Remember almost 100 years ago (last Monday) when we made Bolognese for the Baked Green Lasagna with Meat Sauce, Bolognese Style (Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, page 215)? Well on Tuesday, we made spinach pasta and assembled the lasagna. It took forever. I really wanted this lasagna to be the best ever. Nope. It was good, but it wasn’t great. In fact, it really needed more flavor. I am certain it was the chef and not the recipe. Perhaps it was completely corrupt taste buds. Either way, the last time we made this lasagna, it was better. And we made it with store bought “fresh” pasta and substitute Bolognese on a weeknight after my husband came home from work. Go figure.
I was not alone in the kitchen making lasagna on Tuesday. While I stirred the Béchamel, my daughter, Abby, rolled all the pasta. My mom played dishwasher (and there were quite a few dishes). Lacie, our Girl Friday, ran interference, subbing in for the pasta roller, taking photos when my hands were covered in dough, cooking the pasta, and rubbing it “delicately, as though…doing fine hand laundry.” I can’t make this stuff up, people. You have to have this book.
Pasta from scratch is totally worth it. If you have never made your own pasta, you should. Make it a few times before you judge because it gets easier every time and your first batch might not be a winner. Marcella Hazan’s pasta recipe is amazing (page 128). I know I said that the lasagna wasn’t the best, but it wasn’t the pasta’s fault. You should make this pasta for something even if you aren’t brave enough to conquer the lasagna.
The funny thing about making pasta is that you are never sure you will be able to incorporate all of the ingredients together into useable dough. My kitchen entourage on Tuesday was certain that I wouldn’t be able to do it, but, low and behold, there it was in the end, a nice soft (“smooth as baby skin” says Marcella) ball of dough. And it was not because of the cook.
The first step is to make a mound of flour with a well in the center. Marcella recommends using unbleached all-purpose flour (unless you can find Italian 00 flour, in which case, send me some please). This works great.
Next, you crack eggs into the center of the well and begin to give them a little scramble. If you are adding spinach, it gets added in with the eggs.
Work the side of the flour into the eggs a little at a time until you can’t use your fork anymore and have to use your hands. Don’t worry about the stuff that is stuck to the counter. It will get cleaned off when you are done mixing. And please excuse the Despicable Me bandaid. It was all I had and better than red pasta.
Marcella’s instruction is to keep mixing until you don’t think you can add any more flour and a clean thumb stuck into the middle of the mixture comes out clean. This is the best instruction that I’ve seen on knowing when the pasta dough is ready to knead. It took me three thumb sticks this time, but it was worth it.
The final step is to knead the dough, in this case, for eight minutes. The time varies depending on the recipe. Also, some recipes instruct you to let the dough sit before cutting and rolling. This one did not. We just got right to it.
You might consider inviting Abby over to roll your pasta. Marcella says to get it as thin as you can. How about so thin you can see through it but it still doesn’t break? I’m telling you, the kid has a future in pasta making.
The Béchamel took a very long time to set this time. I’m not sure what I did wrong, but I finally gave up and set it on the double boiler to help Lacie with the pasta. This turned out to be a wise choice as the Béchamel set up perfectly on the double-boiler. Once the pasta was properly laundered, it was easy to assemble the lasagna, though I didn’t have enough Bolognese to complete all six of my layers and Abby’s pasta was so thin, we could have used a seventh layer. It’s ok. We filled in with parmesan cheese.
Overall, we had fun. Was it worth the time that it took to make this lasagna? Probably not, but it was a good time and we had a nice hot dinner on Wednesday night. I think I will try it again. With a little more patience and a little less on my plate to do, I think we can make this the way it was meant to be made. I’m willing to give it another go.
Oh, and we served this with a nice kitchen sink salad. Excellent.