Wednesday, November 20, 2013

My Lasagne

Guess what? I finally wrote out "my recipe" for lasagne. Although it's now written down, there's no guarantee that this is the recipe I will be using from now on. ;) I will probably continue to improvise based on what's in my garden/refrigerator/pantry. But here is one version that I made for a cooking class I did this month at Chuo Church. The pictures are from the class.

Oh, by the way, I live in Japan now. We use metric here. But I'm still using American sized spoons and cups--1 cup is 240 mL, 1 Tbsp is 15 mL, and 1 tsp is 5 mL.


Special Equipment: Pasta roller, pastry cloth, cheese grater, pasta cutter in case of leftover pasta, blender or stick blender (recommended), casserole pan (9x12in or equivalent)

Step 1: Meat sauce
Makes 1 large lasagne

  • 400g ground beef
  • 1Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 Tbsp white wine
  • Optional: other vegetables, diced (pepper, eggplant, mushroom, olive, etc.)
  • 1 Tbsp roasted garlic* or minced garlic
  • ½ tsp Italian herb seasoning (or 1 T fresh herbs of your choice, minced: oregano, rosemary, parsley, and thyme are recommended)
  • 800g tomatoes, rough cut, or 2 cans (411g/14.5oz each) whole tomatoes with juice
  • 1 cup red wine
  • ¼ tsp hot pepper flakes (optional)
  • 170g (1 small can) tomato paste
  • ¼ tsp pepper
  • 1 tsp honey (optional)
  1. Brown beef; drain fat if necessary. Set aside.
  2. Meanwhile, heat up olive oil in a large pot over low heat. Add onions, salt, and white wine. Cover and cook for 10 minutes until soft. (If you are using other vegetables such as peppers, add them now and sauté for a few minutes.) Add roasted garlic and Italian herb seasoning (or fresh herbs of your choice) and mix well.
  3. Add tomatoes, red wine, and hot pepper flakes. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 15 minutes.
  4. Remove from heat, blend with stick blender. Add tomato paste and mix well.
  5. Add beef; simmer for another 10 minutes.
  6. Add honey and pepper; adjust seasoning.
*Roasted Garlic
You can make any quantity of garlic you want; I usually make a large batch of about a kilogram of garlic which I store in a jar in the fridge and use for all kinds of recipes.

  • Garlic, peeled and root end removed
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  1. Preheat the oven to 350F/180C.
  2. In a bowl, toss garlic with olive oil, salt, and pepper.
  3. Spread garlic on a baking sheet and bake for about 30 minutes until soft and brown, stirring several times.
  4. Crush the garlic until smooth in a food processor.
  5. Store in a glass jar in the refrigerator.

Step 2: Pasta
Makes enough for 2 large lasagne (16 servings), OR 1 large lasagne (8 servings) plus a bunch of extra pasta (about 4 servings)

  • 6 eggs (or 5 eggs and 2 egg whites, since 2 yolks go in the white sauce)
  • ½ tsp salt
  • Herbs of your choice, minced (optional)
  • Reconstituted and minced sundried tomatoes (optional)
  • 300g Semolina flour
  • 300g all purpose flour
  • Extra flour for dusting
  1. In a large bowl, whisk eggs, salt, and optional herbs and tomatoes.
  2. Add flours a little at a time and mix well. When it gets too thick to stir, turn the dough onto a floured pastry cloth and knead the dough with floured hands as you add the remaining flour. Continue kneading until the dough is smooth and only slightly sticky.
  3. Rest the dough for 20 minutes.
  4. Divide the dough into 6 pieces. Keep the remaining pieces covered so they don’t dry out.
  5. Using your floured hands, shape the first piece so that it is roughly square and flat enough to fit through the widest setting of your pasta roller (that’s #1 on my roller).
  6. Coat both sides of the dough with flour so it doesn’t stick to the pasta roller… and feed it through! If the shape is funky, reshape (fold in the ends) and put it through again on the same setting.
  7. Set the pasta roller to #2, and repeat step 6 until your pasta is as thin as you want it. My pasta roller goes as narrow as #6, but I prefer to stop with #5. The pasta sheets should be about 1-1.5 mm thick.
  8. Repeat steps 5-7 with each of your remaining pieces of dough.
  9. If you’re making lasagne, cut the pasta sheets to the correct size and assemble your lasagne! No need to pre-cook the pasta sheets.
  10. If you are done assembling your lasagne and have leftover pasta sheets, coat both sides with flour and roll them through your pasta cutter. Toss the finished noodles with flour and allow them to dry on your floured pastry cloth for up to 24 hours. After that, put them in a plastic freezer bag and store in the freezer.
  11. Cook your noodles in salted boiling water for 2 minutes (if they’re very fresh) or up to 7 minutes (if you’ve dried them for a while) until al dente. (NOTE: This step is NOT necessary for lasagne noodles! Do not pre-cook raw lasagne sheets!)

