Friday, January 8, 2010

Banana Bread in the Land of St. Honore'

The Christmas ornaments and stockings are in the attic and the swag with red lights that hung on the porch has joined the tree stand in storage. Before the last bit of Christmas cheer tiptoes away, join me for a seasonal tale in the Land of St. Honore', where baking is a birthright.

Once upon a time, not so long ago, in the Land of St. Honore’, the hall clock struck 2 in the wee hours of the morning. As the refrigerator door swung open, it illuminated the elfin features of Mitzi, one of Santa’s helpers. She checked to see that the old dog hadn’t been awakened by the light, but he was still asleep by the couch in the glow of the Christmas tree lights.

It was Little Christmas or Epiphany, January 6th, and Mitzi was homesick. On Christmas night she had been with Santa on the sleigh with her own sack of goodies...for Santa. He was fighting off a cold and her job was to provide chicken soup from the Thermos, nasal spray as needed, and large white handkerchiefs for his drippy nose.

Unfortunately at one stop Nature called. How she wished that female elves could wiz anywhere like the guys. Since she couldn’t she had left the sleigh to find a bathroom. Santa didn’t realize she was gone and had left for the next stop. She was lucky that there was a nice hall closet where she could curl up with the coats and mufflers to sleep.

At first she didn’t mind being stranded. The people in the house didn’t miss oranges and apples, nor yogurt or mini carrots. She ate while they slept and slept under the bed in the spare room while they were awake.

There were also plenty of gingerbread cookies at hand. She had managed to avoid the after Christmas clean up at the North Pole and now felt very rested. The problem was how to let Santa know where she was so he could come get her.

One thing that Santa loved was banana bread. Mrs. Claus rarely made it because she was trying to keep his weight in check. Mitzi decided to bake some to lure Santa to her hideaway.

First she took some eggs from the fridge and some leftover eggnog…Santa loved eggnog, too. Then she warmed some rum and soaked dried cranberries in it. Then she found the softened butter on the counter and sugars in the pantry. By standing on the counter top she was able to find, measure out and combine flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda, and some nutmeg…the latter to set off the seasonal eggnog flavor.

Once the oven was preheated and she had found a bread pan, she whisked together the butter, sugars, egg, some vanilla, and the eggnog. Next she stirred in some grody old brown skinned soft bananas that she had peeled and smooshed. Then she added the dry ingredients and mixed ‘em up, threw in the cranberries and the rum they were soaking in, and added a handful of chopped walnuts from the ‘fridge. Once well stirred the batter smelled great!

Into the bread pan it went and the pan into the oven. She played some jacks while the bread baked. Once the bread was out of the oven and it had cooled just a little bit, she cut two slices and wrapped them carefully in paper towels.

Then she took the rest of the fresh bread over to the fireplace. It was cold since no fire had been lit that day. Softly she blew across the loaf of bread and the fragrance was caught and went up the chimney. In an amazingly short time she heard the bells jingling on the reindeer harness.

Santa had indeed smelled her banana bread and come to get her! She put the loaf back on the counter for the family who had provided for her for the twelve night, grabbed the slices in the paper towel and was at the hearth just in time to see Santa’s hand reaching out for her from the chimney. Once they were in the sleigh and on their way back to the North Pole, he tried her luscious Eggnog Rum Cranberry Banana Bread. Hohohohoho! It was sure good.

Eggnog Rum Cranberry Banana Bread

¼ cup dark rum, warmed slightly
½ cup dried cranberries
½ cup butter, softened
¼ cup dark brown sugar, packed
½ cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
¼ cup eggnog
½ teaspoon vanilla
3 bananas
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ cup chopped walnuts

In small bowl combine the warm rum and the dried cranberries. Set aside to soak while you prepare the bread batter.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a 9 x 5 x 3 inch loaf pan. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl beat the butter with the sugars until light and fluffy. Add the eggs , one at a time, beating after each addition. Add the eggnog and vanilla and combine. The mixture may look curdled. That is OK. Stir in the bananas. Add the dry ingredients all at once and stir just until combined. Add the cranberries and their soaking liquid and the walnuts and stir until just combined.

