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Lasagne alla Bolognese (Lasagna with Bolognese Sauce)

17 Dec

Lasagna has a long history (see the Lasagne al pesto post) but the Lasagne alla Bolognese recipe, typical from Emilia Romagna, traces its origins no further than the start 19th century when some restaurants in Bologna (Emilia Romagna) began serving this dish to their clients. It was an instant hit! Since then this recipe has been one of the symbols of Italian cuisine and is very popular all over the world, and in my family it is always on the table at Christmas. To prepare good lasagna alla Bolognese the most important thing is the choice of the ingredients: first of all the Bolognese sauce (ragù) should be made using half beef and half pork meat, the tomatoes should be very juicy and tasty, and homemade pasta certainly gives this dish a special flavor and texture that you will not experience using pre-packed pasta. Making fresh, homemade pasta is not too difficult; it’s fast and lots of fun!!! I remember that I loved to make fresh pasta as a kid with my mom, my aunts and my grandmother. It was so much fun kneading the dough; it’s something creative, productive and educational to do with your kids on rainy days and to keep them away from video games and tv reruns. You can enjoy this recipe either as a first course or a main course, and it is also a perfect party dish to serve at family gatherings.

LASAGNE ALLA BOLOGNESE (LASAGNE WITH BOLOGNESE SAUCE)
Preparation time: 1 hr+30 min. baking time                          Servings: 4

Lasagne ragù 1 small

INGREDIENTS
Bolognese Sauce (“Ragù“)
30 g (2 tablespoons) unsalted butter
80 g (½ cup) cured pancetta bacon (not smoked)
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 large carrot, peeled and finely chopped or diced
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
2 minced garlic cloves
225 g (½ pound) ground beef chuck
225 g (½ pound) ground pork
120 ml (½ cup) red wine
240 ml (1 cup) beef stock
1 can (about 250 ml) peeled whole tomatoes
5 tablespoons cream
Salt, freshly ground black pepper and freshly grated nutmeg to taste

Homemade Pasta
330 g (2 cups) Italian Grade 00 flour
3 large eggs

Besciamella Sauce
1 l milk (approx. 4 cups)
100 g (⅔ cup
) all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon of salt
30 g (2 tablespoons) unsalted butter
Freshly ground pepper and freshly grated nutmeg to taste

DIRECTIONS
Bolognese Sauce
1. In a large heavy saucepan over medium heat, sauté the butter and the pancetta for 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the onion, and when it begins to soften add the other vegetables. Sauté over low heat for 8 minutes until golden, stirring constantly
2. Add the ground meat and continue cooking for about 10 minutes
3. Add the wine and increase the heat to high to evaporate the alcohol
4. Add the tomatoes and the stock. Reduce the heat to low and cook for about 1 hour stirring occasionally until thick
5. Remove from heat and add the cream
6. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Set aside.

Homemade Pasta
Place the flour in a volcano-shaped pile on a work surface (wood is the traditional material) making sure that the “crater” provides a large enough well in the center to receive the eggs. Wash the eggs under running water and crack them into the well. Beat the eggs with a fork for 1-2 minutes, then gradually blend the flour into the eggs, starting from the inner wall of the well and continuing until all the flour and the eggs are completely combined. You have to add flour until the dough is no longer sticky (you may have to use extra flour depending on the absorption characteristics of the flour and on the temperature of the room). Knead the dough for about 15 minutes to form a smooth and elastic ball. This procedure helps develop the gluten in the flour, so your pasta will be springy and al dente when it is cooked. Place the dough in a clean cotton dish towel to rest for about 20 minutes at room temperature. Divide your pasta in 4 equal parts and roll out one part at a time (keeping the rest in the dish towel until ready to work).

ROLLING OUT BY HAND. To roll out your pasta you need a wooden pin – mattarello – (about 80 cm long and 4 cm diameter, 37 x 2 in). Dust each piece lightly with flour and roll out to the desired thickness; you should be able to see your hand through it. Work fast because the pasta dries much quicker than you might think. Cut the pasta into rectangular sheets (20 x 10 cm; 8 x 4 in) and let them rest for about 10 minutes on a cotton dish towel.

ROLLING OUT BY MACHINE. A hand-cranked pasta machine is the best to use. Kids especially love this part. Start out using the widest setting. Run the pasta through for about 6-7 times until the dough is smooth. If the sheet tears dust it with flour. Continue to run each sheet through the machine, reducing the thickness a notch at a time, until you reach the desired thickness and you can see your hand through it. At this point follow the same procedure as for rolling out by hand.

Besciamella Sauce
1. In a medium saucepan mix the milk and the flour well with a whisk until smooth. This will prevent any lumps from forming. Add the salt
2. Cook 3-4 minutes (medium-high heat) stirring constantly
3. Lower the heat as soon as the mixture reaches a slow boil and then continue to cook for about 10-12 minutes, stirring constantly to the right thickness (smooth and creamy). Stir constantly to ensure that it doesn’t stick or burn.
4. Add butter and stir until melted

In an 11-cup baking pan (23 cm x 18 cm; approx. 9 in x 7 in), spread a paper-thin layer of besciamella. Arrange the pasta sheets side by side, covering the besciamella in the bottom of the baking pan (about 2 lasagna sheets). Cut the pasta, if necessary, to make a complete layer from side to side. Spread some of the ragù (about ⅓) evenly on top of the pasta, followed by a layer of besciamella (about ⅓), some parmesan and another layer of pasta. Repeat this process until you have a total of three layers of pasta and finish with the remaining ragù and besciamella. Bake for about 30 minutes, until top is brown and bubbly. Let it rest at room temperature for about 8-10 minutes before serving. Sprinkle some freshly-grated parmesan on top and serve warm.

