Lasagna for the Daring Bakers

My love for pasta is not unknown as I have so often mentioned in many of my posts; I've always used pasta from a box and didn't find the need to make my own. I had of course, never in my wildest dreams thought that some day I would be making my very own pasta at home. And there is one pasta dish I had never tried before until yesterday and that was Lasagna. Mostly because we have never come across a vegetarian Lasagna at any restaurant; classic Lasagna comes with a meat sauce.

I was thrilled to know that March’s Challenge at the Daring Bakers was Lasagna , and the best part we had to make our own Lasagna sheets. I must say this was one challenge I was raring to start on from day one.

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.

Lasagne is a dish that has successfully transcended borders and is today made around the world, albeit with many variations from the Italian original. Even within Italy, there are many variations and each region has its own lasagne tradition. But, as Lynne explains in her introduction to the recipe –and Enza, as our Italian expert for this dish, also agrees - the dish should always be a “vivid expression of the ‘less is more’ philosophy of cooking. Mere films of béchamel sauce and meat ragu coat the sheerest spinach pasta. Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese dusts each layer. There is nothing more; no ricotta, no piling on of meats, vegetables or cheese; little tomato, and no hot spice. Baking performs the final marriage of flavours. The results are splendid.”

We were allowed to make a vegetarian sauce for the Lasagna instead of the Country style Ragu. I made the Spinach Egg pasta, as was required, and also the Bechamel sauce. I also made my own version of the vegetable sauce. I halved all the recipes, my notes are in italics.

All recipes below from The Splendid Table: Recipes from Emilia-Romagna, the Heartland of Northern Italian Food by Lynne Rossetto Kasper (published by William Morrow and Company Inc., 1992).

Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna (Lasagne Verdi al Forno)
(Serves 8 to 10 as a first course, 6 to 8 as a main dish)

Preparation Time: 15 minutes to assemble and 40 minutes cooking time
10 quarts (9 litres) salted water
1 recipe Spinach Pasta cut for lasagna (recipe follows)#1
1 recipe Bechamel Sauce (recipe follows)#2
1 recipe Vegetable Sauce (recipe follows)#3
1 cup (4 ounces/125g) freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Working Ahead:
The ragu and the béchamel sauce can be made up to three days ahead. The ragu can also be frozen for up to one month. The pasta can be rolled out, cut and dried up to 24 hours before cooking. The assembled lasagne can wait at room temperature (20 degrees Celsius/68 degrees Fahrenheit) about 1 hour before baking. Do not refrigerate it before baking, as the topping of béchamel and cheese will overcook by the time the center is hot.

Assembling the Ingredients:
Have all the sauces, rewarmed gently over a medium heat, and the pasta at hand. Have a large perforated skimmer and a large bowl of cold water next to the stove. Spread a double thickness of paper towels over a large counter space. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius). Oil or butter a 3 quart (approx 3 litre) shallow baking dish.

Cooking the Pasta:
Bring the salted water to a boil. Drop about four pieces of pasta in the water at a time. Cook about 2 minutes. If you are using dried pasta, cook about 4 minutes, taste, and cook longer if necessary. The pasta will continue cooking during baking, so make sure it is only barely tender. Lift the lasagne from the water with a skimmer, drain, and then slip into the bowl of cold water to stop cooking. When cool, lift out and dry on the paper towels. Repeat until all the pasta is cooked.

Assembling the Lasagne:
Spread a thin layer of béchamel over the bottom of the baking dish. Arrange a layer of about four overlapping sheets of pasta over the béchamel. Spread a thin layer of béchamel (about 3 or 4 spoonfuls) over the pasta, and then an equally thin layer of the ragu. Sprinkle with about 1&1/2 tablespoons of the béchamel and about 1/3 cup of the cheese. Repeat the layers until all ingredients are used, finishing with béchamel sauce and topping with a generous dusting of cheese (I used Mozzarella too with the Parmesan)

Baking and Serving the Lasagne:
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). Take care not to brown the cheese topping. It should be melted, creamy looking and barely tinged with a little gold. Turn off the oven, leave the door ajar and let the lasagne rest for about 10 minutes. Then serve. This is not a solid lasagne, but a moist one that slips a bit when it is cut and served.

