I had never heard of the Pasta Grannies, but my friend Dorita Pina and I decided we wanted to make Spinach Pasta together and she found this recipe for Spinach Lasagne on YouTube. We both wanted to do something really true to Italy. I know I recently blogged a fabulous Spinach Lasagne with Ricotta Cheese, but this one intrigued me as it is made with Spinach Pasta. Also, the sauce is a meat ragu, similar to Bolognese and very different from traditional red sauce for lasagne.
Maria is 91 years old and has been making pasta for 70 years. She lives across the street from her shop, La Bottega del Buongustaio Gastronomia, in Firenza. Interesting to note, this ragu-style Spinach Lasagne recipe is not traditional to Florence.
This recipe took Dorita and I most of the afternoon to put together, but it was great fun and we enjoyed some beautiful Italian vino, Italian music, lots of laughs and good conversation as we cooked. Probably not as efficient as Maria, but we had a wonderful time taking our time and doing it together. I love cooking with others who have the same passion for food as I do.
We started by making the pasta as we wanted to give it lots of time to ‘rest’. The longer it rests, the easier it is to roll. It needs at least 30 minutes.
Once the spinach is thoroughly washed and dried, mix it in a food processor with double zero flour, aka doppio zero, aka 00 flour. This is a fine, powdery Italian flour, which gives the pasta an amazingly tender texture. It’s interesting that the flour/spinach mixture did not look very green at this point, but that changed after adding the eggs and kneading.
We have a fabulous Italian market in Tucson, called Roma Imports, which is where Dorita bought this flour, but you can also buy the flour online.
There’s something very fun about using your counter as a mixing bowl! Beat the eggs slightly and then start pulling in the flour until the dough comes together.
Once the pasta was resting we moved on to the Ragu sauce. I think one of the flavors that made this sauce so delicious was the pancetta.
Dorita started by browning the pancetta until crispy and then adding the pork and a good amount of olive oil. Our Italian friend, Maria, does not add the spices or garlic directly to the sauce, but ties them into a bouquet garni, literally translates “garnished bouquet”. She says this way you don’t overpower the sauce with spice or have little pieces of garlic and sage swimming in your ragu. I have done this a few times since and love the technique. She is right, but why wouldn’t she be. She’s been making pasta for nearly a century.
Just tie the chopped garlic and sage in cheesecloth with a little kitchen string.
Once the tomato paste is added to the browned meat, drop in the bouquet garni, add enough beef broth to cover the meat, about 3/4 cup red wine, salt/pepper to taste and let gently simmer, uncovered for at least an hour. Rinse the can of tomato paste with the beef stock to get every last bit of tomato goodness out. Check from time to time to make sure it is not getting too dry. If it is, add more liquid: beef broth, wine, or both. When completely cooked, it is not a thick sauce like marina; more like Bolognese, but still needs to hold up to the pasta. Your house will be filled with the aromas of Italy as this ragu cooks.
Now on to the rolling of the pasta. Making pasta makes me very happy. Dorita and I took turns rolling.
Once the pasta is rolled to the correct thickness (about to the 4th setting on your pasta machine), cut it into lasagna strips to fit your pan. This is one half of Maria’s recipe and it still made more than enough Spinach Pasta for a large lasagne, but she was making it to sell in her shop. We cut the pasta not needed for the lasagna into Linguine and each took some home to turn into other wonderful Spinach Pasta dishes.
Check on your sauce to make sure consistency is good and seasoning is right.
Make the Bechamel sauce just before assembling. This is one of the “mother sauces” of French cuisine. I have talked about this sauce in previous blogs, but basically it is a wonderfully thick, rich sauce made with butter, flour, milk, salt and nutmeg. It is super creamy and was the perfect topping, along with some more butter and Parmigiano Reggiano for this very special Italian Spinach Lasagne.
Turn the heat down very low once the Bechamel has been made and begin assembling the lasagne. Start by cutting lasagne sheets to fit your pan.
Cook pasta sheets in liberally oiled and salted boiling water for no more than 2 minutes and spread the pasta flat on the counter to cool. Oil the bottom of the pan and then cover with a layer of ragu. Top with pasta and another layer of ragu. Next add a layer of bechamel, light layer of Parmigiano Reggiano and continue until the layers nearly reach the top of the baking pan. Cover the top with a thick coating of the bechamel and generous amount of the cheese.
