Lasagne ai Carciofi
Making pasta is something that I took for granted as a child. In fact I almost found it a chore to help my mother as she rolled the pasta through the machine, sheet after sheet. It never seemed to stop because if you’re making pasta, you don’t just make some for one meal, but enough for a few dozen meals. And if you’re like my mum, you also make enough for the neighbours and to give to friends so the quantities were out of proportion for a young child.
I seem to remember it would always be on a Saturday afternoon that the table in the spare room would be cleared and dusted with flour. Wet cloths covered freshly kneaded pasta dough while it rested. I was called in to help when it came to the rolling, cutting and hanging. Broomsticks would be placed to rest horizontally between the table and chairs so the freshly cut pasta could be hung to dry. The one thing I do remember enjoying, apart from eating the pasta, was making my own pasta shapes from left over scraps of dough, a sort of maltalgliati.
Last weekend, my friend Glenda and I organised a pasta making evening at my place. Neither of us are experts so we called in Glenda’s sister, Ursula and her man Fabio for a lesson in pasta making. I provided the ingredients and they provided the pasta roller and the know how. At one stage there were up to six people working on making the pasta for an exaggerated night of pasta feasting.
As well as this lasagne we made the obligatory tagliatelle al ragú which was enjoyed by all. I experimented with a squid ink stained ravioli suffed with artichoke and white fish, which turned out fantastically but the delicateness of the artichoke was lost. So back to the drawing board for that one.
A couple of weeks ago I had made this same lasagne from pasta made by one of the few remaining true artisan pasta makers here in Torino. They have been in the business since 1911 and if you take a look at the brother and sister team who run the operation, you would think that they have been in those premises, making pasta for most of that time. They really are a living treasure in this city and to enter their shop with the colours, textures and smells, is like taking a giant leap back in time. They have invited me to go back to take photos of them so as soon as I do I’ll post them here.
Using freshly made pasta is preferable here but not absolutely necessary. You can also use packet lasagne sheets and frozen artichoke hearts but if you do, don’t skimp on the good quality grating cheese like Grana Padano, Parmiggiano or a seasoned pecorino. Like any lasagne, it is layers of pasta with key ingredients sandwiched between them. In this case it’s obvioulsly artichokes but you can add other vegetables as you like.
Ingredients (serves 6)
8 sheets pasta 20cm x 10cm /7.9′ x 3.9′
8 large artichokes
100g/ 3.5 Oz grated grana padano or parmiggiano
1 small bunch of parsley or crispy sage (chopped)
1 litre / 2.2 pints bechamel sauce
salt and pepper
Prepare your bechamel sauce. once it is ready cover with a lid and set aside.
Once they are clean, place them into a pot of boiling salted water for 10 minutes.
Drain and cool.
Once they are cool, slice them thinly and set aside.
Some lasagne pasta does not need to be boiled before using so follow the instructions on the packet or if you have made your own pasta and rolled it thinly, it should be ok to use uncooked as it will cook while it bakes. In any case, if you are using uncooked pasta, make sure your bechamel sauce is quite runny as it will be absorbed by the pasta.
Lightly oil a baking dish. (I used a 20cm x 10cm x 10cm) baking dish for this recipe.
Begin by laying out one sheet on the bottom of the baking dish so that the entire bottom surface is covered.
Cover this generously with a runny bechamel sauce.
Sprinkle some of the cut artichokes evenly over the bechamel.
Season with salt and pepper.
Sprinkle a small handful of the grated cheese over the artichokes.
Sprinkle some of the chopped herbs over the cheese.
Create a second layer with more pasta.
Repeat the process of layering bechamel sauce, artichokes, seasoning, cheese and herbs until the ingredients run out. Gauge yourself after the first layer.
Sprinkle a very generous amount of cheese on the top and final layer
It wil take about 40 minutes to bake at 180 degrees. Check the lasagne at 25 minutes to ensure the top is not darkening too quickly.
When you remove the lasagne from the oven, allow it to rest for around 10 minutes so it can settle and set a little, which will make it easier to serve.