Sunday Suppers: Lasange Verdi Alla Bolognese

January 20, 2013

Lasagne Bolnese

Continuing to build on the list of cool weather foods I intended to make this winter, I finally decided to tackle lasagne verdi, made with fresh spinach pasta and Bolognese and bechamel sauces. For many years I’ve drooled over the recipe in my Food of Italy cookbook, but it was an article in an issue of La Cucina Italiana magazine that propelled me to figure out the perfect recipe for this dish.

If I had a recipe, why the quest, you ask? Well, funny thing about the recipe in the Food of cookbook. While you could obviously see that the pasta was a spinach pasta, there was no recipe for spinach pasta in the book! A slight oversight. Then, the article in La Cucina came along, and went on and on about the quest for what makes lasagne verdi perfect, but there was no recipe at the end of the article! I flipped furiously through the magazine, reading and re-reading the index of recipes, but alas, no lasagne verdi recipe.

Then once day it dawned on me to check their website, and there, in all it’s glory, was a complete recipe for lasagne verdi! Cue the angels singing down from the heavens! I immediately started to plan a dinner party so I would have no excuse to put off making the lasagne.

The recipe below is adapted from their site, as my lasagne pan is much larger than their called-for rectangular baker. After doubling the recipe, I figured out that the pasta portions would have sufficed for my pan, but I needed at least 1.5 – 2 times the amount of sauces (maybe it’s my heavy-handed American ways, but the filling was quite thin with the focus still being on the pasta in my version of the recipe below, so I’m sticking with this ratio).

I have to say, this was quite the bit of work, compared to the red sauce & sausage & ricotta version I’ve made all my life, but it was well worth it. The noodles felt almost silky with the bechamel sauce, and the richness of the Bolognese makes the tangy red sauce pale in comparison. If the work is broken up (making pasta and Bolognese ahead of time) then this is much more manageable, but it’s a great weekend recipe to tackle, especially in the cold winter months.

To serve, I paired the lasagne with a Barbera wine. The hint of berry and plum and slight acidity of the wine match well with the richness of the Bolognese and bechamel sauces.

Lasagne Verdi Alla Bolognese
Adapted from La Cucina Italiana
Serves 6

Bolognese sauce
7 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium carrot, peeled and finely diced
1 celery rib, peeled and finely diced
1 small onion, finely chopped
5 ounces chopped pancetta
12 ounces ground beef
12 ounces ground pork
8 ounces prosciutto, chopped
1 1/2 tablespoon tomato paste
1 cup beef broth
1/2 cup red wine
Generous pinch ground nutmeg
Fine sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Spinach pasta
1 bunch spinach, stems trimmed
Fine sea salt
1 1/2 cups “00” flour or unbleached all-purpose flour
1 large egg
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Bechamel sauce
7 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
3 1/4 cups whole milk
Fine sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Pinch ground nutmeg

1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

For sauce: Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the carrot, onion, celery and pancetta and cook, stirring, until vegetables are lightly golden brown, about 5 minutes. Add the ground beef, ground pork and prosciutto and cook until beef is no loner pink. Stir in the tomato paste, broth, and wine and bring to a simmer. Partially cover the pan, and cook the sauce at a low simmer, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes. Season to taste with salt, pepper and nutmeg. (The sauce may be made up to 2 days ahead; cover and refrigerate it, and bring the sauce to room temperature before assembling the lasagne.)

For pasta: Rinse spinach leaves in several changes of cold water; do not dry. Put leaves in a medium saucepan with pinch salt, and cook, covered, over medium heat until tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Drain spinach and let cool, then gently squeeze out excess liquid and very finely chop (easiest to do in a food processor).

On a clean work surface, mound the flour and form a well in the center. Add the egg, olive oil, a pinch of salt and the spinach to the well. Using a fork, gently break up yolk and slowly incorporate flour from inside rim of well. Continue until liquid is absorbed. When the dough gets to stiff to work with a fork, knead the dough by hand until the dough is no longer sticky, adding additional flour in 1 tablespoon increments as necessary. Wrap dough tightly in plastic and let rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Cut the dough into 2 pieces. Flatten 1 piece of dough so that it will fit through the rollers of a pasta machine. Set rollers of pasta machine at the widest setting, then feed pasta through rollers 3 or 4 times, folding and turning pasta until it is smooth and the width of the machine. Roll pasta through machine, decreasing the setting one notch at a time (do not fold or turn pasta), until pasta sheet is scant 1/16 inch thick. Cut sheet into rectangles the width of the pasta roller and 7 inches long. Lay the lasagna noodles on a lightly floured baking sheet in a single layer until ready to use. (Lay noodles that don’t fit on another layer separated by lightly floured wax paper or kitchen parchment.) Do the same with the second piece of pasta dough.

For bechamel: Melt 6 tablespoons of the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir in the flour with a wooden spoon and cook, stirring, until golden. Gradually whisk in the milk and bring the mixture to just under a boil. Cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens, about 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Remove from the heat, add the remaining 1.5 tablespoons of the butter and stir to combine. If not using the bechamel immediately, let it cool, cover it with plastic wrap and set aside.

To assemble and cook: Heat the oven to 400 degrees.

Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil and have ready a large bowl of ice water. Add the lasagna sheets, a few at a time, to the boiling water. Cook until the noodles float to the top of the surface, about 15 seconds. Immediately remove with a slotted spoon and transfer to the ice water to keep from overcooking. Drain well and lightly pat dry with a kitchen towel.

Spray rectangular baking dish with olive oil or non-stick spray, and cover with an initial layer of lasagna, overlapping the noodles slightly and letting any excess hang over the sides.

Cover with about one-fifth of each: the Bolognese sauce, the bechamel, and the Parmagiano cheese. Cover with another layer of pasta, trimming the noodles if necessary so they fit snug in the dish. Top with another layer of Bolognese, bechamel, and cheese. Repeat this step two more times for a total of four layers, saving some Bolognese, bechamel, and cheese for the top.

To finish, fold any overflowing lasagna pasta over the dish. Top with the remaining Bolognese, bechamel, and cheese.

Bake until the top is brown and bubbly, about 20 minutes. Let the lasagne rest for 5 to 10 minutes before slicing.

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