Friday, March 27, 2009

A Spinach "Surprise"

I’m going to be honest… As much as I’d like to think I’m a goddess at all things culinary, cooking in general makes me a little nervous. Baking is easy – how can sugar go wrong? With baking it’s a lot easier to make cookies or cupcakes look lovely by adding pretty colors or a fun dollop of frosting or a spray of sprinkles. A piece of meat or a pile of potatoes… They’re just very bare and it’s easy to appreciate them when you eat them but when it comes to photographing them or even just looking at them, it’s less inspiring than some other sugary confection. That would be the reason I’m in Daring Bakers as opposed to Iron Chef. Not that I'll ever be on that show anyway…
Then the Daring Bakers March Challenge turned out to be lasagna. Make your own pasta. And white sauce. And meat sauce. Cue intimidation. And now cue failure. Because, as you can see from the pasta above, this is in no way, shape, or form lasagna. Oops. I really think my pasta is the best of both worlds - it's a cute shape like sugar cookies and it's healthy for you in that neat Popeye way. Regardless, I followed the basic instructions of making my own spinach pasta and sauce and the result ended up surprisingly satisfying, here's my first feeble attempt at home made pasta for your viewing pleasure.

I’m convinced that the recipe provided is perfectly good and I’m just bad at life. I don't know what went wrong - it went from pile of flour to lumpy mess (so far so good, when you read the directions), but never went past the lumpy mess. I kneaded for about a half hour before giving up and winging the rest of the recipe by adding more water and shaping/testing as I went. The sauce was simple enough and came together and for that I'm forever grateful. If you want to make the legit lasagna then please visit my links and I’m sure you can find the recipe – or feel free to email me and I can send the real recipe right over. But from here on out it’s going to be spinach pasta hearts. My initial failure turned into heart-shaped pieces of goodness for my parent’s impromptu anniversary dinner while I was home over spring break. After a lot of trial and error, it’s surprisingly tasty. That, paired with either the b├ęchamel sauce or a simple tomato sauce (my personal preference), fresh greens with a homemade citrus vinagrette, and a sense of humor, equalled a dinner I'm actually sort of proud of. Sort of.

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.

Spinach Egg Pasta (Pasta Verde)
**Modified 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).
Preparation: 45 minutes
Makes enough for 6 to 8 first course servings or 4 to 6 main course servings

2 jumbo eggs
6 ounces frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry

3 1/2 cups all purpose unbleached flour

A roomy work surface
A rolling pin
Plastic wrap to cover rolled-out pasta waiting to be filled
A cookie cutter of your desired shape

1. Mound the flour in the center of your work surface and make a well in the middle. Add the eggs and spinach.

2. 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.

3. 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. My dough never became a cohesive mass until I gradually started adding water during the kneading. If you want to attempt to follow my example/your dough sucks at life, i added about a 1/4 cup of water by the end of my kneading adventure.

4. Knead the dough for about 3 minutes. My dough's consistency ended up very thick and heavy and not very sticky. Continue kneading about 10 minutes.

5. After you feel as though you've reached a point of exasperation or you feel that you can work with the dough somewhat easily, divide the dough into manageable chunks and begin rolling them out no thicker than 1/4". Cut with your lovely cookie cutter, making sure to wrap up the bits you aren't working with so that the dough won't dry out.

6. Bring salted water to boil over stovetop, add your pasta, cook until al dente (about 10 minutes), drain, and enjoy your fun little pasta shapes. Add sprinkles and a dollop of - ha, just kidding.

Lynne’s Bechamel
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).
Preparation Time: 15 minutes

4 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 tablespoons all purpose unbleached (plain) flour
2 2/3 cups milk

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Freshly grated nutmeg to taste

1. Using a medium-sized saucepan, melt the butter over low to medium heat.

2. Sift over the flour, whisk until smooth, and then stir (without stopping) for about 3 minutes.

3. Whisk in the milk a little at a time and keep the mixture smooth.

4. 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.

5. Eat, and be merry.


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