Pour batter into the prepared loaf pan and smooth the top. Bake in the preheated oven for about 1 hour. Test for doneness with a toothpick in center. When done, toothpick comes out clean or with a few crumbs on it. Cool well. Store overnight before cutting...if you can wait that long…a certain elf couldn’t. A serrated knife makes cutting easier.

Makes one loaf.

Previously posted at Feeding My Enthusiasms

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Vols au Vent - September 2009

The September 2009 Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Steph of A Whisk and a Spoon. She chose the French treat, Vols-au-Vent based on the Puff Pastry recipe by Michel Richard from the cookbook Baking With Julia by Dorie Greenspan. Before we get to the recipe, let us return to the Land of St. Honore’ to see what they are up to this month.

Once upon a time in the Land of St. Honore’, the Princess of Hearts was bored. Her father was off playing cards, her mother was baking tarts and her brother was up to some mischief or other. She looked through the toys on the shelf and had an idea.

Years ago she had been given a solid gold apple by a visiting dignitary. Now she was much too old to enjoy such a plaything, so she would offer it as a prize. The heralds were sent far and wide announcing that a prize would be given to the person who could make the princess laugh.

Many tried and the princess grew tired of those who made funny faces, juggled melons, and tried with Punch and Judy antics to make her laugh. At length a squire approached with a plate he had been asked to deliver to her. On the plate were small rounds of flaky pastry, filled with whipped cream and topped with berries.

She was so annoyed with the man telling jokes that she barely looked at the pastries.

The squire, hoping to catch her attention, in a rounded voice asked her. “Would you like a vol au vent?”

The princess turned toward him and giggled a bit. “Put one of those in your mouth and then ask me” she said. He did just that and this time it came out sounding like ‘wowel awe went” and his cheeks were distended like a chipmunks as he tried to talk and not show the food in his mouth, all the while enjoying the full buttery flavor of the pastry, complimented by the sweet cream and juicy berries.

The princess couldn’t help herself…she laughed out loud, and then continued to laugh as tears streamed down her cheeks. Once she stopped laughing she popped one of the vol au vents into her own mouth and the squire was rewarded with a charming smile as she enjoyed the treat and the fact that she was no longer bored.

She presented the squire with the golden apple and then asked, “Do you know any more strange and funny words?”
For the James Bond version of a Land of St. Honore', quite creative and far more salacious than this one, visit my blogging friend Dharm at Dad ~ Baker and Chef. You will never look at an apron in a shop at the airport quite the same way again.

Find all the charming vol au vents around the blogosphere today as the Daring Bakers make these cunning puff pastry cases and fill them with all sorts of delicious things. The Blogroll is here and the recipe is here at Steph's blog. Thank you Steph for a great challenge!

I enjoyed making these little morsels of butter and was surprised at how much my puff pastry puffed. I guess all that rolling and turning and rolling and turning works! Fortunately the day I made the pastry it was cold in the kitchen so I was able to do four turns before chilling the dough for the last turns. The day I baked the vol au vents was much warmer and that may have led to the somewhat wobbly sides on some of them…the dough may have been too warm.
These vol au vents were enjoyed with whipped cream and late harvest blackberries. The photos just below are of the ones that sort of slumped over. I'm filling the pretty ones today to eat after Sunday dinner, so the pretty photos will be added (have been added - see top and below). The ones we ate, misshapen though they were, were a hit at my house and likely would be enjoyed at yours, too. Straight Shooter liked that they weren't too sweet.
It is worth the effort and life is always good when you have an excuse to beat some dough with a rolling pin! The little circles that you cut out of the pieces that become the sides can also be baked and become these cute pastries:

They make a fun snack as Sweetie will be happy to tell you.

Speaking of Sweetie, he has been working for quite a while now on ship models, most of them from the World War II era. He recently made a beautiful display case so that we can better admire them and all the detail work. I promised my Mom that I would include a photo of that on the blog. Here it is, Mom. As you can see it really did come out beautifully. The lower two sections have plexiglas over the opening to keep the ships from being hit by the baker's dog's tail. :)

Chocolate Milano Cookies - July 2009

Once Upon a Time...

In the Land of St. Honore', in the town where coffee is king, but chocolate isn't too far behind, the Three Bakers decided to leave the packing to Goldilocks and to check out some food goodies.

