Pasta Series #2: Lasagne ai carciofi

When we last spoke about pasta making, I had just bought my brand new super shiny Atlas pasta machine, had successfully made my first batch of ravioli, and had then told you all about it in great detail here. In the past month or so, I've continued to perfect my pasta making skills, and have subsequently been on a (very delicious, slightly flour dusted) pasta streak, churning out lots of fettuccine and ravioli with all sorts of different fillings.  I appear to have started a trend, too: three friends of mine have invested in pasta machines, and all have started to make their own ravioli and tagliolinifettuccine and tagliatelle, with good results. It's pretty cool to see something as revered as fresh pasta making become common practice not only in my kitchen but in the kitchens of my friends too, and it's easy to understand why: now that I've gotten the basic technique down, I find the pasta making process itself to be so gratifying, and, well, kind magical  -- a pile of snowy flour and slimy eggs unite to eventually become a ball of silky smooth sunshine yellow dough with just a little kneading, which is then rolled impossibly thin and cut and cooked for just a few short minutes before being tossed with whatever ingredients you desire. The result is always special -- there is something really special about fresh pasta, isn't there? -- and it's all the more so when you know it's come out of your kitchen. In short: making pasta is my New Favorite Thing, and my only regret is not learning to make it sooner. Below, a few of my favorite pasta dishes to date (fettuccine with lemon poppy butter! fettuccine with vignarola and guanciale! artichoke ravioli! fettuccine swirled in the pan with pecorino and burst cherry tomatoes!)
So! The second round of the blog's Pasta Series -- where I aim to learn how to make a new pasta from scratch every month -- focuses on lasagne, more specifically a very Spring-y lasagne ai carciofi, or lasagna with artichokes. As I'd still been getting the hang of the standard pasta making technique (all details here!) this past month, I wanted to stick with the same basic recipe used to make ravioli, but used in a different way (which also shows you how once you have the basic pasta dough down pat, its pretty versatile). The lasagne itself, in hindsight, is sort of a combination of all of my favorite recipes in the past few months; fresh pasta, with a nod to carciofi alla romana, and my beloved vignarola

One of Pancakes & Biscotti's most loyal readers (that's you, D.B!) has pointed out to me that I say this often, but it's kind of true: though there are lots of different components here which take a little know-how, none of this is tremendously difficult (there it is again, Dave!) This is a bit of a project, yes, -- making the pasta, prepping the 'chokes, simmering the bechamel -- but it really isn't rocket science, and if you have a few extra people helping you, it will go a lot faster, as all parties involved will be equally invested in getting this lasagne on the table. This, because, well -- this lasagne is downright spectacular, swoon-worthy, and might very well be one of the best things I've ever made, one of those dishes that compels you to pat yourself on the back and do a little dance once the full 30 seconds of silence, in which you are savouring the first bite of said lasagne, have passed. In other words: the pasta here is tender and delicate and impossibly thin, layered with smooth velvet-y bechamel, plus two kinds of cheese -- gooey rich taleggio and slightly salty Parmesan -- and the star of the show, the carciofo, revered this time of year in Rome, braised and steamed slowly in lots of olive oil with a little parsley and garlic. It's a dream of a dish, not to mention Springy comfort food -- perfect for the very chilly May we're having in Rome right now -- and I can't wait to make it again. I have a strong suspicion you will feel the same way. 

A couple of notes: You can find lots of useful pasta tips in this post here. When making the pasta: use a kitchen scale to measure the weight of the eggs -- multiply that weight by 2 and that's how much flour you should put in (perfect pasta every time!) The flour I use with good results is Molino Spadoni 00. I opted to make a vegetarian friendly lasagne as I was cooking for vegetarian friends, but this would also be delicious with some prosciutto or even guanciale thrown in along with the artichokes. A little nutmeg in the bechamel would also be nice (I didn't have any on hand). Finally, you can cook the artichokes in wine here if you'd like, but I always cook them with water instead (to let the artichoke flavor shine). You might find that you have extra dough leftover (you should have about nine pieces total, three per layer) in which case roll them through the fettuccine setting of your machine and get a completely different pasta out of it, or simply set aside the dough in the fridge (wrapped well in plastic wrap) for another use. Finally, if you want to make this recipe but streamline it a bit, you can always use no-boil lasagne sheets and buy artichokes that are already prepped and cleaned for you. 

For more adventures in fresh pasta making, check out these ravioli. For another take on lasagne: this lasagne alla bolognese. In the mood for more Spring-y recipes? I've got these carciofi alla giudia, these carciofi alla romana, this vignarola, this pasta frittata with asparagus, this asparagus with burrata, this roasted asparagus pizza, this frittata con fave, pecorino, and pancetta, this panzanella primaverile, this pasta with fave and pecorino, this roasted asparagus and three-cheese pizza, and this torta pasqualina

Serves 5-6

Ingredients for the pasta:
3 eggs, freshest you can get
About 300 grams 00 flour (the quantity will be based on the weight of the eggs; see "notes" above)

