached the dough hook and started to mix. It was too dry, so I added in a tablespoon of egg whites. I mixed some more, added in another tablespoon, and watched.

And was rewarded with some dough.

I did finish the kneading by hand, not letting Bob do it for me, as tempting as it was. This stiff dough would not have been good for Bob, but sure gave me a good arm work out.

Covering the dough with plastic, I gave it the maximum rest time and checked my email. Adding the extra egg whites was approved by Mary, who had gotten my message and heard my panic.

My next message to her was not as panicked, but not very happy either. I was really disliking this entire recipe by this point. I'd already emailed her earlier in the week about the ragu, finding and grinding the meats for it (we live in the same city, so I needed her shopping advice.) In the end, I made the ragu but used only Italian sausages as my meat, skipped the red wine entirely, and threw in the rind of a chunk of parmesan cheese.

Now despite the fact that I read and reread a recipe before I start, I still end up missing things along the way. This time I missed the rolling pin aspect of things, somehow. Not sure how, but I did. And I do have a lovely pasta machine, so using a rolling pin for my sheets didn't even occur to me.

One thing to remember about this dough, however, is that it is a bit sticky. When I'd made fresh lasagna dough before, I had been able to fold the sheets back on themselves to rest while I finished rolling the rest, using them without drying them first. So I didn't hesitate to do it this time either. Which means I rolled out the sheets of dough twice each. The second time through, I cut them to about the right size for my pan, and either hung them on my cupboard door while I rolled more, or threw them into the pot of water that was ready and waiting.

Roll, cut, boil, drain, dry, roll, cut, boil, drain, dry, roll, cut, boil, drain, dry....

At some point I reread the assembly instructions and fired off another email to Mary: 4 sheets of pasta per layer of lasagna? Are they kidding? Is that a typo? Sure my sheets rolled reasonably thin, but they weren't that thin after boiling and four just seemed wrong.

I went with two. But I did make 4 layers before I ran out of pan, bechamel and ragu. Nice how that all balances out.

At this point I have to say, I still had very little faith in how this was going to turn out. I'm not a huge lasagna fan to begin with, and my ongoing irritation was not putting me in a favorable mood for the end results.

My next email to Mary began like this: I take back everything I said.

This was good. Not overly heavy, though still a bit rich, with good flavors, a nice bite to the pasta and tasty. Both my children ate it (and they like lasagna less than I do - that's why there is garlic bread, so that we have something we do like to eat while the hubby happily eats his lasagna.) Since I didn't have any garlic bread or salad with this, they had no choice, it was this or nothing, but they still ate it, happily.

I even had some left overs the next day. And I never have left over lasagna.

Another Daring Baker challenge, completed with "success". I usually define my DB successes when I've learned something, and this challenge was no exception, I learned a number of things from it and will likely make it again sometime.

Thank you ladies, for your choice for this month, and for giving us a break from the sugar. I needed that break!

Now you may now be noticing the lack of our Daring Baker mountain, or our lovely siloutteta in this post, but now see the new Daring Kitchen badge instead.

Well unless you've been living in a blog free hole, the new Daring Kitchen site was revealled this month, along with the introduction of a parter for the Daring Bakers, the Daring Cooks. There is still time to sign up and be part of the first ever Daring Cooks challenge, and even if you don't want to do that, there is lots of information available to everyone over at the Daring Kitchen. So head on over and check it out!

Once again, many thanks to this months hostesses, as well as to our leaders, Lisa and Ivonne for yet another wonderful Daring Baker month.

Onward and forward - let's see what April brings!


Isabelle Lambert said...

c'est superbement réussi ! beau défi :)

Jo said...

Great job on your challenge and delicious looking lasagna. Nice pictures of the entire process too.

NKP said...

You did a great job!
Great that your family ate it up, despite their lasagne predjudices.
I don't think the mixer and rollers are cheating - I think they just wanted to show an appliance-free version in case people don't have them.
Long live the pasta roller!
I am sooo looking forward to seeing what the first DC challenge will be.

BC said...

I'm glad it worked out in the end - you are right to trust your instincts on how the dough feels!

Anonymous said...

Your lasagne looks great. I loved making pasta more than I thought I would.

Bumblebutton said...

Lucky you to have such a 'fancy' well connected neighbor! Nicely done--and improvisation is not cheating.

Andrea at Nummy Kitchen said...

Jenny, your lasagna looks wonderful! I had to laugh at all your messages to Mary :) I'm so glad you and your family liked it, only my youngest would even give the lasagna a taste, but after he did, he loved it. The other two little ones just wanted garlic toast, go figure!

Megan said...

Lucky you to have help living close by. I probably would have thrown in the towel and given up!

Funny how kids eat what's on the table when there aren't any other options.

Elle said...

Glad that your family liked thsi lasagna..it seemed more delicate than most to me...and I love your comment about learning something new each challengs. You did a great job with 'fixing' the pasta when it was too dry and your lasagna looks great!

Meeta K. Wolff said...

oh yes - it was gooood! perfect job on the challenge!

Sara said...

Eeek! Well you rose to the challenge and you enjoyed it in the end, and that is all that matters.

kellypea said...

Nice job considering you're not a fan of lasagna. On the egg issue, I didn't see the "jumbo" label, so felt pretty fine adding more egg. Otherwise, I'd still be trying to make that dough. Nice job on this one!

Lauren said...

Mmm, your lasagne looks awesome!! Great job on this challenge =D!

TeaLady said...

That looks wonderful. It came out just right, didn't it. And tasted good too. THis was a fun challenge.

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

I see we had the same 'egg' issue.
I like that take back everything I said!
This really is a great lasagna noodle and we loved it.
Well done Jenny.

Lis said...

YOU are a doll :)

And damn if I wasn't right there with you and the doubts.. I'm not a huge fan of lasagne either. That didn't bring me down though in wanting to learn how to make the noodles from scratch, I just figured I'd eat a slice and be done with if afterwards.. I ate it for lunch AND dinner the next day. I NEVER do that with lasagne. :D

Way to go sweets.. as always you produced a beautiful challenge :D


TeaLady said...

I messed up. The recipe did NOT call to cook spinach first. Don't know what I was reading....

Dharm said...

Your Lasagne looks just wonderful Jenny! I'm glad everything worked out for you in the end!!

Half Baked said...

Nice job on the challenge! Your lasagne looks fantastic!

Hannah said...

Looks great, I love how you included "progress" pictures!