First they had some Bread Salad, heavily punctuated by laughter, at Essential Bakery Cafe', but it was tooo bready (even if the bread was good bread).

Then they sampled some freshly handmade truffles at Suess Chocolates which were very, very good, but took a bite out the the wallet. They are still a baby, being three months old, but have already won the Best Truffle award at the recent Chocolate Salon, delightfully reported on by Lynn of Cookie Baker Lynn.

Next they enjoyed the upscale splendor and lively flavor combinations of chocolates at Oh Chocolate marveling at the buttery caramels and rich truffles, but, alas Goldilocks needed help so off they went.

Later one of the Three Bakers took the Daring Bakers Milano recipe and picked up on the coffee and chocolate flavors so recently enjoyed, adding cocoa to the cookie batter and some Kahlua liquor, too, instead of lemon extract.
The filling is almost pure chocolate, thinned with a bit of whipping cream. The cookies were tender and delicious and JUST RIGHT!

The other two of the Three Bakers will surely agree once they get a taste (soon)!

If you have not already done so, do wend your way around the blogosphere to see all of the wonderful Milano cookies created by the very talented Daring Bakers.

Here is a link to the Blogroll. A big 'thank you' to Nicole of Sweet Tooth, our sweet hostess this month, for giving us a challenge that allowed creativity and produced such a great cookie. The original recipe can be found at her blog. Another 'thank you' to Lis and Ivonne for creating the Daring Bakers and for all the effort that goes in to making it a premier baking group.

My changes? Oh, almost forgot that. I used a half recipe, reduced the powdered sugar to 1 cup, added 2 tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa with the powdered sugar, added 1/2 tablespoon Kahlua instead of the lemon extract, and added an extra 2 tablespoons of flour. Otherwise it is just as written on Nicole's blog.

Happy Daring Baking!

Bakewell Tarts - June 2009

Imagine having a strong memory of a treat that you had once, many, many years ago, but not having any idea what it was called or how to make it. That's why this challenge is a personal remembered treat turns out to be a Bakewell pudding...although it was called something Italian when I first had it.

The June Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Jasmine of Confessions of a Cardamom Addict and Annemarie of Ambrosia and Nectar. They chose a Traditional (UK) Bakewell Tart... er... pudding that was inspired by a rich baking history dating back to the 1800's in England.
Bakewell tarts…er…puddings combine a number of dessert elements but still let you show off your area’s seasonal fruits.

Like many regional dishes there’s no “one way” to make a Bakewell Tart…er…Pudding, but most of today’s versions fall within one of two types. The first is the “pudding” where a layer of jam is covered by an almondy pastry cream and baked in puff pastry. The second is the “tart” where a rich shortcrust pastry holds jam and an almondy sponge cake-like filling.

The version we’re daring you to make is a combination of the two: a sweet almond-flavoured shortcrust pastry, frangipane and jam.

The combination of textures is awesome! Crisp but tender buttery shortbread on the bottom, sweet tart strawberry-raspberry jam (in my version) giving just a bit of oozyness, and a light baked topping which is enriched with the finely ground almonds so it has a delightful almond flavor in a moist dense cake. All in all a delightful summer treat.

I followed the recipe given HERE, using a purchased jam. It is called A Red Duet and made by Mountain Fruit Company in Chico, CA. It is like the essence of summer with tangy strawberry and bright raspberry flavors in 'a natural fruit spread'. It went so well with the almond flavors.

Of all the Daring Bakers challenges, this one seemed to be one of the easier...the pastry was easy to make and held its shape well and baked up crisp but tender and the frangipane was simple to mix together and easy to spread over the jam, plus there was no trouble with the baking or removing it from the tart pan. It is perhaps my favorite because I have longed for this tart for such a long time...never suspecting that it was a Bakewell pudding. Thank you Jasmine and Annemarie for choosing this memorable tart.

For those few of you who enjoy the tales from the Land of St. Honore', return there with me now...
Sitting in a cafe on a little side street, she sipped her tea and used her fork to pick up the last crumbs of the dessert. There was something special about the combination of a red, fruity jam and an almondy topping all inside a short, sweet crust. She was just about to ask the server what it was called when she realized that she was late for her bus, so she quickly gathered her things and sprinted down the block to the bus stop.

Many years passed and her life did, too. She became a busy professional and had no time to sit in cafes drinking tea.

