Saturday, August 29, 2009

Day 163 - Lasagne

Last night, Tracy KP was a surprise guest, but tonight she was completely expected. In fact, tonight was a Paladini-centric dinner party, to celebrate their visit from Virginia Beach. The guests included my BFF Tracy, her husband, Mark, their beautiful children (my god-children) Samantha (almost 12) and Ben (9 1/2), Tracy's BFF Patty Ben (god-mother to the kids, ergo my god-wife), and Mark's ex-roommate and BFF, Craig.

The last time I cooked for Tracy and the kids, the kids picked off the breading from the fried chicken (the best part!?!), so I wanted to make sure that I'd be making something tonight that they would indubitably eat and like. When given the choice between Macaroni + Cheese and Lasagne, I'm told there was no contest.

Lasagne (p. 386)

Making this Lasagne recipe is a true labor of love, given that all the components are made from scratch. Fresh pasta, fresh Marinara, and freshly grated cheese (at least you don't have to milk the cows and separate the curds from the whey).

I'm not a stranger to making Spinach Pasta Dough, and it went so much better this second time. I had to include of picture of it because I think it's so pretty, with flecks of real spinach showing through the dough.

The recipe calls for 1 1/4 C all-purpose flour, but I substituted 1/4 C of 00 flour, which I had leftover from the last time I made pasta. I'm wondering if this little bit of 00 flour made a difference in this batch. The dough seemed drier, smoother, more elastic after kneading. And when I went to roll it out, it was a breeze! I couldn't believe how quickly and easily it went! If making pasta is this easy every time, I'm going to make it constantly. (And buy all new clothes, two sizes bigger.)

As for the Marinara Sauce, I'm now convinced that there is something VERY wrong going on in this recipe. It doesn't come out even close! This is the second time I've made it, the first time being equally unsuccessful. What am I doing wrong, Martha?? Last time I tried fresh tomatoes, this time I used canned. Still the same problem. I even went online to look at other Marinara recipes, but I still couldn't figure out why it doesn't work out.

Here's how it goes: Sautéing the garlic, no prob. Adding the tomatoes, fine. Then, 30 minutes later, the liquid should be slightly reduced, but it seems completely the same, so I let it go a little longer. Then, I put it through the food mill. I'm supposed to end up with four cups of sauce, but I actually end up with a little over two cups of liquid. Watery, tomato liquid. Nothing sauce-y about it. And short by a cup and a half, at least.

How did I fix it? Luckily I had another can of tomatoes on hand (35 oz worth, no less). I added it, at first just the tomatoes, but I ended up having to add the entire can's worth of liquid too! I cooked it for a while, then put it all through the food mill again, then put it back on the stove and cooked it for another couple of hours (!!) until it had the consistency of sauce. Now, I don't mean heavy, thick, been-cooking-for-ten-hours sauce. I'm saying it took another big can of tomatoes and two extra hours of cooking to get this sauce to the consistency of the lightest, thinnest store-bought sauce. Good thing I started cooking early....

That said, I ended up with four cups of great-tasting sauce. But the preparation bore no resemblance to the recipe in the book.

Assembling this is 1-2-3. The only thing that tripped me up was the spreading of the ricotta mixture. My cheese was still cold and wouldn't cooperate in the spreading department. And if I manhandled it, it disrupted the layer of pasta underneath. The technique I developed to handle this was putting little blobs of ricotta all over the layer so I basically just had to flatten them out, vs. doing a big spread job. Also, I should mention that I chose to add some sausage to the dish, an option Martha offers up before the recipe, but I only put sausage on 2/3 of it, because the kids aren't sausage lovers (and I didn't want them to have to pick anything out of this dish!).

In no time, the lasagne was ready to go in the oven, and mercifully I was done for the night! What a big difference from last night, when I was cooking before, during, and after every course!

How did it taste? Flawless. The pasta is so light, it's almost non-existent. The cheeses are so fresh and rich (all whole milk cheeses). The proportions are perfect. The saltiness level is just right (high, but good).

And the kids ate it!!!

The only thing I would have changed had to do with the sausage and was entirely my bad. I let the sausage get very brown (to the point of being crispy), which I generally like, but in this case, a nice, moist brown would have been better than a crunchy one.

All in all, a big hit! I wonder if this would taste OK with skim milk products....

Jeff: A- (for crunchy sausage)
Martha: A-
(not for the overall recipe, which gets an A+, but for that sketchy Marinara, which tripped me up and slowed me down again)

The whole gang, L to R: Benjamin, Tracy, Samantha, Mark, Craig, and Patty Ben.

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