Friday, November 12, 2010

De-constructed lasagna for Shani

This dish is an example of me living up to what I say - there's nothing to be afraid of in cooking, it's either going to work or it's not - even if it only 'kind of' works, it's a great opportunity to improve things!

My very first attempt at pasta - vegan pasta at that - is a perfect example.

I was not aware you could make pasta without eggs - seemed impossible to me.  Then a friend came over to eat, and this friend happened to be vegan, and similar to when my Shani came over and I had to think of something vegan to serve for dinner, I had impetus to sort out something other than a slab of cow.

And being admittedly too lazy to commit to a full baking dish of lasagna, I thought I'd try to be clever and 'de-construct' the dish.  I can def. use some practice here - it doesn't look quite like I would like it to but you get the idea...

Stuff you'll need;

  • Seminola flour - something about the gluten levels in this pasta make it excellent for making pasta.  I'm going to look it up later but for now just know this is what you need
  • Water - it would probably be helpful for me to know how much water, but I really didn't measure it.  Water is a safe ingredient, if you add it slowly chances are you'll be OK without measuring it...
  • Pinch (literally) of salt - I didn't actually put salt in the pasta dough (my doc. would be so proud) but most recipes online would call for it so I'm listing it here.  Honest, you can skip it.

I looked at about 12 different versions of vegan pasta recipes online, they all tell you to pour out XX grams of seminola flour onto a wooden board, made a hollow in the center and mix the flour in slowly.  It looks very authentic, but I have a kitchen that was built in a space that used to be a closet and I just don't have that kind of counter space so I used a bowl.
That's the whole thing.  There's really just no "mixing on the counter" when you have no counter...

In a roomy bowl, dump about 2 cups of seminola flour (if you only have 2 cups cut this in half - you're going to need extra flour to work the dough later) - add about a quarter cup of water, and stir gently to combine - there's no need to be overly vigorous just yet, you want to build the dough slowly and ensure equal saturation of all the grain first.  Add water a bit at a time (by a bit, I mean a couple tablespoons) and continue to mix.  You should notice that the mixture is starting to clump - clumping at this juncture is good.

In all you'll probably add just under a cup of water to form the dough - it's roughly a two (flour) to one (water) ratio, less a little water.  It's always easy to add water so proceed slowly, you're making pasta dough not pancake batter.  Oh and I use a fork for the first part of this.  Waaaay less messy...

Once you've managed to incorporate all the flour, you're going to need to get your hands in on it - wash and dry your hands, and get in there smashing the little bits together tor form one big ball of dough.  Once you've got one ball of dough, play with it a bit!  Stretch it out, fold it in half, do it again and again!  Squeeze it from one end to the other into weird shapes, put it on a lightly floured work space and smash it with the heel of your hand and fold it back up -  whatever, you're going to want to abuse the dough for about 10 min.  You're "stretching the glutens" by doing this - really just ensuring that the moisture content is equally distributed.

Divide up the dough and roll it out - now this is where I had challenges - I don't have a pasta machine.  I hand rolled the dough with a rolling pin - while on some level this made me feel very smug and look-how-authentic-I-am, on the other hand it made me realize that I need a boatload more practice.  I will admit that my noodles were all over the place in thickness.
Make sure to flour your working surface to make sure that the pasta doesn't stick and proceed to roll it out. you want thin as-even-as-possible sheets.  As you're rolling the pasta out, be liberal with the flour, it'll help keep everything from sticking together.

Now here's another fun part - the shapes.  I'm sure there's a pasta aficionado somewhere that's about to be horrified but this part is too much fun to let that sway me. The first batch of noodles, I cut into something 'like' lasagna shaped noodles because I wanted to plate them folded up on themselves.  The next batch I used a cookie cutter and went to town - the point being let your presentation determine the shapes!  I haven't tried any of the rolled shapes yet, just flat ones, but have some fun with it!

Once you've got the shapes you need but your well dusted noodles on a well dusted plate and let them dry a bit - dry noodles are less likely to dissolve in a pot of boiling water, and it's easier to get a nice al dente texture from them.  Once you're noodles have dried a bit (they don't need to be stiff like store bought noodles but you do want them to dry for at least an hour), boil up a big pot of water, add salt and a float of olive oil, drop the noodles in and don't walk away.  The noodles will start to get floaty in about 2 min - cook them for another minute to two minutes then fish them out.  Fresh noodles don't take as long to cook!

While the noodles are drying it's time to sort out a sauce.  While a nice store bought sauce is fine, it's such a great chance to be creative!  Here are a couple of options to consider;

Super-ultra vegan sauce - dice plum tomatoes, sweet onion and garlic, set aside.   Warm a generous helping of olive oil in a sauce pan - add the garlic and onions and cook them slowly over medium heat stirring constantly until they start to become soft and translucent.  Add the diced tomatoes and a spoonful of tomato paste (canned is fine), and a dash of your favorite dried herb mix (I use herbs de provance), and salt and pepper to taste.  Keeping the heat at medium/high, let the tomatoes simmer - they'll start to soften which is exactly what you're looking for.  And instead of salt, I used capers - it adds a briney flavor that I thing works really well with the tomatoes.  When you can't wait to shovel the sauce into your mouth it's ready - layer it over and between the noodles, top with shredded basil and serve.

Not so super ultra vegan?  Add shredded Parmesan or mozzarella - I did one version with a slice of prosciutto sandwiched in the middle of the stack.  The photo at the start of this entry even shows a small stack of garlic chips on the side!

Herb butter sauce - in a pan, melt a generous clump of butter (I like home made butter but store bought is fine).  Add a handfull of chopped up fresh herbs - sage works really well here.  Add salt and pepper as needed.  Quick steam a handful of asparagus stalks chopped to about one inch pieces, and toss them into the butter to finish. Layer the asparagus with the noodles (once cooked) topping with remaining butter sauce and a healthy sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.

I'm sure you can think of other yummy things to put on top of a dish of pasta right?


1 comment:

  1. *jaw drops* you MADE the pasta? Seriously, you are a magician.