Thursday, November 8, 2012

Lasagna with homemade pasta-in the oven in one hour!

My love for anything Italian obviously had to include the quintessential lasagna. Although I used to order it at any given opportunity, I never thought of making it at home, thinking it was a hassle (even with storebought lasagna sheets!). Traditional recipes require the sauce to be thickened for hours to get the full-bodied flavor. Also, if making fresh pasta sheets, they need to be first cooked for a bit in boiling water, drained and used.

Then I chanced upon a recipe that while having to make the pasta sheets fresh at home, still made me want to take the plunge and make it. This recipe, from the blog Veg Bowl is what inspired me to try it out and I have to thank the blogger Mallika for that! Seeing my family, and especially my 3 year old son enjoying it and asking for seconds, and my dad preferring this over many other choices for his birthday dinner, inspires me to make it many more times in the future.

The first time I made it, I followed Mallika's recipe to the T for the dough but made some additions like chicken to her vegetarian filling recipe. The second time, I modified it with a recipe from the Smitten Kitchen and one given by my friend Renisha, also adding my own spur-of-the-moment touches. Yes, a mishmash of recipes this is, but it can hold its own with the best of them. Even though I was initially intimidated by the classic version, this experience has taught me that once you've got the basics right, you can just follow your heart and add, subtract, multiply, whatnot, and still come up with a winner of a dish. It is deliciously comforting and satisfying, both for the body and soul!

I absolutely love this recipe because it takes only one hour from the time you start kneading the dough till you finally put the dish into the oven (with a bit of multitasking, of course!). The filling is entirely up to you, depending on if you are a vegetarian or nonvegetarian. Vegetarians can use carrots, mushrooms, bell peppers, tomatoes, spinach, etc.  Nonvegetarians can use chicken, lamb, pork (I made this once with luncheon meat). I use a combination of both veggies and meat.

Serves 4 (generously)

For the pasta
1-1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 to 2 tablespoons water (only if needed)
For vegetarians:
Substitute eggs with 4 tbsp oil and increase the amount of water to 1/4 or 1/2 cup, like Mallika does).

For the Bechamel sauce
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons all purpose flour
500 mL milk
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground pepper, to taste

For the Bolognese sauce filling
1 large onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 medium size carrot, finely chopped
1 medium bell pepper, finely chopped (or a mixture of different colored peppers)
1 cup button mushrooms, finely chopped
1 cup tomato puree
1 tablespoon dried mixed herbs (or just thyme)
Salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil (or other neutral tasting vegetable oil)
Red wine (if no children are involved! and as much as you like!)
Nonvegetarian filling:
To the ingredients above, add 250 grams minced chicken or minced mutton or minced pork or a tin of luncheon meat

To layer:
1 cup (plus a bit more if required) Parmesan or Mozzarella cheese, grated

Start off with making the dough first:
1. Beat the eggs with a fork.
2. Combine the flour and salt well.
2. Put the flour either into a large bowl or on a clean surface and make a well in the middle.
3. Slowly pour the eggs or oil into the well and mix with fingers, bringing it all together into a ball.
4. Knead, adding more flour or water if needed, until you get a smooth but stiff ball.
5. Let it rest, covered with a cloth or plastic wrap, for about 15 to 20 minutes (this is the time to start off on the sauce)
6. After 20 minutes (by this time, the sauce should be at step #5-see below), divide into 4 balls.
7. Dust your work surface with flour and roll out each ball into a sheet that is as thin as you can get. Either cut each sheet into smaller rectangular sheets to overlap and line your pan or roll it out as 4 large sheets. Keep aside.

Now start making the Bolognese sauce:
1. Heat the oil in a heavy bottomed pan (or nonstick).
2. Add the garlic and when the garlicky flavor wafts out, add the onions and fry till it turns pink.
3. Add all the veggies at the same time and cook for 5 minutes.
4. Add the minced meat (if using), salt and pepper.
5. Cook on high heat for 5 minutes, then cover with a lid and simmer for 20 minutes or until the meat is cooked through (now is the time to start making the Bechamel sauce and grating the cheese and rolling out the pastry sheets!).
6. Add the tomato puree and mixed herbs. Simmer again for 5 minutes.
7. If required, add some water (or red wine) and simmer again for 5 minutes.
8. Take off the heat.

And the Bechamel sauce:
1. Heat the butter in a saucepan.
2. Before it starts smoking, add in the flour and stir until it turns a light brown..
3. Add in the milk, a little at first to mix it with the flour, and then add the rest gradually, whisking it well until it becomes thicker.
4. Add salt and pepper.
5. Simmer and stir for 5 minutes.
6. Take off heat.

To assemble:
1. Preheat oven to 180 C or 200 C.
2. In a rectangular baking dish, first spread the Bechamel sauce
3. Carefully place the first lasagna sheet over this (or overlap and place 3-4 sheets).
4. Pour enough of the Bolognese sauce to cover the sheet.
5. Top with the Bechamel sauce.
5. Sprinkle with the grated cheese.
6. Repeat this twice: the pasta sheet-Bolognese sauce-Bechamel sauce-grated cheese.
7. Lastly, cover with the last pasta sheet, pour some Bechamel sauce, and top with grated cheese (you can finish off with a pasta sheet and cheese alone to get a crunchier top).
8. Bake until the top becomes brown and the cheese has melted and bubbles over, about 25 to 25 minutes, depending on your oven.

PS: Try your best to wait for at least 10 minutes before plunging in!
I am linking this to Bake Fest which this month is being hosted at Anu's Kitchen.

Until next time, ciao!