A couple of weeks ago, one of my friends said 'wouldn't it be fun to make homemade pasta together?'. I think I may have responded with a non-committal 'sure'. It had been so long since I had made homemade pasta, I vaguely remembered where I last saw my Atlas pasta maker. As it turned out it was gathering dust sitting on a shelf in the garage (I know, why would anyone store a pasta maker in the garage?). And then last week I read about a new cookbook, "Small Victories: Recipes, Advice & Hundreds of Ideas for Home-Cooking Triumphs", written by Julia Turshen. Intrigued by the comments made by some of her peers, I drove over to Barnes and Noble to check it out. After spending more than a half hour going through the book, I needed to buy it. Not only because it was one of the most inspiring cookbooks to come out since Tasting Rome and Florentine, but it was covered in my fingerprints and some of my drool (proverbially speaking of course). So many of her recipes leaped from the pages screaming 'make me first'. With the idea of making homemade pasta still resonating somewhere in my subconscious along with needing to find a great vegetarian 'pasta' recipe to make for an upcoming dinner party, her recipe for 'A Nice Lasagna' won out. And quite the winner it turned out to be.
Any trepidation I had about trying my hand (again) at making homemade pasta dissipated as I read through the recipe. For some unexplainable reason it seemed much simpler than I had remembered. And as it turned out, it was. Okay, before you decide not to make this recipe (and God forbid stop reading this post) because (1) you don't have a pasta maker, (2) you have a pasta maker and have no idea where it is, (3) you tried making pasta before and well it wasn't worth all the effort, or (4) you have no interest in making homemade pasta, let me just say a couple of things about this recipe.
First, while the homemade pasta makes this dish feel as if it came out of a five star Italian restaurant, you can still make it using store bought fresh pasta (obstacle one removed). Second, the tomato sauce is unlike anything you have ever tasted. And lastly, it can be made early in the day or a day ahead, covered and refrigerated. Which means all you need to do is open the wine, make a salad, cut some bread, and put it in the oven to bake. After tasting this lasagna, it is quite possible you will never order lasagna in a restaurant again, either here in the states or in Italy. Yes, I am being completely serious.
So let's first talk about the tomato sauce. A sauce with only five ingredients: whole plum canned tomatoes, sliced garlic cloves, kosher salt, extra-virgin olive oil, and creme fraiche. Yes, creme fraiche. It adds a creaminess and richness to the sauce unlike any other 'tomato sauce' ingredient. And I would venture to bet you will never make a lasagna with ricotta cheese again.
The original recipe called for four cloves of garlic. I used five because I love the flavor garlic imparts to a sauce. Five cloves was not at all overpowering. A great quality extra-virgin olive oil imparts incredible flavor to a tomato sauce. A bottle of the good stuff is well worth the money.
In a large, heavy saucepan the garlic is first sautéed in the extra-virgin oil (this takes about a minute as long as you get your oil hot before adding the garlic). The whole canned plum tomatoes (that you first break up with your hands) and a teaspoon of salt go in next. After bringing the sauce to a boil, it needs to simmer for 30 to 45 minutes. In the spirit of 'more than be better', I simmered my sauce for 45 minutes before removing from heat and whisking in the creme fraiche. While the sauce cools to room temperature, you can begin making the homemade pasta.
The pasta is made with only three ingredients: all-purpose flour, three large (room temperature) eggs, and a teaspoon of kosher salt.
A food processor does all of the work. This is a no-knead pasta dough! After the dough comes together, it is wrapped in cellophane and allowed to sit at room temperature for an hour before being put through the pasta maker. If you have never made homemade pasta before, consider giving it a try.
A Nice "Vegetarian" Lasagna (slight adaptations to Julia Turshen's A Nice Lasagna recipe shared in her recently published cookbook "Small Victories: Recipes, Advice & Hundreds of Ideas for Home-Cooking Triumphs")
Two 28 ounce (794 g) cans whole peeled plum tomatoes (I used Delallo Organic Italian Whole Peeled Plum Tomatoes in heavy juice, but any good whole peeled Italian tomatoes should work.)
3 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4-5 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for taste, if needed
8 ounces creme fraiche (recommend Vermont Creamery's Creme Fraiche)
2 1/4 cups (270 g) all-purpose flour, plus more as needed
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 generous cup (120-140 g) finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
12 ounces coarsely grated fresh, whole-milk mozzarella cheese
1 to 2 large handful fresh basil leaves, torn into small pieces if large (Note: Original recipe called for 2 large handfuls)
1. In a medium to large sized bowl, crush the tomatoes with your hands until they are in bite sized pieces.
2. In a heavy bottomed, large saucepan, heat the extra-virgin olive oil over medium-high heat. Add sliced garlic and cook until it begins to sizzle (approximately 1 minutes). Add the hand crushed tomatoes and one teaspoon of kosher salt.
3. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for 30-45 minutes, stirring every so often. Note: The sauce should be slightly reduced.
4. Remove from the heat and whisk in the creme fraiche. Season with additional salt, if needed. Allow sauce to cool to room temperature.
1. Combine the flour, eggs and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Run the machine until the dough forms around the blade and cleans the side of the bowl. Notes: The dough should not stick to your fingers when you touch it. If the dough is too dry, add water 1 teaspoon at a time. If it is too sticky, add a little flour 1 teaspoon at a time until the dough comes together. The size of your eggs (even large eggs have some variability) and the humidity in the air may affect your dough.
2. Remove dough from the food processor, form into a flat disk, lightly flour, and tightly wrap in plastic wrap. Let the dough rest at room temperature for an hour.
3. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and have additional sheets of parchment paper cut.
4. Cut the rested dough into 6 pieces. Work with one piece at a time, keeping other pieces covered in plastic wrap.
5. Run the dough through the pasta machine beginning with the widest setting (this was a 1 on my Atlas) rolling it twice on this setting. Continue working the dough through the narrower settings until the pasta reaches a thickness of an envelope. It should be thin, but not transparent. Note: I ended on setting 5.
6. Lay the pasta sheets on the parchment paper lined baking pan. Cover with a piece of parchment paper. Note: I cut each sheet into three pieces before covering with the parchment paper.
7. Repeat the process with the rest of the dough.
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees (F).
2. Ladle a thin layer of the pasta sauce on the bottom of the pan. Spread to cover the surface of the baking dish.
3. Add a layer of pasta (first brushing off any excess flour) to form a single layer. Spoon sauce over the pasta, just enough to cover. Sprinkle grated cheeses and basil.
4. Repeat process beginning with a thin layer of sauce until you have used up all of the pasta. Note: I ended up with six layers of pasta.
5. The final, top layer should be sauce and the cheeses.
6. Bake uncovered until it has browned beautifully and the edges are bubbling. Approximately 35-40 minutes.
7. Allow the lasagna to rest for 15 to 30 minutes before slicing and serving. The rest time allows the pasta to fully absorb the hot, bubbling sauce. Note: A wait time of 30 minutes resulted in perfectly cut slices.
Notes: (1) Make the sauce first as it needs to cool before assembling the lasagna. (2) If you don't make the homemade pasta, use fresh sheets of store-bought pasta. (3) I was conservative with the amount of fresh basil. Next time I would increase how much I used. The original recipe called for 2 handfuls, I probably used 1 handful. (4) Use the best ingredients available. (5) I increased the amount of cheeses slightly. Original recipe called for 1 cup (100 g) of grated parmesan and mozzarella cheeses. (6) Make this lasagna sooner rather than later.
Weekend Farmer's Market finds.