Eventually she decided that she needed a creative outlet...pushing papers all day is a very low form of she started painting still life compositions. Her favorites included some food in the arrangements. Seasonal fruits in a painting seemed to bring an extra depth to the works.

One day she was passing a bakery and she saw a golden brown tart scattered on top with sliced almonds. It was so beautiful that she decided to paint it. She bought a small one and a larger seven inch one. She tried an arrangement with just the small tart, one with a few berries added, and one with some ice cream.too. Eventually she finished her painting and sat down to eat a piece of the tart. Imagine her astonishment to find that it was the same dessert she had enjoyed all those years ago!

The next day she left on a business trip and when she returned, the bakery selling the tart had gone out of business, another victim of the recession. It may be a while before she has another tart like that one, but the sweet memory will carry her far.

As is often the case, there are many, many talented and gutsy Daring Bakers who have baked dozens and dozens and dozens of creative and beautiful Bakewell puddings. You can find them using the Blogroll.

Chocolate Bundt Cake with Walnuts - May 2009

Once upon a time in the Land of St. Honore’, a young girl wanted to make a special cake to welcome her mother home from her travels. She had been gone over a week and now it was Mother's Day. Liza knew her mother would enjoy something baked with love.

Liza started by preparing a Bundt pan, buttering it well and scattering dry bread crumbs over the butter. Excess bread crumbs were shaken out in the door yard and the chickens appreciated that.

Next she chopped deep dark unsweetened chocolate into small shards, then melted them in a bowl over hot water on the stove. The melted chocolate would cool a bit while she worked on the rest of the ingredients.

Strong coffee was measured into a cup and some spirits were added to make it more festive. Bourbon was her mother’s favorite, but she knew that Irish whiskey or rum would be tasty, too.

She sifted flour into a large bowl, then added salt and baking soda and stirred it well.

In another large bowl she creamed soft butter with sugar, then added some vanilla and beat it in. She added an egg, beat it in, added another egg, beat it in, and added a final egg and beat it in well. Now was the time to add that melted chocolate. Oh, the batter smelled wonderful!

The oven was hot enough, so she worked quickly, first adding some dry ingredients, then some wet, repeated that,then finished with the last of the dry ingredients.

Into her Bundt pan went the fragrant batter. A quick twist of the pan in either direction popped bubbled, and then the pan went into the oven.

While the cake cooked, she washed up the many bowls, then sat and had a cup of tea.

At last the cake was done! It seemed like forever, but had only taken a little over an hour. She let it cool in the pan, then turned it onto a fancy plate.

When her mother arrived home for dinner, she noticed how sweet the house smelled, but she was still surprised when Liza brought out the cake for dessert. Thick slices showed how moist and rich and chocolaty it was. Her smile after she took her first bite assured her daughter that the day had been well spent.

Wishing each of you the tender love of your mother. Even mother's who have died leave their love in us and even more so if your mother enjoyed baking and you do too.

I've been blesed with the best mother in the world...and she loves to cook and bake just as much as I do. I'll be seeing her soon on my way to Ireland. Sweetie and I will be driving on the other side of the road, sipping Irish whiskey and Guiness, eating salmon, hearty Irish breakfasts and brown bread and exploring the western part of Ireland. While we are there I'll see if I can figure out how to post an update now and again. Might even get to meet distant relatives who live there. Sharing upon return, at least of photos and any good stories.

Probably will do another post or two before I leave, but then it will be sparse. Won't be doing the Daring Bakers this month, but I assure you that you will want to check out our favorite Daring Bakers sites toward the end of the month! Seemed like a good idea to do a Land of St. Honore' post early since I'm missing the end of the month action.

This cake is almost the same as the 86 Proof Chocolate Cake from Maida Heatter's Book of Great Chocolate Desserts, but I removed 1 cup of the batter once it had been mixed. Into that cup of batter I folded 1/2 cup of chopped walnuts that had been mixed with 2 tablespoons of flour and 2 tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder. Then I put half the remaining batter into the prepared pan, plopped spoonfuls of the walnut enriched batter all around the Bundt pan and spread it out with the back of the spoon, then poured the remaining batter on top and smoothed it out. The rest is exactly like the recipe which can be found HERE.

