November 17, 2009

Patience Pays Off w/... Lasagna

So yet again I am vowing to make more of what we eat from scratch, beginning with pasta. To this point, I had only done a single experiment with our pasta maker, a consequence of laziness and reticence, the latter owing to the trouble I encountered the first time making an acceptable dough.

So, in the return adventure to fresh pasta, lasagna noodles were to be the output. Should I use the "well" method favored by Mario Batali -- seen demonstrating it here with Martha "Sell the stock, sell the motherf@#$in' stock!!" Stewart -- or the method upon which Jamie Oliver relies in the video below?

For my initial go-round with fresh pasta I tried both. I failed miserably with the MM's more traditional method, so turned to Jamie O. and his food processor approach (struggling, of course, to figure out what 100 grams is in good ol' American! -- Pure snark, I assure you). And with that I achieved a decent dough.

This time around, I started with the food processor and failed. My proportion of flour to egg was definitely off and I was not convinced it could be repaired.

So, after only a single failure, I turned to the well method. I looked at several different recipes for fresh pasta, and the egg to dough ratio was different for each. I ended up going with the recipe from one of our favorite cookbooks, Savoring Italy, which, despite being from Williams Sonoma, is truly an incredible cookbook for classic Italian food. It called for 4 eggs per 3 cups of flour.

The first well was not big or deep enough, and as I dropped the fourth egg into the well, one of its compatriots was quickly jettisoned over the edge like lava. I managed to get a lot of the egg incorporated back into the flour and, remarkably, got a decent looking, if not perfect, dough. I decided to try again (consulting with my wife about the size and depth of the well) and this time it went much better. In both cases I'm sure that I did not knead the dough for nearly long enough (which was really just a few minutes), but we had things to do. So I wrapped them in plastic wrap and let them sit for a few hours while we ran out to do some errands.

When we returned, I set up the pasta machine, got my 4-year-old diva into her lady bug apron, and we got cranking. Despite her stick-like arms, little miss thang was quite adept at cranking. At some point, however, my wife, despite still recovering from the piggy virus, assumed the cranking duties, while I guided the pasta through the machine and oversaw the flouring of the pasta and the thickness setting.

And from this effort were produced a lot of silky pasta sheets. Lightly floured them, wrapped in plastic wrap, and back into the fridge until it was time to start making the lasagna.

This, it turned out, was not a good decision. At least I think the refrigeration was the problem. When I removed the pasta from the fridge, it was stuck together and gummy (comments from any of LBoN's legions of readers - snicker, snicker -- about whether this was the problem are welcome). I was ready to toss the whole lot in the garbage, so frustrated I was. Ah, but the wife had a cooler head. She suggested rolling it all through the pasta maker again.

And it worked. Beautifully. Once again, and fairly quickly, we had perfectly thin sheets of pasta. In the interim we had also made a very simple sauce: half an onion (diced) and one clove of garlic, diced, cooked in olive oil until soft. Added one 28 oz. can of plum tomatoes, plus a little of the "juice" from the can, salt, pepper, cooked over medium heat until thickened a bit. Then a teaspoon or so of sugar and, just because I really like it, some freshly grated nutmeg.

Also in the interim, Sarah had made the ricotta filling, taken from Savoring Italy, which called for 3 cups of ricotta, an egg, a handful of flat-leaf parsley, salt, pepper.

The pasta noodles went into salted, boiling water and, a minute or two later, were drained. Then we started compiling the lasagna: a little sauce at the bottom of the dish, a layer of noodles, sauce, ricotta mixture, coating of freshly grated Parmesan, dots of fresh mozzarella, rinse and repeat twice, then finally the noodles, sauce, Parmesan and mozzarella.

Into a 375 degree oven for 45 minutes.

The result was quite fantastic. Light, delicate noodles. Light, flavorful ricotta. Perfectly balanced sauce. (My apologies for the photography.)

Bonus: We had enough leftover rolled out sheets to be cut into tagliatelle for a first course or side dish. It's in the freezer, for use hopefully in the near future.

And some time in the next few weeks it will be fresh pasta round 2: Ravioli.


Lauren said...

I love that Jamie Oliver video! I've made pasta both ways myself, and I tend to go for the food processor method as well.

Frank and Carey said...

Wow that looks like excellent lasagna. On the egg to flour ratio: I was just watching Lydia's Italy the other night and she went to some place in Bologna that is touted as having the best pasta in the region (some say the world). They use the well method using a ratio of 100g of flour for each egg. I guess it's time to buy a digital kitchen scale.

Fillippelli the (Wannabe) Cook said...

Made some ravioli recently - a recipe from Emeril Lagasse of all people -- and while it was good, the pasta was not as light this time. Well method again.

We definitely had the dough out and exposed to air for much longer, rolling it out, cutting it up into squares, putting in the filling (crab, parmesan, cream, diced pepper, among others), sealing them up, so perhaps that was the issue.

It was enjoyable, don't get me wrong. Just not the same lightness we achieved with the lasagna.