Lasagne Verdi al Forno

If you don’t like to cook – then you should run away now.  If you are a risk taker and can dedicate a day to making the most spectacular Lasagne you’ve ever tasted then read on.

This recipe comes from one of my all time favorite cookbooks.  Saveur Cooks Authentic Italian.  I can honestly say that I have not made one thing in this book that wasn’t out of this world amazing!  Seriously, you know I wouldn’t lie to you about this.  If you don’t have it – you should buy it.  Actually you should buy 2 and give one to your best friend.  It’s that good.

The Lasagne Verdi al Forno or Baked Spinach Lasagne is light, delicate, flavorful and just down right amazing.  I made it for my birthday a few weeks ago and had multiple people come up to me and say “That was the best lasagna I have ever had”.  It really is that good.  I highly recommend making the pasta but if you don’t have the tools to do it, or just don’t want to then I’m sure this recipe would be quite delicious with store bought pasta instead.  You’ll have to tell me how it turns out using dried pasta – I’m very curious to know.  Ok, so hold on tight – this is a long recipe – thank goodness for printers!  Mange!

Ragu alla Bolognese
1/4 c extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, minced
1 rib celery, minced
1/2 carrot, peeled and minced
2-3 slices proscuitto di parma, finely chopped
2 chicken livers, finely chopped
1 1/2 lbs ground chuck
Salt and black pepper
1/2 c dry white wine
1 c milk, hot
1 c beef broth
1 28-oz can pureed tomatoes (or crushed)

1) Heat oil in a large, deep, heavy pot over medium-high heat.  Add onions and saute until soft and translucent but not browned, 4-5 minutes.  Add celery and carrot and cook for 3 minutes more.  Add proscuitto and chicken livers and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, until meat is just cooked and still a little pink.  Crumble ground chuck into pot and season to taste with salt and pepper.  Break up chuck, stirring constantly with the wooden spoon, until meat is just cooked and still a little pink, about 5 minutes more. (To keep meat tender, do not fry or brown).
2) Stir in the wine and cook until it evaporates completely, about 3 minutes.  Reduce the heat to medium and add hot milk, stirring occasionally, until milk has evaporated.  Heat broth and tomatoes together in a small saucepan over medium-high heat until hot, then add to meat mixture.  Reduce heat to low and gently simmer for 2 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Balsamella
3 tbsp butter
4 tbsp sifted flour
2 c milk, hot
Salt and black pepper

1) Melt butter in a heavy medium sauce pan over medium-low heat.  Add sifted flour and whisk for 1 1/2 minutes (do not brown).  Gradually add the milk, whisking constantly.  Season to taste with salt and pepper and stir constantly until sauce is as thick as heavy cream, about 15 minutes.

Note: This needs to be done right before lasagne assembly otherwise it will get stiff.

Pasta Verde
2 bunches spinach, trimmed
1 1/2 c unbleached all purpose flour
2 large eggs

1) Put 1/4 cup of water into a large pot and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.  Add spinach and cook until completely wilted, about 3 minutes.  Drain in a colander and, when cool enough to handle, squeeze out water.  Finely chop spinach and then grind into a puree with a mortar and pestle, and set aside.
2) Sift flour into a mound on a clean surface.  Use your had to make a well in the center and add spinach.  Break each egg separately onto a plate or bowl, then add to the well. (This allows you to check for bad eggs and keeps any bits of shell out of the pasta)  Lightly beat eggs and spinach together with a fork, then gradually incorporate flour from the inside edge of the well into the spinach mixture.  When dough becomes too stiff to work with the fork, knead flour into spinach mixture with both hands until dough is no longer sticky.  Form dough into a ball and cover with a damp kitchen towel.  Clean your surface, then dust with more flour.
3) Unwrap dough and knead with the heel of your hand until dough is smooth, about 5 minutes.  Cut dough into 4 pieces.
4) Begin rolling pasta through machine, decreasing the settings, one notch at a time (do not fold or turn pasta).  Roll pasta through each setting until you the second from the finest notch.  Cover pasta with a damp cloth until you are ready to use it.  This will prevent it from drying out.

Lasagne Verdi al Forno
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Salt
1 recipe spinach pasta
1 recipe Ragu alla Bolognese
1 c freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano
1 recipe balsamella

1) Preheat oven to 450.  Lightly oil a 9″x12″ baking pan and set aside.  Cook pasta sheets in a large pot of salted boiling water over high heat 2 sheets at a time until they float to the surface, about 10 seconds.  Carefully remove with a slotted spoon and plunge into a large bowl of salted ice water to stop further cooking.  Remove from water when cool and dry between two clean kitchen towels.
2) Line the bottom of prepared baking pan with a layer of pasta, trimming sheets with a knife so they fit in one even layer (patch if necessary).  Spread evenly with 1 cup of Ragu, then sprinkle lightly with parmigiano.  Add another layer of pasta, evenly spread 1 cup of balsamella on pasta, then sprinkle lightly with parmigiano.  Repeat layers (you will have 3 layers of ragu and 2 of balsamella), ending with ragu and parmigiano.  Reserve any extra bolognese sauce for another use.
3) Bake in top third of over for 10 minutes.  Turn oven up to 500 and cook until lasagne is bubbling around the edges and brown on top, 5-7 minutes more.  Do not overcook.  Allow lasagne to rest for 8-10 minutes before serving.

Serves 8-12

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