#1 Spinach Egg Pasta (Pasta Verde)

Preparation: 45 minutes

Makes enough for 6 to 8 first course servings or 4 to 6 main course servings, equivalent to 1 pound (450g) dried boxed pasta.

I halved this recipe; used two eggs though.

2 jumbo eggs (2 ounces/60g or more)
10 ounces (300g) fresh spinach, rinsed dry, and finely chopped; or 6 ounces (170g) frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry
3&1/2 cups (14 ounces/400g) all purpose unbleached (plain) flour (organic stone ground preferred)

Working by Hand:

--A roomy work surface, 24 to 30 inches deep by 30 to 36 inches (60cm to 77cm deep by 60cm to 92cm). Any smooth surface will do, but marble cools dough slightly, making it less flexible than desired.
--A pastry scraper and a small wooden spoon for blending the dough.
--A wooden dowel-style rolling pin. In Italy, pasta makers use one about 35 inches long and 2 inches thick (89cm long and 5cm thick). The shorter American-style pin with handles at either end can be used, but the longer it is, the easier it is to roll the pasta.
--Plastic wrap to wrap the resting dough and to cover rolled-out pasta waiting to be filled. It protects the pasta from drying out too quickly.
--A sharp chef’s knife for cutting pasta sheets.

Cloth-covered chair backs, broom handles, or specially designed pasta racks found in cookware shops for draping the pasta.

Mixing the dough:
Mound the flour in the center of your work surface and make a well in the middle. Add the eggs and spinach. Use a wooden spoon to beat together the eggs and spinach. Then gradually start incorporating shallow scrapings of flour from the sides of the well into the liquid. As you work more and more flour into the liquid, the well’s sides may collapse. Use a pastry scraper to keep the liquids from running off and to incorporate the last bits of flour into the dough. Don’t worry if it looks like a hopelessly rough and messy lump.

With the aid of the scraper to scoop up unruly pieces, start kneading the dough. Once it becomes a cohesive mass, use the scraper to remove any bits of hard flour on the work surface – these will make the dough lumpy. Knead the dough for about 3 minutes. Its consistency should be elastic and a little sticky. If it is too sticky to move easily, knead in a few more tablespoons of flour. Continue kneading about 10 minutes, or until the dough has become satiny, smooth, and very elastic. It will feel alive under your hands. Do not shortcut this step. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap, and let it relax at room temperature 30 minutes to 3 hours.

Stretching and Thinning:
If using an extra-long rolling pin work with half the dough at a time. With a regular-length rolling pin, roll out a quarter of the dough at a time and keep the rest of the dough wrapped. Lightly sprinkle a large work surface with flour. The idea is to stretch the dough rather than press down and push it. Shape it into a ball and begin rolling out to form a circle, frequently turning the disc of dough a quarter turn. As it thins outs, start rolling the disc back on the pin a quarter of the way toward the center and stretching it gently sideways by running the palms of your hands over the rolled-up dough from the center of the pin outward. Unroll, turn the disc a quarter turn, and repeat. Do twice more.

Stretch and even out the center of the disc by rolling the dough a quarter of the way back on the pin. Then gently push the rolling pin away from you with one hand while holding the sheet in place on the work surface with the other hand. Repeat three more times, turning the dough a quarter turn each time.

Repeat the two processes as the disc becomes larger and thinner. The goal is a sheet of even thickness. For lasagne, the sheet should be so thin that you can clearly see your hand through it and see colours. Cut into rectangles about 4 by 8 inches (10 x 20 cm). Note: Enza says that transparency is a crucial element of lasagne pasta and the dough should be rolled as thinly as possible. She says this is why her housekeeper has such strong arms!

Dry the pasta at room temperature and store in a sealed container or bag.

#2 Bechamel
Preparation Time: 15 minutes

I halved this recipe too.