The original version is silky and very chocolate flavored. The version with the walnuts seems even better to me because the walnuts add crunch and also seem to heighten the chocolate experience. You could try each version and let me know what you think :) Use the best chocolate you can makes all the difference in this cake. Use a different liquor if you like for a different taste.

Cheesecake - April 2009

It’s the end of April and the Daring Bakers are out in force. Last year at this time it was Cheesecake Pops. This year is a decadent, perfect full cheesecake! Time for another visit to the Land of St. Honore’. The April 2009 challenge is hosted by Jenny from Jenny Bakes. She has chosen Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake as the challenge.

Not so long ago in the Land of St. Honore’, the fairy godmother received an urgent summons from the castle.

Cinderella, now called Ella to distance her from her sordid past, was on the board of a charity. As is often the case these days just being a do-gooder wasn’t enough. She had been “asked” to provide a “Spectacular” dessert for an upcoming event and it was supposed to be something that she had baked herself. Now she had been a whiz at cleaning everything from the chamber pots to the fireplaces at her stepmother’s place, but no one had trusted her with baking since the fiasco of the well burnt cookies.

Her fairy godmother arrived and heard her tale of woe. “What did you have in mind”, she asked?

“Well, the only things in the castle kitchen include some plain cream cheese, plain cream, plain sugar, plain eggs, plain butter and the usual pantry items like crackers. I suppose there are some fresh strawberries, too. I can’t imagine that anything grand enough to be a centerpiece could come of all that.”

Ah, she certainly was a forgetful princess, wasn’t she? Didn’t she remember the transformations necessary to get her to the ball, all those years ago?

Wasting no time, “Bibity-bobbity-boo!”, cried the fairy godmother with a swirl of her magic wand. This time there were no gourds involved, but instead Ella saw a glorious cheesecake, crowned with strawberries and decorated with whipped cream stars appear on the counter in the kitchen.

“I’m sorry I doubted you”, she said breathlessly. “Now how do you suppose I’m going to carry that to the event in my Pumpkin SUV?”

But her fairy godmother had flown off to her yoga class, leaving Ella to call for her footmen. Surely they would figure it out. A cheesecake like this isn’t created every day.

If you’d like to work a little magic of your own, the recipe for the cheesecake can be found here.

The additions I used to make Ella’s fairy godmother’s version include adding 1 teaspoon of lemon zest to the batter, not using any liquor, and adding ½ teaspoon cinnamon to the crust mixture. The top is decorated with sliced strawberries.

Small stars of whipped cream are piped on the sides

and a swirl is piped on the top near the center. I didn’t wave a wand or cry any magic words, but this cheesecake is an easy one and really doesn’t require magic, just careful attention to the recipe and a few hours of your time.

For the water bath part, I used a double layer of heavy duty foil to wrap the bottom and sides of the springform pan and that was successful. No water infiltrated the foil, so the crust was dry and delicious.

This is a truly spectacular cheesecake, not just because it looks awesome, but because it isn’t too sweet, it has a rich, soft and creamy texture and, if left almost plain, has true cheesecake flavor. Try it and see!

Since the challenge this month encourages imagination, do visit other Daring Bakers’ blogs to see what magic has been created in hundreds of ways! Click here for the blogroll.

A huge ‘Thank you!’ to Jenny for choosing such a great challenge recipe!

Fresh Lasagna - March 2009

This post, originally posted at Feeding My Enthusiasms, celebrates the new Daring Kitchen blog and advent of the Daring Cooks and a new logo for both, posted at the bottom. This Land of St. Honore' story honors the new Daring Kitchen heros.

Recently in the Land of St. Honore’, a Daring Baker of the female persuasion looked around the kitchen to make sure that she had all of the pots and pans, spoons and whisks, rolling pins and piles of ingredients she needed for the March challenge.

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.

The most important part of this challenge is the hand-made Spinach Egg Pasta. She is also going to use Lynne’s recipes for béchamel (white) sauce and her own zucchini based turkey ragu.

It was a new kitchen, so she wanted to be prepared. Her children watched in awe as she spun around, faster and faster and when she stopped she had on a red hat and was holding her scale.

She measured the pasta ingredients, grabbed her bench scraper and a wooden spoon and mixed together the green, sticky pasta dough with her bare hands.

