I made lasagna twice this week. The same recipe. The same pan. The same smell—buttery tomato sauce, crisping Parmesan cheese—emanating from the oven as it baked. The first time: Sunday. The second: Wednesday. The only difference? A pasta machine.
The first time I made this lasagna, which is a light spinach and ricotta lasagna from Alice Waters' The Art of Simple Food, I decided to roll out the fresh pasta dough (actually surprisingly easy to make!) by hand. I’d never done that before, and I wanted to see if it would work. It kinda did. It took some elbow grease, a few curse words muttered under my breath, and a firm grip on my rolling pin. But it turned out all right. Though the finished product was a bit thick and unwieldy, it tasted good. I served it to Matt and two of our new Cambridge friends. We gobbled it right up.
The second time I made the lasagna, three days later, I unearthed my pasta machine from its box under the bed. I scooped two cups of flour into a big glass bowl, cracked two eggs, separated out two more yolks, and mixed it all together with a fork. When it came time to roll out the dough, I understood why they invented these machines: it’s much easier. After a few rolls through the metal crank contraption, the sheets of pasta came out silky and smooth. The finished lasagna was bigger, softer, with a bit more crunch on top. I served it to three of my oldest, dearest childhood friends—the women beside whom I grew up, who knew me before I even liked to cook—alongside a simple arugula salad with candied pecans and a balsamic vinaigrette. It was superb.
This lasagna is a delicate dish, not at all the classic stick-to-your-ribs, meat-on-your-bones casserole. In between layers of the fresh pasta—which give it a homey, grandmotherly feel—are thin coats of a creamy white béchamel, ricotta seasoned with olive oil and salt, and spinach sautéed with garlic. The tomato sauce, which I made using little more than canned tomatoes, butter, and onions, is sweet and salty at once.
I’ve eaten this lasagna for three out of my last five dinners. And you know what? I'd do it again.
Adapted from Alice Waters' The Art of Simple Food
1 recipe Fresh Pasta (see below)
1 ½ cups White Sauce (see below)
1 recipe Tomato Sauce (see below)
1 bunch spinach (½ pound)
1 garlic clove, minced
½ pound ricotta cheese
¼ cup + 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese
pinch of grated nutmeg
Wash and drain the spinach. Warm up a tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Cook the spinach until just wilted, seasoning with salt. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more. Set aside and let cool. Then, gather the spinach into a ball and squeeze to remove excess moisture. Chop fine.
In a bowl, mix the ricotta with the spinach. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil and salt to taste.
In another bowl, mix the warm white sauce with ¼ cup Parmesan cheese, a pinch of nutmeg, and salt.
Roll out the pasta into 5 – 6 inch long sheets. You should have seven of them. (If you have more or less, no worries, just tailor the lasagna assemblage to what works.) Cook al dente in a big pot of boiling, salted water. Drain, rinse under cold water, and then drain again. Put the noodles in a bowl with a tablespoon of olive oil to prevent sticking.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
Oil a 10 by 12 inch baking pan. To assemble the lasagna, first spread a few spoonfuls of white sauce on the bottom. Then a single layer of pasta. Spread this with a third of the ricotta mixture. Add another layer of pasta, and then half the tomato sauce. Pasta again and then half of the white sauce. Another layer of pasta. Repeat until all of the pasta is used up, making sure you finish with a top layer of pasta. Drizzle with olive oil, and cover completely with foil.
Bake for 20 minutes. Remove and discard the foil, sprinkle with 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, and bake for 15 minutes more, until bubbling and golden brown. Let stand for five minutes before serving.
(The lasagna can be completely assembled and then stored in the fridge until it’s ready to bake. Just make sure you take it out of the fridge an hour before you bake.)
from The Art of Simple Food
2 cups flour
2 egg yolks
Put the flour in a large bowl and make a well in the center with your fork. Pour in the eggs. Mix, like you’re scrambling the eggs, incorporating the flour a bit at a time. When it becomes too stiff, mix with your hands. When it all comes together, pour it out onto a floured surface and knead lightly. Add a few drops of water if it’s too dry. Shape the dough into a disk, wrap in plastic, and let stand an hour.
When you’re ready to roll the dough, you can either use a rolling pin on a floured surface (folding the dough in half a few times and rolling it out again until its thin and even) or you can use a pasta machine. For this, roll the pasta through the widest setting, fold into thirds, and roll again. Do this a couple times, and then begin decreasing the setting on the machine until the pasta is your desired thickness.
from The Art of Simple Food
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk
Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed pot. Stir in the flour. Cook over medium heat for about 3 minutes, whisking the whole time. Then, add the milk bit-by-bit, still whisking in order to avoid getting lumps. Bring the concoction up to a boil. Then, turn down to a bare simmer and cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season with salt and nutmeg. Keep warm until use, or it will solidify.
28 oz can whole peeled tomatoes
14 oz can diced tomatoes
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium onion, peeled and halved
salt to taste
Put the tomatoes, onion, and butter in a heavy pot. On medium heat, bring the sauce to a simmer, and keep it there for 45 minutes. When it's done, droplets of fat will float free from the tomatoes. Stir every so often, and crush the big lumps of tomatoes against the side of the pot. When finished, remove the onion and salt to taste.