Note: I recommend starting this whole process by preparing the ragù first. While it is cooking you can make the pasta and then the besciamella sauce. If, instead, you use dry pre-packed lasagna, just refer to the baking time suggested on the package.

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Pasta

23 Feb

Pasta, the queen ingredient of the Italian cuisine, appreciated all over the world, is a mixture of durum wheat flour and water, which is dried and cut into various shapes. It can also be produced with other grains or cereals, and eggs may be used instead of water. Therefore, pasta should be divided in two major categories: dried pasta (pasta secca) and fresh pasta (pasta fresca) prepared with type-00 flour and eggs. The eggs enhance the yellow color and improve the elasticity (especially necessary for long pasta shapes such as tagliatelle), and they reduce the stickiness, too (for my fresh homemade pasta recipe click on https://passionandcooking.wordpress.com/?s=lasagne+alla+bolognese&submit=Search). Most dried pasta is made industrially in large quantities, but a few artisanal producers still make it the way it was produced in the past. This method uses the bronze extrusion dies (perforated plates for shaping), and the pasta is dried slowly at low temperatures. Consequently, artisanal pasta has a rough and porous texture which sauces can cling to better, and it usually “mantiene bene la cottura” (keeps its “al dente” texture longer). This method makes the Italian pasta something unique, differing in quality and taste from pasta produced in other ways and in other countries. The quality of the ingredients, the methods of production, the variety of formats and the countless tasty sauces available make our pasta something that we Italians are very proud of. It is important to pair the ‘right’ pasta shape with the ‘right’ sauce. For this purpose, I would suggest grouping pasta shapes into five categories:

1. short pasta (penne, farfalle, fusilli, maccheroni, orecchiette, etc …)
2. long pasta (spaghetti, bucatini, linguine, noodles, angel hair, tagliatelle etc …)
3. filled pasta (tortellini, ravioli, cannelloni etc. ..)
4. lasagna
5. pasta for soups (thimbles, bells, rings, etc …).

The main purpose of different pasta shapes is just to hold the sauce better, which also depends on the roughness of the dough. The pasta shapes differ greatly from north to south, and this is due to the different sauces prepared with the ingredients available in different climates. In the south, where the climate is warmer, olive oil and tomatoes, fresh vegetables, olives, capers and seafood are staples. The classic recipes are, for example, spaghetti con aglio, olio e peperoncino, spaghetti puttanesca, spaghetti carbonara. In the north, however, where the climate is colder and more humid, cheese, butter and cream are frequently used to prepare the sauces (for example maccheroni with gorgonzola sauce, penne allo zafferano (for my saffron recipe, click on https://passionandcooking.wordpress.com/?s=pasta+allo+zafferano&submit=Search). Smooth sauces are fine for long pasta (like spaghetti) where the sauce flows around the noodles, while chunky sauces call for concave shaped pasta or one with holes (like penne, maccheroni). Certain short pasta (farfalle and fusilli) are also good to be served cold (like in pasta salad); it keeps its texture for a long time. Pasta dishes are served as a first course (primo), and the portions are small because the servings are often followed by a second course (secondo, which by itself might often be considered a full meal in other countries). Sauce should be served in equal amounts of pasta and should not smother the pasta.

Pasta

HOW TO COOK PASTA
The cooking time depends both on the format and the type of pasta. It is usually 11-12 minutes for pasta secca, because the pasta needs to rehydrate, while the time is shorter for fresh pasta (for example, tagliatelle will take about 2 minutes, ravioli 3-4 minutes). For every 100 g of pasta (3.5 oz), you need 1 liter of water, and pasta should be cooked in a large pan, since the dough tends to stick during cooking in small pots. The normal portion per person is about 80-100 g (3 – 3.5 0z). The ratio of salt to water is very important. In general, you need 10 g (2 teaspoons) of salt for every liter of water. If the pasta sauce has a strong seasoning, the amount of salt should be reduced proportionately. It might be that no salt is necessary, for example, if the pasta is served with pesto, which can be quite salty by itself. The ideal time to add salt to water is after it starts boiling; if you add salt to the cold water, the time to boil will be longer. To prevent pasta from sticking add one or two tablespoons of oil to the water during cooking. Pasta should not be soft or mushy when it is served. Cooking should be “al dente” (literally translated as “to the tooth”), which means that the cooked dough should be firm and have a bit of resistance when you bite into it. Just halve your macaroni and view the inside: when the color is homogeneous your pasta is right al dente, instead when the inside is still white the pasta is not cooked enough. You should take into account that pasta will continue to cook for a while after it is drained. I would recommend to drain your pasta while it is still just slightly ‘underdone’ for your taste, making it perfectly al dente when you eat it. -Paola


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