Such fun! She let the kids help with the kneading so everyone could have greenish hands.

Once the dough was set aside to rest it was time for her next transformation.

First she gathered the Béchamel sauce ingredients and pot by the stove, then spun around and around in a blur and when she stopped she had on a slinky turquoise dress and carried her trusty whisk. The children’s eyes nearly popped out of their heads. Béchamel sauces need a lot of whisking, so she shared that task with the kids, too.

The day before she had partnered with her friend, The Mighty Flame, after she donned her ninja outfit and chopped up the zucchini for the ragu. Today he was helpful again with the Béchamel, but the kids kept their distance since he was so hot. She would never tell them just how hot…too much information.

While the kids took a nap, she returned to her normal appearance and made good use of her rolling pin, starting with snake shaped pieces of the dough

and ending up with long, thin, narrow sheets of green specked pasta, piled up on the counter with plastic wrap in between.

Time for a cup of tea and a salad for sustenance! Making lasagna noodles took real effort.

Too bad there was no rolling pin super hero persona to change to.

In the afternoon Flame helped her get a big pot of water boiling. The kids, awake again, found it fascinating to see how bright green the pasta looked as it came out of the boiling water

and how dull the green turned as it was instantly cooled when placed in the bowl of cold water near the stove. A quick drying on paper towels was all that was needed, then the fun began.

Flame did the spinning around thing and when he stopped he was dressed in green and wielding a spatula. As the Daring Baker of the female persuasion added the Béchamel sauce to the baking pan, he spread it out to a thin layer. She layered on the pasta, ragu sauce and more Béchamel, with El Spatulla helping with spreading when needed.

Grated real Parmesan was sprinkled on, too, in turn, and as the final layer over a layer of Béchamel.

By this time everyone was a bit tired and ready for the gorgeous lasagna to go into the oven to bake. Milk and cookies were enjoyed all around.

At dinner time the lasagna was baked and delicious. The thin sheets of pasta were delicate and full of flavor. The creamy sauce, pungent cheese and hearty ragu combined with the pasta to make the perfect meal. The kids even asked for seconds. Once again the Daring Baker of the female persuasion wished for another super hero persona…this time for photography. She was so tired that her photos of this grand and glorious dish are not of the best quality.

As she tucked the kids in to bed later that evening, she thought to herself, “and this morning I was just a mild-mannered housewife”. Thus ends the story for the March Daring Baker Challenge…pure fiction.

If you haven’t yet visited, please visit the NEW Daring Kitchen blog (Click on logo at right of this post...@X#!*Blogger isn't letting me do an actual link!), home of these super heroes and of the Daring Bakers and Daring Cooks. It has a blogroll so that you can visit lots and lots of other Daring Bakers’ blogs to see what super heroes they have been this month in creating their own version of the delicious lasagna.

Many thanks to Ivonne, Lis, Patricia (for the logo and hero images) and Steve for the new site. It’s awesome, people. Go take a look and you can see patricia’s super heroes of the kitchen who inspired my little story.

The March Challenge recipes for the lasagna noodles and the béchamel are from The Splendid Table: Recipes from Emilia-Romagna, the Heartland of Northern Italian Food by Lynne Rossetto Kasper (published by William Morrow and Company Inc., 1992). The ragu is my own recipe, created over 25 years ago for my daughter.

Lasagna of Emilia-Romagna (Lasagne Verdi al Forno)
(Serves 8 to 10 as a first course, 6 to 8 as a main dish)
Preparation Time: 15 minutes to assemble and 40 minutes cooking time

10 quarts (9 litres) salted water
1 recipe Spinach Pasta cut for lasagna (recipe follows)#1
1 recipe Béchamel Sauce (recipe follows)#2
1 recipe Turkey Zucchini Ragu (recipe follows)#3
1 cup (4 ounces/125g) freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Working Ahead:
The ragu and the béchamel sauce can be made up to three days ahead. The ragu can also be frozen for up to one month. The pasta can be rolled out, cut and dried up to 24 hours before cooking. The assembled lasagna can wait at room temperature (20 degrees Celsius/68 degrees Fahrenheit) about 1 hour before baking. Do not refrigerate it before baking, as the topping of béchamel and cheese will overcook by the time the center is hot.

