Saturday, June 03, 2006

lasagne for all

A few days ago, I hosted dinner for a few of my singleton friends. We have been rotating who hosts dinner, and this time it was my turn. I thought about what I would serve, and of course my first instinct was to make something Italian. I eventually settled upon Lasagne Bolognese. Now, if you've been reading this blog regularly, then you've probably figured out that I'm not a big cheese eater. So, then you're probably thinking this Madame Cupcake lady is crazy for making something so cheesey. Well, my friends, I'm not crazy! This particular lasagne which originates from the Silver Spoon Cookbook doesn't use a ton of cheese like most lasagnes. Instead it's made with a bechamel sauce. And the plot thickens. Dun dun dun!

Now, I've made this lasagne once before with some success. The problem was that I used a 9x13 pan and didn't have enough ingredients. My only nitpick about this cookbook is that the instructions can vague. There was never an indication of what size pan to use. Anyway, the layers were sparse, but it was still good enough that I'd be willing to make it again, which lead me to a couple of days ago. This time I doubled the recipe.

The recipe starts off with some olive oil, chopped onions, and chopped carrots. It cooks for a bit, and then the meat gets added. It calls for beef, but I don't like beef all that much and used ground turkey instead. I substitute ground turkey whenever I can because it's good for my heart. Anyway, I thew in some wine, let it cook off, and then tomatoes, and let it simmer. If you decide to make this, allow yourself plenty of time as the sauce will take awhile.

While my meat sauce was off simmering, I started on the bechamel sauce. I'd never made a bechamel sauce until I made this recipe. It sounds daunting, but it's really not that bad. It's basically a thick, white cream sauce made with milk, butter, flour, and seasonings. I made it with skim milk and it turned out just fine.

Sorry for the crappy picture, but you get the idea. Next up, I took care of the noodles. The recipe called for fresh noodles, but I don't like making fresh pasta. I like the way it tastes, but don't like the mess associated with it. Trader Joe's use to have fresh lasagne noodles, but when I went, they didn't have any. Instead, I bought dried noodles that didn't require cooking and instead cook during baking. This freaked me out because recipe on the box of the noodles required a ton of red sauce and cheese. I was afraid the noodles wouldn't soften up. To prevent this, I cooked the noodles in water for 5 minutes and then proceeded to layer my lasagne.

I threw it in the oven and let it cook. Since I doubled the recipe, it took longer than the 30 minutes the cookbook called for. I cooked it until the bechamel was browned on top and bubbly. My two friends arrived, and we chowed down on lasagne, bread, wine, and salad. How was it you ask? Good enough that between the three of us, we ate half the pan.

I was extremely pleased with how it turned out especially fresh from the oven. The bechamel was oozy and the noodles weren't too soft. The only thing I'd change is I'd add more tomatoes. My guests also thought it was very tasty. All in all, I deemed the night a success!

Mr. Cupcake was off playing poker, so he missed out on dinner. He had some for breakfast the next day and gave me his seal of approval. I tried it reheated, and it didn't compare to fresh out of the oven, but I still managed to finish it off.

Lasagne Bolognese from the Silver Spoon Cookbook
Serves 4
(I doubled this recipe and it fit well into a 9x13 pan)

3 tbl olive oil
1 carrot chopped
1 onion chopped
2.75 cups of ground meat (a pound is close enough)
sant 1/2 cup dry white wine
generous 1 cup bottled strained tomatoes (I used canned chopped tomatoes)
2 tbl butter, plus extra for greasing
1 quantity fresh pasta dough (see below)
1 quantity bechamel sauce (see below)
scant 1 cup parmesan cheese, freshly grated
salt and pepper

Heat the olive oil in a pan, add the carrot and onion and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Add the meat and cook until browned, then pour in the wine and cook until it has evaporated. Season with salt, add the strained tomatoes and simmer for 30 minutes, then season with pepper. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Grease an ovenproof dish with butter. Roll out the pasta dough into a sheet. Cut into 4-inch squares and cook, a few at a time, in plenty of lightly salted, boiling water for a few minutes. Drain and place on a damp dish towel. Arrange a layer of lasagne on the base of the prepared dish, spoon some of the meat sauce, then some of the bechamel sauce on top, sprinkle with some of the parmesan and dot with some of the butter. Repeat the alternating layers until all the ingredients have been used, ending with a layer of bechamel sauce. Bake for 30 minutes.

Fresh Pasta Dough
Serves 4

1.75 cups all purpose flour, preferably Italian type 00 plus extra for dusting
2 eggs lightly beaten

Sift the flour and a pinch of salt into a mmound on a counter. Make a well in the center and add the eggs. Usinger your fingers, gradually incorporate the flour, then knead for about 10 minutes. If the mixture is too soft, add a little extra flour; if it is too firm, add a little water. Shape the dough into a ball and let rest for 15 minutes. Roll out on a lightly floured surface or use a pasta machine to make a thin sheet, and cut out the tagliatelle, lasagne, etc.

Bechamel Sauce
Serves 4

1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2.25 cup milk
pinch of freshly grated nutmeg (optional)
salt and pepper

Melt the butter in a pan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour. Pour in all the milk, whisking constantlyuntil it starts to boil. Season with salt, lower the heat, cover and simmer gently, stirring occasionaly, for at least 20 minutes. Bechamel sauce should not taste floury. Remove the pan from the heat. Taste and add more salt if necessary and season with pepper and/or nutmeg. If the sauce is too thick, add a little more milk. If too runny, return to the heat and add a pat of butter mixed with an equal quantity of all-purpose flour. Making this delicous sauce, considered a basic sauce because of the numerous variations to which it has given rise, is an essential skill for anyone keen to cook. For a richer bechamel sauce, replace half the milk with teh same amount of heavy creaml for a lighter bechamel sauce, add half milk and half water. For grains, souffles or stuffings.

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