Making fresh pasta is, I think, the most fun of all cooking tasks. I also really enjoy rolling out cookie dough and cutting shapes. And, strangely, I find using my cherry pitter and having the pits shoot out of each little fruit to be an entertaining thing to do. There are a lot of enjoyable cooking tasks coming to think of it, but still, making pasta is the best. It’s the simplest of doughs with just eggs, salt, and flour. It miraculously forms into a pliable and easily workable substance. You divide it into whatever portions you find manageable and begin rolling it thinner and thinner. It works. You keep rolling, it keeps becoming thinner and longer. Then, you cut it however you want, and cutting it is so simple. Kurt thought I might have been losing my sanity as I repeatedly asked him if he wanted to roll some of the pasta through the machine. I didn’t want to deprive him of the fun, but he didn’t seem to get it. He kept answering 'I’m good.' I’ve tried a few different pasta dough recipes over the years, and this was the second time I’ve made the fresh pasta recipe from Stir: Mixing It Up in the Italian Tradition. It’s a rich dough that forms well and is easily worked. The lasagnettes recipe is also found in that book.
The dough was rolled into long lasagna sheets which were cut down to about twelve-inch pieces for cooking. The cut sheets were boiled for about three minutes, transferred to ice water to stop the cooking, and then they were cut into three-inch rounds. I stored the scraps of pasta in a bag in the freezer for some future use in which the shape won’t matter. The cut pasta rounds were covered with a damp towel and refrigerated until the other parts of the dish were ready.
This is going to sound like a lot of work, but each step is easy and a lot of things can be prepared in advance if you prefer. Corn was cut from the cob, two cups of raw kernels were set aside, and the rest was roasted until browned in spots. Then, tomatoes were roasted with thyme and olive oil, and I cheated a little here. In the book, large tomatoes are suggested, and they are to be cut into quarters and seeded so that you are left with petal shapes. I used halved cherry tomatoes instead and didn’t seed them. Both of the roasted items could be prepped a day or two ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator. Returning to the raw corn kernels, they were cooked with butter and then milk was added. Once the kernels were tender, the corn and milk mixture was pureed in a blender and then strained. A bechamel was made by starting with a roux which was whisked into the strained corn puree. One more element was needed, and that was toasted panko crumbs which were tossed with freshly grated parmigiano. Then, assembly began. Pasta rounds were set on a baking sheet, each was topped with some bechamel, then some roasted corn and roasted tomatoes, then another pasta round, more bechamel, more roasted corn, some of the bread crumb mixture, and then another layer was added. A dribble of water was added to the baking sheet, the stacked lasagnettes were covered with oiled parchment, and the sheet pan was placed in the oven for fifteen minutes. Meanwhile, a simple butter sauce was made by whisking a little butter at a time into warm water in a saucepan over low heat.
To serve, the butter sauce was placed on the plate, a lasagnette was set into the puddle of sauce, and it was garnished with fresh basil. It was all a little fussy, and there were several steps to this preparation, but you can actually build the mini, stacked lasagnas and keep them refrigerated for a full day before heating and serving which makes this a good idea for a dinner party. The stacked towers hold their shape well as the bechamel is thick enough not to ooze out and cause the upper levels to slide. It’s also a ridiculously delicious bechamel with the fresh corn puree. That being said, now that I’ve learned the process for making stable, little, lasagna towers, I’m thinking of other seasonal ingredients to use later in the year. Roasted butternut squash rounds with a parmigiano bechamel comes to mind. Whatever filling you choose, you should try these, and definitely enjoy the opportunity to make your own fresh pasta.