Assembling the Ingredients:
Have all the sauces, rewarmed gently over a medium heat, and the pasta at hand. Have a large perforated skimmer and a large bowl of cold water next to the stove. Spread a double thickness of paper towels over a large counter space. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius). Oil or butter a 3 quart (approx 3 litre) shallow baking dish.

Cooking the Pasta:
Bring the salted water to a boil. Drop about four pieces of pasta in the water at a time. Cook about 2 minutes. If you are using dried pasta, cook about 4 minutes, taste, and cook longer if necessary. The pasta will continue cooking during baking, so make sure it is only barely tender. Lift the lasagna from the water with a skimmer, drain, and then slip into the bowl of cold water to stop cooking. When cool, lift out and dry on the paper towels. Repeat until all the pasta is cooked.

Assembling the Lasagna:
Spread a thin layer of béchamel over the bottom of the baking dish. Arrange a layer of about four overlapping sheets of pasta over the béchamel. Spread a thin layer of béchamel (about 3 or 4 spoonfuls) over the pasta, and then an equally thin layer of the ragu.
Sprinkle with about 1&1/2 tablespoons of the béchamel and about 1/3 cup of the cheese. Repeat the layers until all ingredients are used, finishing with béchamel sauce and topping with a generous dusting of cheese.

Baking and Serving the Lasagna:
Cover the baking dish lightly with foil, taking care not to let it touch the top of the lasagna. Bake 40 minutes, or until almost heated through. Remove the foil and bake another 10 minutes, or until hot in the center (test by inserting a knife – if it comes out very warm, the dish is ready). Take care not to brown the cheese topping. It should be melted, creamy looking and barely tinged with a little gold. Turn off the oven, leave the door ajar and let the lasagna rest for about 10 minutes. Then serve. This is not a solid lasagna, but a moist one that slips a bit when it is cut and served.

#1 Spinach Egg Pasta (Pasta Verde)
Preparation: 45 minutes

Makes enough for 6 to 8 first course servings or 4 to 6 main course servings, equivalent to 1 pound (450g) dried boxed pasta.
2 jumbo eggs (2 ounces/60g or more)
10 ounces (300g) fresh spinach, rinsed dry, and finely chopped; or 6 ounces (170g) frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry
3&1/2 cups (14 ounces/400g) all purpose unbleached (plain) flour (organic stone ground preferred)

Working by Hand:

A roomy work surface, 24 to 30 inches deep by 30 to 36 inches (60cm to 77cm deep by 60cm to 92cm). Any smooth surface will do, but marble cools dough slightly, making it less flexible than desired.
A pastry scraper and a small wooden spoon for blending the dough.
A wooden dowel-style rolling pin. In Italy, pasta makers use one about 35 inches long and 2 inches thick (89cm long and 5cm thick). The shorter American-style pin with handles at either end can be used, but the longer it is, the easier it is to roll the pasta.

Note: although it is not traditional, Enza has successfully made pasta with a marble rolling pin, and this can be substituted for the wooden pin, if you have one.

Plastic wrap to wrap the resting dough and to cover rolled-out pasta waiting to be filled. It protects the pasta from drying out too quickly.
A sharp chef’s knife for cutting pasta sheets.
Cloth-covered chair backs, broom handles, or specially designed pasta racks found in cookware shops for draping the pasta.

Mixing the dough:
Mound the flour in the center of your work surface and make a well in the middle. Add the eggs and spinach. Use a wooden spoon to beat together the eggs and spinach. Then gradually start incorporating shallow scrapings of flour from the sides of the well into the liquid. As you work more and more flour into the liquid, the well’s sides may collapse. Use a pastry scraper to keep the liquids from running off and to incorporate the last bits of flour into the dough. Don’t worry if it looks like a hopelessly rough and messy lump.

With the aid of the scraper to scoop up unruly pieces, start kneading the dough. Once it becomes a cohesive mass, use the scraper to remove any bits of hard flour on the work surface – these will make the dough lumpy. Knead the dough for about 3 minutes. Its consistency should be elastic and a little sticky. If it is too sticky to move easily, knead in a few more tablespoons of flour. Continue kneading about 10 minutes, or until the dough has become satiny, smooth, and very elastic. It will feel alive under your hands. Do not shortcut this step. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap, and let it relax at room temperature 30 minutes to 3 hours.