4 tablespoons (2 ounces/60g) unsalted butter
4 tablespoons (2 ounces/60g) all purpose unbleached (plain) flour, organic stone ground preferred
2&2/3 cups (approx 570ml) milk
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Freshly grated nutmeg to taste

Using a medium-sized saucepan, melt the butter over low to medium heat. Sift over the flour, whisk until smooth, and then stir (without stopping) for about 3 minutes. Whisk in the milk a little at a time and keep the mixture smooth. Bring to a slow simmer, and stir 3 to 4 minutes, or until the sauce thickens. Cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes, until the sauce thickens. Season with salt, pepper, and a hint of nutmeg.

#3 Vegetable Sauce:
Makes:3 Cups

3 tbsp Olive oil

1 Onion, chopped

3 cloves Garlic, thinly sliced

2 Carrots, diced

1 long purple eggplant, cubed

½ Green bell pepper, cubed

1 tsp Red chilli flakes

1 tsp Oregano

1 Cup store bought Marinara sauce

1 Cup Vegetable Broth

Salt to taste

Heat olive oil in a non-stick pan. Add the garlic and chopped onion and sauté till onions are soft and garlic is fragrant. Add the carrots, bell pepper and eggplant, cook for 8 minutes till veggies are cooked through. Season with salt. Stir in the marinara sauce and vegetable broth ;bring sauce to a simmering boil on medium heat. Simmer for 5 minutes, and remove from heat. Use as required.

I topped the Lasagna with Mozzarella too to give it a little more 'cheesy'ness...we loved it! The Lasagna was great and I was very pleased that I couldn't taste the egg in the pasta, which I was worried about from the start. All the layers came through wonderfully in one bite, even the bechamel was tasty.

I'm surely making this again and again for anyone who wants to try Vegetable Lasagna! :)

Wishing all my readers a very Happy and Prosperous Ugadi!!

Veggie Burgers and Spicy Cajun Fries

When I made these vegetable cutlets last week, I made a big batch of the potato mixture to last me a while. These cutlets make a tasty patty for a burger. So that’s just what I did – made some burgers.

And what good are burgers with no fries along side? Not the greasy kind, but the oven-baked ‘healthy’ kind.

Vegetable Burgers:

You will need:

4 Vegetable cutlets (recipe here)
4 Sesame topped burger buns
1 onion, thinly sliced
3 tbsp Mayonnaise
Cheese singles

Lighlty toast the burger buns. Spread mayo on the buns. Place a vegetable cutlet on the bottom half of the bun. Top with a slice of cheese and onion slices. Place top half of bun and dig in!

You can add your own toppings to jazz it up.

Spicy Cajun Fries:

You will need:

4 Russet potatoes, scrubbed and dried
4 tbsp Olive oil
1 tsp Cumin powder
1 tsp Corriander powder
1 tsp Cayenne (increase to make it more spicy)
½ tsp Paprika
½ tsp Salt

Preheat oven to 400F.

Scrub the potatoes using a small vegetable brush to rid the potatoes of dirt. Rinse thoroughly and pat dry with paper towels. If you don't want to leave the skins on, then skip the scrubbing step.Half the potatoes and then cut into 1/3 of an inch wedges. Transfer to a bowl. Add olive oil and the remaining ingredients, toss to coat potatoes.

Spread out evenly onto a baking sheet lined with foil. Bake for 20-25 minutes until crisp and golden brown. Flip wedges once halfway through cooking time.

These fries not only taste good but are also more forgiving on the waistline. One more reason to make these instead of old-fashioned greasy fries. :)

Vegetable Cutlets

Vegetable Cutlets need no introduction at all.If you were like me back in college days ,eating out often at chaat centres or roadside gaadis, you surely wouldn't have missed these tasty treats. A popular snack on restaurant menus too.

There are many versions to this recipe; this is a simple basic one with no fuss. It comes together quickly and you will be craving for some once you are done reading this post!

You will need:

1 Cup boiled, mashed potatoes

1 Cup Vegetable mix – boiled carrots, peas, green beans (all finely chopped)

1 tsp green chilli paste

1 tbsp Corriander powder

¼ cup chopped fresh coriander

1 tbsp Oil

Salt to taste

Bread crumbs

2 tbsp All purpose flour


Oil for deep-frying

Squeeze out as much water as possible from the boiled veggies.