Making the dough. Actually it is kind of intimidating to do this with a bunch of people watching...
Starting to roll out the pasta. It starts very small.
The pasta stretches and stretches! It's actually easiest to do with 3 people--one to feed, one to catch, and one to turn the crank.
Everyone caught on quickly. Look at that beautiful pasta!
The lasagne is done, so now it's time to cut the leftover pasta. Ozawa-sensei gives it a go.
We made lots! Everyone got to take some pasta home!

Step 3: White sauce
Makes 1 large lasagne

  • 2 packs (450g each) yogurt or 3 c ricotta cheese
  • 2 egg yolks
  • ½ c/80g grated mozzarella cheese
  • ¼ c/40g grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 Tbsp roasted garlic* or minced garlic
  • 1 tsp salt (or 1 ½ tsp herb salt)
  • ¼ tsp fresh ground pepper
  1. If you are using yogurt, pour the yogurt into a cheesecloth-lined strainer set over a large bowl; let strain overnight. Discard the yellowish liquid (whey) in the bowl.
  2. In a medium bowl, mix the strained yogurt with the rest of the ingredients, being sure to incorporate the roasted garlic so there are no clumps.

Step 4: Cheese , Vegetables, Etc.
I’m usually very flexible when it comes to what sort of cheese and which vegetables I use. Here are some guidelines, but feel free to use what’s in season and available.

Suggested ingredients:
  • 160g Mozzarella cheese
  • 40g Parmesan cheese
  • Suggested vegetables:
  • Fall and winter: mushrooms (button, shimeji—135g, maitake—100g), kabocha (150g, cut in 4mm slices), spinach or other greens (chopped and blanched)
  • Summer: basil, zucchini, eggplant, etc.
  • Optional: herb salt, additional parmesan cheese for serving
  1. Grate the cheese, if it’s not pre-grated.
  2. Chop the vegetables into bite-sized pieces (mushrooms, onions, etc), 5 mm slices (zucchini, eggplant, squash, etc), or rough chopped (leafy greens).
  3. Blanch leafy greens in boiling water for 1 minute; drain well and squeeze out excess liquid.
  4. Blanch squash and other slow-cooking vegetables in boiling water for about 2 minutes, or until just tender; drain well.
  5. Zucchini and eggplant do not need to be pre-cooked.
  6. Brown mushrooms and onions in olive oil. This will increase flavour and reduce water content.

Step 5: Assembly and Baking

  1. Preheat the oven to 400F/200C.
  2. Oil a large 9x12 inch or equivalent casserole pan. Any size is fine, but I find square or rectangular pans easiest to work with.
  3. Assemble the lasagne according to the “suggested layering” list below, starting from layer 0 at the bottom and working up to layer 12—leave out the cheese for now; we’ll add that partway through the baking time.
  4. This layering list is very flexible. I wouldn’t suggest eliminating pasta or sauce layers, but you can add, substitute, or completely leave out vegetable layers.
  5. Bake the lasagne for 20 minutes.
  6. Sprinkle the top with mozzarella and parmesan cheeses. Flip the lasagne 180 degrees and bake for about 20 minutes more, until the sauce at the edges is bubbling and the cheese is browned.
  7. Remove from the oven and let stand for 10 minutes… if you can wait that long!
  8. Serve with parmesan cheese and herb salt if you like.
Suggested layering:
  • Layer 13: cheese
  • Layer 12: meat sauce (thin layer)
  • Layer 11: pasta
  • Layer 10: vegetable
  • Layer 9: meat sauce (thick layer)
  • Layer 8: pasta
  • Layer 7: vegetable
  • Layer 6: white sauce
  • Layer 5: pasta
  • Layer 4: vegetable
  • Layer 3: meat sauce (thick layer)
  • Layer 2: pasta
  • Layer 1: meat sauce (just a little)
  • (Layer 0: Oil the pan)
I set up the different ingredients more or less in order for easy assembly. This time we used vegetables in season in the fall. From the far end of the table: meat sauce, kabocha (a kind of squash), white sauce, swiss chard, mushrooms, and cheeses.
Kabocha in a lasagne was a pretty novel idea, I'm told. The Japanese concept of lasagna has only pasta, meat sauce, white sauce, and cheese... although I have seen recipes in which vegetables take the place of the pasta. Still, it seems the kabocha and other vegetables went over well.
Swiss chard layer--colorful! (It came from our farm!)
The class participants spread white sauce. I made one example lasagne, and then the participants put together 2 more.
After the lasagne bakes for awhile, cheese goes on the top. (Another cultural note: apparently Japanese lasagnes usually have white sauce as the final layer underneath the cheese. I found out afterwards. Oh well.)
Of course the best part is eating the lasagne! (My mouth was full.) Yay!

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