Ingredients for the filling:
8 carciofi romaneschi (the purple-violet ones)
Olive oil
2 cloves garlic
A generous handful of parsley
Salt and pepper
1 cup (240mL) water or white wine 
A little less than a pound (400 grams) taleggio cheese, rind removed, cut in to small pieces
3 ounces (84 grams) of freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Ingredients for the bechamel:
3 tablespoons (32 grams) of butter
3 tablespoons (24 grams) of flour
3 cups (750 mL) whole milk
A pinch of salt

To serve:
Extra freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1. Start with your artichokes! Using a sharp knife, trim away fibrous outer layer of the stem (I use a vegetable peeler for this) and feel free to trim any longer stems; you can cook the stems with the artichokes (they're delicious). Next, work your way around the artichoke and remove the tough outer leaves to expose the tender inner leaves. Cut off the spiky ends of the artichoke globe, then use a sharp knife to cut off the bits of artichoke base remaining from where you removed the tough leaves. Detach the trimmed stem and chop it in to pieces (lengthwise), then cut the trimmed globes into 8 wedges, removing away any hairy choke. Immediately, drop the wedges and stems of artichoke into the bowl of lemon-y water. Note: the artichokes here are all going to be hidden in between layers of pasta, cheese, and bechamel, so they don't have to be perfect! 

2. Warm the olive oil in a large skillet. Add the garlic cloves and let cook over medium-low heat until fragrant, then add the artichokes (don’t forget the stems!) and stir. Add the water (or wine if you prefer) and a little salt, stir again, and then cover the skillet (if you have an electric stove and a pan without a lid like I did, aluminum foil works well for this). Allow the artichokes to cook for about 15 or so minutes, shaking the pan occasionally, and then stir in the parsley. Let the artichokes cook for another 5 minutes, or until tender. Taste and adjust seasonings, if necessary.
3. Make your pasta!  Break the three eggs into a bowl and weigh them on a kitchen scale. Beat your eggs together and set aside. Next, measure out double the amount of flour as the weight of the eggs (for example: 150 grams of eggs means 300 grams of flour) and place it in a large bowl. Make a well in the flour and pour in the eggs. Gradually, with the aid of a fork, work the eggs into the flour until you get a shaggy mass. If the dough is for some reason a little dry add a little cold water. 

4. Upturn the contents of the bowl onto a worktop (wooden preferably or maybe a large chopping board) and start to knead it. The pasta machine will do most of the work later so you only should knead the dough until it comes together. Unless your hands are very cold, body heat should work its magic on the eggs and turn the dough silky smooth. For a short explanation on how to knead the dough via Carla, click right here!

5. Next, leave the dough under an upturned mixing bowl to rest for at least 15 minutes. Once the dough has rested, you can start to roll it out in to sheets (hurray!) Set up your pasta machine, attaching the roller handle and securing it to a work table. Set the rollers to the widest setting (0 in my case). Divide up the dough in to three or so equal pieces. You will work with one piece at a time.

6. Put a pot of water to boil, and then get started on rolling out the pasta while you wait. Flatten the piece of dough out so that it will go easily through the pasta machine. Roll the dough through, fold the strip of dough like and envelope and roll it again. If the dough feels too sticky, dust it with a little flour. Repeat this folding and rolling process about 5 times. Now that you have kneaded your dough, start to roll it out; set the machine one notch up (from 0 to 1) and pass the dough once through the rollers (no need to fold it anymore). Continue, rolling the dough once through each successive setting, until you reach 6, cutting the pieces of dough in half if necessary as they will become quite long. Cut the pasta into rectangles and set aside. Do the same the two remaining pieces of pasta dough, until you have a nice array of flour-dusted pasta rectangles.

8. Lay out a tea towel on your work surface. Once your pasta is cut and you water is boiling, salt the water and drop in the pasta sheets a few at a time (maximum 3, in case they stick together) and let cook briefly, for about a minute and a half. Remove the sheets of pasta from the water with a slotted spoon, draining off the excess water, and place the pasta on the aforementioned tea towel. Repeat with the rest of your pasta.
7. On to the bechamel! Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat and whisk the flour. Let the flour and butter cook for a minute or so, then whisk in the milk and bring it to a bubble. Add the salt and let the milk mixture cook a few minutes more, or until the béchamel is thick and dense and easily coats the back of a wooden spoon. Season to taste with salt and pepper (if you have fresh nutmeg on hand, now is the time to add a few grates into your bechamel).
8. Time to assemble! Adjust oven rack to middle position; heat oven to 350 degrees F. Spread a little of the bechamel over the bottom of the baking dish. Place 3 pasta sheets in a single layer on top of sauce, positioning them to fit the pan. Ladle some more bechamel over the pasta, scatter 1/3 of the artichokes over, scatter over the pieces of taleggio, and then sprinkle with some Parmesan. Repeat this layering of the pasta, bechamel, artichokes, and cheeses 3 more times. Place final 3 pasta sheets on top of the lasagna, and cover completely with remaining béchamel, artichokes, and Parmesan. 
9. Ready for the oven! Cover the lasagne with aluminum foil and bake until bubbling, about 30 minutes. Remove the aluminum foil and continue to bake the lasagna until the parmesan and béchamel have browned, about 10-15 minutes. Let the lasagna cool a bit before slicing and serving.

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