Heat oil in a pan. Add the green chilli paste and coriander powder. Fry for a few seconds and then add the vegetable mixture. Mix well and then coarsely mash with the help of a potato masher. Season with salt. Cook mixture for 3 more minutes and then remove from heat. Let cool, then stir in the mashed potato and fresh corriander, combine well. Check for seasoning and add more salt if needed. The mixture should be stiff and should hold when rolled into a ball or shaped into a patty. If the mixture is falling apart, add bread crumbs as required to help bind it.

Shape into tear shaped patties or even round ones which are about 1/2 inch thick. Make a paste from the all purpose flour with about tbsp of water. It should be a thick paste.

Set oil to heat in a deep pan. Quickly dip each patty in the flour paste and roll in bread crumbs. Set aside for at least 5 minutes before deep frying. This helps the crumbs stick well and not fall apart in the oil. Dip and coat remaining patties. Deep fry in hot oil till the outside is golden brown.

Drain patties on paper towels to remove excess oil. Serve hot with ketchup and/or Mint chutney.

I made a lot of these over last weekend, and saved some of the mixture to use over the week. You really can never get enough of these cutlets, they are finger licking good! :)

Prada "Bag" Cake

I made this Prada "bag" cake for a friend's birthday recently. I had seen so many purse cakes online, that I just had to do one myself! :D

This was inspired by a real Prada handbag. The bag cake is a chocolate cake covered in Fondant.

The 'stitch' effect was achieved by using a Fondant tool.

It was a whole lot of fun making this cake, and I am certain I will be doing more purse cakes in the future :)

Thoothu Rotti with Eggplant curry

This is a dish I hadn’t quite dared to make on my own because I had never done it before. Thoothu Rottis are treated like a special dish, since the process of making it is time-consuming and a little hard on the arms (the shaping part).I finally learned it from mom when I was India a few months ago.

Thoothu means ‘hole’ in Kannada. The reason this rotti is called so is because it has a small hole in the centre. There are many ways to make steamed rice flour rottis, so each one is a given a name to make it easier to differentiate.

These steamed rice flour rottis are best served with a spicy eggplant curry. It is an unique combination, tasty to the last bite.

Thoothu Rotti:

1 Cup Rice Flour

2 Cups Water

1 tbsp Oil

½ tsp Salt

1 tbsp Chana Dal (Kadlebele)

1 tbsp powdered Jaggery

2 tbsp grated fresh coconut

Add the oil, chana dal, salt, jaggery and coconut to the water and bring to a boil over medium heat. Place a wooden spoon in the pan and slowly add in the rice flour. Do not stir. Reduce heat to low and cook for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir vigorously to blend all the ingredients.

Knead well on an oiled plate till dough comes together. Divide into equal sized balls. Smear a thick plastic sheet with oil. Place dough on the sheet and flatten dough with your fingers, while turning the sheet clockwise.

If the dough begins to break apart, lightly wet your fingers and press pieces together. Make a small hole in the centre using the tip of your index finger. Transfer to a hot non-stick pan, and roast on both sides till crisp on the edges.

Eggplant curry:

You will need:

2 long Green eggplants, washed and stemmed

6 Green chillies, slit

1 tsp Mustard seeds

1 tsp Chana Dal

1 tsp Urad Dal

2 tbsp Oil

Few curry leaves

1 Onion, chopped

2 tsp Rasam powder

½ Cup Tamarind juice

Salt to taste

2 tbsp Powdered jaggery

1 tbsp Ground Hurgadale (Dalia)

Cut eggplant into 1” pieces. Heat oil in a pan. Add the mustard and when it begins to splutter add the chana and urad dals. Saute for a few seconds and then add the curry leaves and green chillies. Saute for 30 seconds. Now add the chopped onions and sauté till soft. Stir in the eggplant and sauté on medium heat, for about 8-10 minutes till eggplant is cooked through. Now add the tamarind juice, jaggery, salt and rasam powder.

Bring to a simmering boil and let boil for 5 minutes. Make a smooth paste of dalia powder with water and add to the curry. This will thicken the curry. Let boil for another 2-3 ,minutes and serve hot with Rottis.

To all my readers: My posts are not showing up right on Google Reader, please do click on the header to visit the blog to read the original post. Thanks! :)

White Pizza

I often make pizzas at home and when I don’t have time to make my own pizza dough, I use the store bought pizza crust. It works just as well.

My hubby and I both enjoy pizzas with lots of cheese. :-D But when we order a take-out or delivery, it really is very greasy and makes us very guilty later. Making pizzas at home, lets me control what goes into the pizzas…we get to indulge, but on our terms.

Pizzas usually come with a tomato based sauce, to make something different I chose to use Ricotta cheese.

White Pizza:

Adapted from Rachel Ray’s recipe

1 store bought pizza dough

Extra- virgin olive oil, for drizzling

1 ½ cups part skim Ricotta

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 Onion, thinly sliced

2 cups shredded mozzarella

1 tsp Red Chilli flakes

1 sp Dried Basil

Salt and Black pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 425 F.

Stretch pizza dough on a baking sheet or pizza pan to form a pie. Pierce the dough with the tines of a fork in several places. Drizzle extra-virgin olive oil around the crust. Mix the ricotta cheese, chilli flakes, garlic, salt and black pepper. Taste the mixture at this point and adjust seasoning accordingly.

Spread the ricotta evenly across the dough. Top the pizza with the sliced onions and the mozzarella. Bake until crispy, 20 minutes. Top the white pizza pie with the dried basil and serve.

The Ricotta ‘sauce’ base was very different and the garlic packed a punch to it. I’m glad we tried this one.

Fruit Cake

The weather is going from bad to worse and I really wonder if Spring will ever be here! It has been a rainy day today as well, with dark gloomy clouds hanging over us. I really wish the sun would come out for a while, oh well, that will happen when it has to I guess!

On a much brighter note, I decided to make a rich fruit cake to cheer me up (that’s just an excuse!) I have been long putting this one off for some reason or the other, mainly because I didn’t have all the ingredients on hand. One bite into this and I was kicking myself for not having made this sooner!!

You will need:

For the Cake:

9 oz softened unsalted butter

1 cup Soft Brown sugar

2 tsp orange zest

2 tsp lemon zest

4 eggs

2 Cups All purpose flour

½ Cup Self-raising flour

Fruit Mix:

1 Cup Sultanas (Golden raisins)

½ Cup Raisins

½ cup Red Glace cherries*

½ Cup Dried Apricots, chopped

¾ Cup Dried Berry blend

1 ¼ Cups Currants

1 Cup Brandy

¼ Cup soft brown sugar

¼ cup Orange marmalade

1 tbsp Cocoa powder

½ tbsp Ground Cinnamon

1 tsp Ground Ginger

½ tsp Ground Clove

½ tsp Ground Nutmeg

* The store I go to was out of red glace cherries, hence I have used green glace cherries instead.

Preheat the oven to 300F. Grease a 10-inch round pan and two 6-inch round pans with butter and line all three with parchment paper.

To make the fruit mix, combine all the ingredients in a bowl. Allow to soak overnight for the best flavour.

Beat the butter, soft brown sugar, orange and lemon zests using electric beaters or a stand-up mixer until combined and smooth. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir in half of the soaked fruit mix alternately with the flour and self-raising flour. Mix well to combine.

Spread batter evenly into the prepared cake pans and tap on kitchen top to remove any air bubbles. Dip your fingers in water and level the surface.

Bake for 1-1 ½ hours or until a skewer/toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean.

Remove from oven and let cool in pans completely. Unmould onto a cooling rack, remove parchment and then store cakes in air-tight containers. The longer these cakes sit, the better they taste and the flavours intensify.

This makes for a delicious snack at tea-time. This Fruit Cake reminded me of the 'Plum Cake" we get back in India bakeries. Another trip down memory lane!

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