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!!


  1. Oh my! You made the Pasta at home too. looks good. I never had veg Lasagna, not bad at all to try.

    Happy Ugadi, enjoy the weekend! :)

  2. never made a lasagna at home..though ive made ravioli from scratch!! i guess all the chapathi rolling experience comes to help here!! Lovely n delicious looking pasta!

    Have a great weekend!

  3. I'm seeing this everywhere and I'm impressed all over again!

  4. wow! everything from scratch!! awesome!

  5. Oh wow, your lasagna and photos are stunning! A+++++!

  6. U guys are real daring bakers! Pasta drying oh my!
    Happy Ugadi Nam, btw I made ur Khara biscuit they turn out excellent.Thanks Gal

  7. Thanks ladies! :)

    Thanks Cham, glad it turned out well! :)

  8. Wow, for a first time pasta maker you adjusted and turned out a pro dish! Well done!

  9. Beautiful layers, superb :)

  10. Lovely lasagna, makes me want to try a veg version.

  11. What a great job you have done on this challenge. Yes this in ONE FAB recipe. Bravo on this challenge

  12. I was so worried about the "eggy" taste in mine, I "chickened" out and used an eggless recipe!
    Your lasagne looks real good, Namratha.

  13. Gorgeous slice of lasagna.

  14. I halved everything too and still had a lot of food. Your vegetarian version looks fantastic.

  15. You are a star making the pasta from scratch and it looks so delicious. I do eat meat but would have made it just like yours!!1

  16. You did wel, namratha...the lasagna looks yummy :-)

  17. Mmm, your lasagne looks awesome!! Beautiful job =D.

  18. Wow, all you daring bakers amaze me endlessly.

    Great job, Namratha!

  19. Looks like one tasty lasagna, great work! :)

  20. Your lasagna turned out amazing!

  21. Oh! my god.. This is amazing,.. you made pasta at home.. mmm the lasagna looks like heaven. TC

  22. You have some patience and the ladagna is awesome and so nice... Thanks for sharing the recipe... i am gonna try it too....:D


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