This month's Daring Bakers challenge was to make spinach lasagne (the pasta), then to create a lasagne al forno (the dish) using the homemade lasagne, along with a bechamel sauce, and additional ingredients of the cook's preference. 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. However, as usual, I made some adjustments (from sheer laziness? maybe) to make this dish my own.
3 large eggs
10 oz. chopped spinach, thawed and dried
3 cups all-purpose flour
In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the ingredients and stir with a wooden spoon until everything comes together. Use your hands to incorporate any dry pieces that aren't going in. Attach a hook to the stand mixer, and knead the dough for 10 minutes, until satiny and elastic. Add flour if the dough is too wet, and water if it's too dry, each by the teaspoon to make sure you don't add too much. After it has been kneaded thoroughly, wrap in plastic wrap and set aside to rest for 30 minutes. Cut the dough into quarters and slowly roll out until thin. I found it helpful to roll one side until it didn't seem it could stretch any further, then flipped the sheet over and rolled the other side. Continue rolling until the pasta is very thin, to the point that you can readily see light through it. Cut into 4-inch by 8-inch slices, then set aside until you're ready to assemble the lasagne.
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 2/3 cups milk
A pinch of nutmeg
Salt and pepper
Melt butter in a heavy pan over medium heat, then add flour and stir with a whisk until combined. Continue stirring until the roux begins to darken and releases a nutty smell. Add the milk, then bring to a boil and continue stirring until thickened. Add nutmeg, then salt and pepper to taste. I added quite a bit of pepper, giving the final Bechamel the appearance of country gravy.
Lasagne al forno:
1 recipe Spinach Lasagne
1 recipe Bechamel sauce
15 oz. Ricotta cheese
1 lb. Button mushrooms
1 lb. Crimini mushrooms
3 ounces basil, chiffonade
1 1/2 cups Parmigiano-Reggiano
Preheat oven to 350ºF and butter a 5-quart baking dish. Bring at least a gallon of heavily salted water to a boil, then boil your lasagne pasta for 2 minutes (only do 4-5 at a time). Gently remove from the boiling water and set onto paper towels to wick away extra water. Repeat until all the pasta has been cooked. Spread a thin layer of bechamel sauce across the bottom of the baking dish, then add a layer of cooked lasagne, overlapping slightly. Top with 5 ounces of Ricotta cheese, and 8 ounces of mushrooms (you can mix them together, or keep the different varieties apart). Add 1 ounce of basil, 1/4 cup of Parmigiano-Reggiano, and 1/4 cup of the bechamel. Top with another layer of overlapping spinach lasagne, then press down gently, yet firm enough to make the surface relatively flat. Repeat two more times. To the top of the outer layer of spinach lasagne, spread the remaining mushrooms and bechamel. Cover with a generous amount of Parmigiano-Reggiano. Cover with a tented piece of foil, taking care that the foil doesn't touch the lasagne. Bake for 40 minutes, then remove the foil and bake for an additional 10. Turn off the oven and wedge the door open with the back of a wooden spoon, and allow to gradually cool down for another 10 minutes. Remove the lasagne from the oven and serve warm. Serves 8-12.
This dish could easily include different flavors, maybe with a ragu sauce and Italian sausage. Lasagne is one of the great dishes to play around with, so feel free to adapt this to however your tastes may be.