Pasta of the Week: Lagane
As promised, this week we will delve into the world of fresh pasta. There is nothing quite as gratifying as serving mouth-watering, home-made pasta to your friends and family. Join me in this adventure and, with practice, we will learn to make fresh pasta of all shapes and sizes along with sauces to complement each shape. Let’s get started.
Although it is a distant relative of lasagna, this week’s pasta, lagane (wide noodles), is a different animal altogether. Fresh Lagane is 3/4 – 1 inch wide, a bit wider than fettuccine but not as wide as lasagna. It is the perfect shape for absorbing flavors and wrapping around cannellini beans.
Signature elements of this Italian dish:
- Subtle broth based sauce
- Flat pasta that absorbs sauce and wraps around the beans
- Classic recipe from Campania region in southern Italy
For this recipe, I tried both durum wheat semolina and whole wheat for the Lagane. I actually preferred the whole wheat pasta because it had a nice nutty flavor. And it made me feel great for making such a healthy choice. There are so many variations for fresh pasta.
What exactly is Durum Wheat Semolina Flour?
Wheat has been around since agriculture began. It is cultivated for the grain (seed) and comes in many varieties. Common wheat, with which we are most familiar, is found in just about every wheat product out there: bread, baked goods, pancakes, cookies and so on. Durum wheat is another variety of wheat commonly used in Italian pastas. So my next question is, what is the difference between Durum wheat and Common wheat?
Stay with me here. First, we need some basic wheat anatomy. Because I am a visual learner, I need to see a diagram:
Each grain of wheat is made of 3 parts:
1. The outer covering of the grain is the bran (the fiber).
2. The germ is rich in protein and nutrients.
3. The endosperm is the inner core of mostly starch (sugars).
Common Wheat Flours:
Whole Wheat Flour = made with all three parts of the grain intact: the bran, germ and endosperm. This is the healthiest flour because it contains the fiber, the protein and B vitamins and minerals. It is a whole food.
White Flour = made with only the endosperm. The bran and germ are discarded, so white flour is bereft of nutrients. White flour is mostly sugar (carbs). It is basically like eating a Snickers bar sandwich.
Durum Wheat Semolina flour = used for Italian pasta and is a different variety of wheat than that used for breads and cakes. In this variety of wheat, the endosperm is called semolina. It is different from Common wheat endosperm because it has protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Even though the bran and germ are removed to make this flour, it is far more nutritious than white Common flour.
Making the pasta:
– 1 1/3 cup durum wheat semolina or 1 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
– 2 extra large eggs + 1 egg yolk (if dough is too dry)
(What to do with those left over egg whites? Use them for Flourless Chocolate Italian Cookies.)
Dump flour onto a wood board and make a large well in the center of the flour. Crack two eggs into the center and stir with a fork.
As you are gently beating the eggs, use the fork to gradually scoop the flour into the center from the inner part of the well. As you continue to incorporate the flour, the dough will get thicker and thicker. Once you have mixed in most of the flour and there is no danger of the egg running over the wood board, use your bench cutter to scoop up all the flour into one pile.
Now it is time to get your hands into the process. Gather up the dough in your hands and begin to knead to a uniform consistency. Using the palm of your hand, knead and fold the dough for about 5 minutes. Sprinkle with flour if the dough gets sticky. If the dough is too dry, add one egg yolk. After kneading for 5 minutes, it should be a soft, elastic dough.
If using the pasta machine:
Form dough into a ball, cover with plastic wrap and set aside for at least 30 minutes. (You can refrigerate it and use the next day, but let it reach room temperature before using.)
Rolling the dough on your pasta machine (an amazing invention!)
Unwrap dough and cut into four equal pieces. Keep the parts of the dough you are not using in the plastic wrap to keep them from drying out.
Flatten out the dough slightly to begin feeding the dough through the pasta machine. Follow the directions for your pasta machine, and keep rolling the dough through the pasta machine until it is on the thinnest setting (1/16 inch). It should be thin enough that you can see through to the wood board underneath. Repeat for the rest of the dough.
Drying the pasta
You can dry the pasta sheets on a pasta drying rack, but I like to hang them over the back of my kitchen chairs just like my Italian relatives used to do. Be sure to put a towel or cloth over the back of the chair first. Dry for 30 minutes. If your house is warm, the drying time might vary. You want to be able to roll up the sheets without them cracking. Note that the whole wheat pasta will take a bit longer to dry.
Cutting the pasta
Lay one of the pasta strips on a floured board. Roll the pasta sheet like you are rolling up a newspaper. Using a sharp knife, cut into 1/2 inch strips. Unroll and fluff the strips, sprinkling with flour as you go to keep the pieces from sticking. (Watch the second part of the video below for a visual of this step.)
Use right away or refrigerate in plastic wrap. Remember that when you cook fresh pasta, it gets bigger and thicker, so the 1/2 inch strips will grow to 3/4 – 1 inch after cooking. Thus, Lagane!
The art of making pasta is not rocket science, but it does take a great deal of practice. Be easy on yourself. I had to make every mistake in the book, but I am beginning to feel more confident with the process. Hang in there, keep practicing. It is so worth it!!
If you want to roll the dough by hand, watch this video:
The Rolling Pin
The rolling pin you see in the video is not your grandmother’s rolling pin. In Italian it is a mattarello and is perfectly suited for rolling pasta dough into large sheets. The dimensions are 32 ” in length by 1 1/2 inches in diameter and is made of hard wood. You can purchase one online or you can to what I did… go to a lumberyard and have them cut a dowel to these specifications. It works beautifully and is much less expensive.
Now that the fresh Lagane is made, it is time to start the rest of the recipe!
Fresh Lagane and Cannellini Beans
This is a combo platter of Durum wheat and Whole wheat.
– 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
– 1 clove of garlic, peeled and smashed to release aroma
– 4 fresh Roma tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and diced – (how to concasse)
– 5 – 6 sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
– 1 1/4 cup vegetable broth, either homemade or store-bought
– 2 – 15.5 oz cans cannellini beans
– 6 leaves of fresh basil, cut in ribbons or 2 teaspoons of dried basil
– 1/2 cup fresh Italian parsley, chopped
– 3/4 cup pecorino cheese, grated
1. In a large, heavy skillet (preferably cast iron), gently saute olive oil and whole garlic clove for 1 minute until fragrant.
6. Add the fresh Roma tomatoes and 1 teaspoon of salt. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring often.
7. Remove the garlic and add the whole beans, vegetable broth, and sun-dried tomatoes and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer gently for 5 minutes.
8. Meanwhile, cook fresh lagane in lightly salted boiling water and drain as soon they come to the surface, about 4 minutes. Drain pasta, add to the bean mixture, and stir gently for 1 -2 minutes while the pasta soaks up the sauce. Add the basil and stir.
9. Remove from heat. Spoon onto a serving platter. Top with chopped parsley and freshly grated percorino cheese.
Serve with a lovely winter salad: