When co-hosts Mary of Beans and Caviar, Melinda of Melbourne Larder and Enza of Io Da Grande announced that March's Daring Bakers' challenge was lasagna, I thought about passing on this one. I don’t usually skip any of the Daring Baker challenges, but lasagna falls outside of what I normally blog about here on Alpineberry (which is mainly pastries, baking and desserts).
I admit I have blogged about a savory tart before, but that was about making a flaky pie dough. And, yes, I blogged about pizza for the October 2008 DB challenge, but that was more about making the yeasted dough for the crust. To me, making pizza dough seems to be more like making bread. I know that the key part of this month's challenge is to make our own pasta dough, but making spinach lasagna with a béchamel sauce and meat ragu feels more like cooking than baking. I know it's a fine line. Technically something is baked if it went in the oven. I guess you can argue that pizza also straddles the line between cooking and baking. But would a roast chicken be considered baking? I mean, it's baked but is it baking? I don't know. We could argue the semantics for days.
I think our hosts may have chosen lasagna as a way to celebrate the launch of our new website The Daring Kitchen and a new group called the Daring Cooks. Yup, that's right. We're no longer just Daring Bakers anymore. We're cooks now too, hence, the new Daring Kitchen. Even though the lasagna is the Daring Bakers' challenge recipe and not the inaugural Daring Cooks' challenge recipe, I'm not going to argue with the powers that be. After some consideration, I knew I could turn this month's challenge into something that I could post on my blog. I decided to create a sweet "lasagna" dessert.
I wanted to be sure to honor the main part of this month's challenge - making the pasta dough. Instead of spinach pasta, I decided to make a sweet pistachio pasta dough. And instead of béchamel and meat ragu, I decided on a white chocolate mascarpone cream and a diced strawberry "ragu". My idea was to deep fry the sweet pasta dough and then layer it with the cream and strawberries.
I had to make up a recipe for the sweet pistachio pasta dough. Using the spinach pasta dough recipe as the basis, I omitted the spinach, decreased the amount of flour and added some sugar and pistachio paste. I used canned pistachio paste which is a mixture of ground pistachios, oil, and sugar. My dough was difficult to knead by hand and to roll out. It took some time but I managed to get the dough nice and thin. I think I built up some arm muscles working that dough. My resulting pasta dough wasn’t as elastic and stretchy as traditional pasta dough, but, for the most part, it had the texture and feel of fresh pasta. The dough wasn't as green as I wanted and it lost any semblance of green after I deep fried the pasta squares.
The white chocolate mascarpone cream was very straightforward. I just made a white chocolate ganache, mixed in some mascarpone cheese, chilled the mixture and then beat it until fluffy. My ragu of strawberries was even simpler. Just dice some strawberries, toss in a bit of sugar and let them macerate for a few minutes.
The sweet lasagna dessert was pretty delicious. The fried pasta squares had just a hint of pistachio and was just sweet enough. The cream was rich and decadent and the berries were sweet and tart. It was a good combination of flavors and textures. The only thing I didn’t like was my fried pasta squares were a bit crunchy so it was difficult to break through the top layer of the lasagna with a fork. The bottom two layers were easy to break since the cream and berries softened them a little. Overall, I would say it was a great success.
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.
To see the recipe for Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna, please visit our hosts Enza, Melinda, and Mary.
Sweet Pistachio Pasta Dough
(enough to make about 36 3x3 inch squares of pasta)
220 g all purpose flour
2 large eggs
4 tbsp pistachio paste
2 tbsp sugar
Mixing the dough:
Mound the flour in the center of your work surface and make a well in the middle. Beat together the eggs, pistachio paste, sugar and salt in a bowl. Scrape mixture into the well. 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.
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. Knead the dough for about 3 minutes. If it is too sticky to move easily, knead in some flour. Continue kneading about 5-10 minutes, or until the dough has become satiny, smooth, and very elastic. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap, and let it relax at room temperature 30 minutes to 3 hours.
With a rolling pin, roll out a quarter of the dough at a time and keep the rest of the dough wrapped. Lightly sprinkle a large work surface with flour. Shape it into a ball and begin rolling out to form a circle, frequently turning the disc of dough a quarter turn. Keep rolling until the disc becomes larger and thinner. The goal is a sheet of even thickness. The sheet should be pretty thin (about 2 mm). Cut into squares about 3 by 3 inches. Repeat with remaining dough.
Fry the dough:
Heat a pan half-filled with vegetable oil to 375F. Fry the pasta squares in batches for 20-30 seconds, until golden. Carefully remove and drain on paper towels. Cool before assembly.
White Chocolate Mascarpone Cream
9 oz high quality white chocolate, finely chopped
9 oz heavy cream
12 oz container of mascarpone cheese
1 tsp vanilla extract
Combine chocolate and cream in a heat proof bowl and set bowl over a pot of simmering water (or use a double boiler). Stir occasionally until chocolate is melted. Whisk in mascarpone and vanilla extract. Cover and chill in refrigerator for 1 hour. Using the paddle attachment on a stand mixer, beat until fluffy.
1.5 pounds strawberries
2-4 tbsp sugar
Hull and dice the strawberries. Toss with sugar. The amount of sugar you need will depend on the sweetness of your berries. Let sit for 10 minutes.
Assemble your sweet lasagna:
Top one fried pasta square with 2 tablespoons of white chocolate mascarpone cream and spread cream to cover the square. Take care not to break the pasta square. Top the cream with diced strawberries. Repeat with another layer (fried pasta, cream, strawberries). Set a fried pasta square on top and dust it with powder sugar. Serve.