Stretching and Thinning:
If using an extra-long rolling pin work with half the dough at a time. With a regular-length rolling pin, roll out a quarter of the dough at a time and keep the rest of the dough wrapped. Lightly sprinkle a large work surface with flour. The idea is to stretch the dough rather than press down and push it. Shape it into a ball and begin rolling out to form a circle, frequently turning the disc of dough a quarter turn. As it thins outs, start rolling the disc back on the pin a quarter of the way toward the center and stretching it gently sideways by running the palms of your hands over the rolled-up dough from the center of the pin outward. Unroll, turn the disc a quarter turn, and repeat. Do twice more.

Stretch and even out the center of the disc by rolling the dough a quarter of the way back on the pin. Then gently push the rolling pin away from you with one hand while holding the sheet in place on the work surface with the other hand. Repeat three more times, turning the dough a quarter turn each time.

Repeat the two processes as the disc becomes larger and thinner. The goal is a sheet of even thickness. For lasagna, the sheet should be so thin that you can clearly see your hand through it and see colours. Cut into rectangles about 4 by 8 inches (10 x 20 cm). Note: Enza says that transparency is a crucial element of lasagna pasta and the dough should be rolled as thinly as possible. She says this is why her housekeeper has such strong arms!

Dry the pasta at room temperature and store in a sealed container or bag. (NOTE: Since I was making the lasagna the same day, I didn't dry the pasta sheets.)

#2 Béchamel
Preparation Time: 15 minutes

4 tablespoons (2 ounces/60g) unsalted butter
4 tablespoons (2 ounces/60g) all purpose unbleached (plain) flour, organic stone ground preferred
2&2/3 cups (approx 570ml) milk
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Freshly grated nutmeg to taste

Using a medium-sized saucepan, melt the butter over low to medium heat. Sift over the flour, whisk until smooth, and then stir (without stopping) for about 3 minutes. Whisk in the milk a little at a time and keep the mixture smooth. Bring to a slow simmer, and stir 3 to 4 minutes, or until the sauce thickens. Cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes, until the sauce thickens. Season with salt, pepper, and a hint of nutmeg.

#3 Turkey Zucchini Ragu
1/2 lb ground meat (beef or turkey - I use turkey)
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 medium squash, cut into chunks (any summer squash, but zucchini works best)
1 15 oz. can tomato sauce
1 15 oz can diced tomatos in juice
2 teaspoons oregano
1 teaspoon dry basil
1/4 teaspoon dry rosemary
note - fresh oregano, basil and rosemary can be used - use twice as much, or more, to taste
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

In large skillet heat oil over medium high heat. Brown ground meat. Set aside.
Using same pan, cook onion and garlic until transluscent and barely brown, about 5 minutes, stirring now and then.

While meat and then onions/garlic cook, put half of squash in a blender. Add 1/2 of the can of tomato sauce and 1 tablespoon of water. Pulse blender, removing top and stirring every couple of pulses, until mixture is broken down but still chunky. Once onions have finished, pour this mixture into the pan. Lower heat to simmer and deglaze the pan with the tomato mixture, scraping up the browned bits.

Return browned meat to the pan and stir. Put the rest of the squash into the blender, add rest of tomato sauce, pulse the same way the first batch was done. Add this batch to the pan of meat mixture and stir.

Add diced tomatoes, herbs, salt and pepper to pan, stir.

Return to boil, cover, turn down heat and simmer at least 2 minutes, stirring about every 10 minutes to avoid scorching. (The longer the sauce simmers, the better it will taste.)
note - this sauce tastes even better if allowed to cool and left in the refrigerator overnight to blend the flavors. Reheat over low heat until simmering.

Verdict: This is not a heavy, gut busting lasagna, but a delicate, savory and delicious version. We liked it very much. It seemed to be best the day it was made and didn’t taste as good a few days later…the pasta seemed dry and the sauce not so creamy. It is a bit of work, but would be a nice celebration dish.
Thank you Mary, Melinda & Enza for choosing such a great recipe for the March Daring Baker challenge! I've never made fresh pasta before and would not have if y'all had not chosen this recipe. Great job!