We also added a very generous amount of butter to the top of the assembled lasagne (about 1 more stick/8 Tbsp.). The additional butter allowed the lasagne to brown beautifully and is in large part why it was so creamy, rich and delicious. Heat oven to 350 degrees and bake the lasagne for 20-30 minutes or until browned and bubbling.
Out of the oven.
Dorita is a fabulous artist and calligraphist and created this recipe for me on hand-made parchment. Everything here is from Maria’s original recipe, so measurements are in metric and a double batch from what we made.
And here’s a very satisfied, but pooped co-cook about to jump into the fruits of our labor.
On to the details…
Spinach Pasta Lasagne Alla Emilana Pork Ragu with Bechamel
This recipe welcomes you to Italy! And the authentic Spinach Pasta recipe is from a 91 year old Nonna. You will love it. A bit of work to put together, but worth every step!
For the Spinach Pasta
- 16 oz. Fresh spinach Stemmed if not using baby spinach.
- 5 Eggs Large
- 4 cups OO Flour
For the Ragu
- 1/4 Lb. Pancetta, diced Err on the side of generous pancetta as I believe this is the ingredient that made the sauce great!
- 4+ Tbsp. Olive Oil
- 1 Lb. Minced Pork Again, do not skimp as this is a meaty lasagne. A bit more than 1 lb. is good.
- 3 Large Garlic cloves, roughly chopped
- 4 Fresh sage leaves Next time I would use 2 as I thought it was a bit sage forward.
- 3/4 cup Beef stock Or enough to cover the meat.
- 3/4 cup Rich red wine Or you may use white.
- 1/2 tsp. Salt Or to taste.
- 1/4 tsp. Freshly ground Black Pepper Or to taste.
For the Bechamel
- 16 oz. Whole Milk
- 4 Tbsp. Butter More for topping.
- 1/3 cup Flour
- Nutmeg, to taste
- Salt, to taste
To make the Spinach Pasta
Rinse, stem and thoroughly dry spinach. In a food processor, mix together spinach and flour. Pulse until well combined.
Pour the mixture on your counter and make a well in the center. Add the eggs.
Knead dough until smooth.
Shape dough into a round disc and let rest for at least 30 minutes. The longer it rests the easier it is to roll out. Nonna rolled the pasta by hand. She made it look like an elegant dance. We used my pasta machine.
Once rested, roll through pasta machine until desired thickness. About #4 setting.
Cut into lasagne strips to fit your pan. You may have leftover dough, which can be used for another time.
Bring large pot of oiled and salted (at least 1 Tbsp.) boiling water to boil and boil pasta sheets for 2 minutes. Remove from the boiling water and lay pasta out on the counter to cool.
To Make the Pork Ragu
Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven or heavy bottomed pan fit with a lid.
Add the pancetta and brown until crisp.
Next, add minced pork and brown for about 20 minutes.
Place the chopped garlic and sage in cheese cloth and secure with kitchen string. Add to the meats. Remove once the ragu is done.
Add enough beef stock to cover the meat.
Spoon in tomato paste and rinse the can with either wine or beef stock.
Taste for salt and pepper. Cover and simmer for at least an hour checking to make sure the ragu is neither too thick or thin. If too thick, add more beef stock or wine. If too thin, tilt the cover while it is simmering to let off some steam and reduce. Taste again for salt and pepper.
To Make the Bechamel
In a saucepan heat milk, but do not boil.
In a separate saucepan, brown the butter, and add flour. Cook for a bit to ensure flour taste is not too strong.
Whisk in hot milk and cook until thickened or until it coats the back of a spoon.
Add plenty of nutmeg and salt. Always taste to check seasonings.
To Assemble the Lasagne
Have about 2 cups Parmigiano Reggiano on hand to lace throughout the layers and top.
Spread a layer of ragu on the bottom of the baking dish. Add a layer of pasta sheets over the ragu.
Add a layer of bechamel and thin layer of Parmigiano Reggiano. Repeat with pasta, ragu, bechamel, and cheese. Continue layering until your baking dish is nearly full.
Top with a liberal spreading of the bechamel, more cheese and dot with butter. As you can see from the photo above, our dots were quite large.
Bake in preheated 350 degree oven for 20-30 minutes or until browned and bubbling.
I know this sounds like many steps, but it is completely worth it. Take your time. Enjoy a glass of vino while cooking and let the aromas take you to Italy.