Sunday, December 13, 2009

Swiss Chard and Italian Sausage Lasagna

I've gotten a number of comments from readers that they would like to see come recipes posted.  While I want to continue the quicker "journaling" aspect of the blog, I've decided that certain recipes merit further attention and modification, and that readers might like things broken down in a bit more detail.

So I'm starting with this Swiss Chard Lasagna, or Christmas Lasagna for short since my version is red, green and white.  The red color comes from the Red Swiss Chard stems, not tomato sauce, and the green comes from the leaves.  White is the color of the bechamel and fontina cheese, which makes this taste luxurious and addictive.  It's based on a Martha Stewart recipe, which can be found in its original form here.

Let's get the noodle discussion out of the way before we dive into the recipe.  Fresh is best.  No surprise there, but it takes some time and equipment to go this way.  We have a pasta roller attachment to our stand mixer which makes relatively quick work and nice-looking noodles.  Alternatives that can be found in the store are standard dried pasta and the no-boil kind.  The standard kind can be a pain to boil - requiring a large pot and longer cook time, but no dough prep time.  It yields a thicker, softer noodle.  The no-boil kind are super easy - you just layer the dry noodles right into the lasagna pan, but I can't guarantee results in this recipe without testing.  These noodles soak up moisture from the sauce, so the recipe that follows would need to be adjusted to add more bechamel or you risk a dry lasagna.  in general they are thinner and have a little bite, which is okay, but still not the same as fresh.  My inclination is to use these with tomato-based sauces where adding extra sauce tastes good and won't make the dish too rich.

The basic pasta recipe we use is derived from a Chez Panisse cookbook:  Mix 3 cups flour, 2 eggs, 1/2 tsp salt, and 1/3 cup water in a large bowl.  This will not be enough water, so you will need to add just enough to get the dough to stick together.  This is a dry, dense, "strong" dough that is probably very unlike other types of dough.  Moisture content is a key parameter, and according to Emily should be the consistency of dry playdough.  You want smooth and firm dough - not tacky or something that would stick to the rollers of the pasta machine.  One or two tries using the pasta machine and you will get it - the rollers can work wonders.  Knead the dough by hand for 15 minutes - it will be too strong for the stand mixer.  Cover the dough ball with plastic wrap and let sit for 45 minutes.  Then cut it into 8 equal portions and roll out in the pasta machine.  We used number 5 thickness on the pasta machine. These noodles boil up in 2 minutes.

Red chard should look beautiful in the store when it's in season late autumn.  The red stalks are bright and the greens are deep and crisp.  This is a good hearty fall recipe.

Swiss Chard and Italian Sausage Lasagna (Christmas Lasagna)
Adapted from Martha Stewart Living, October 2008
Serves 8

Chard and Sausage Filling:
1 tablespoon oil
1 pound sweet Italian sausage, casings removed, meat crumbled into small pieces
3 shallots, peeled and diced
2 pounds Red Swiss chard (two big bunches)
3 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced crosswise
1 lemon's zest
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice from the lemon
1.5 teaspoons kosher salt

Bechamel Sauce:
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 onion, 1/4-inch dice
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon red-pepper flakes
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
4 1/2 cups 2% milk

Fresh Lasagna Noodles
5 ounces fontina cheese, finely grated

1. Prep your filling ingredients.  Separate the chard leaves from the stems by running a sharp knife along both sides of the stem.  Rinse the stems, discard the ends, and then thinly slice cross-wise in two batches.  Run the leaves through a salad spinner, grab them all together and chop roughly crosswise into 1/4" strips.  Prep the shallots, garlic and lemon zest.

2. Heat oil in a large regular saute pan.  Remove casings from sausage and cook on medium high heat, breaking up sausage into smaller and smaller pieces until well browned and cooked through, 6-7 minutes.  Transfer to paper-towel lined plate.

3. Immediately add chard stems and shallots.  As they release their water, scrape the pan with a wooden spoon to incorporate pan juices and fond into the chard.  Cook until soft, 6-8 minutes.  Add leaves and cook, stirring so the leaves wilt evenly, 1-2 minutes.  Add garlic, lemon zest, and salt and stir.  Cook another 3 minutes until wilted and turn off heat.   Stir in lemon juice and transfer to a colander to drain.

4. Preheat the oven to 400.  Make the bechamel.  Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, salt, and red-pepper flakes and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are slightly translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in flour and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Whisk in milk, a little at a time, until incorporated. Bring to a boil, stirring often, then reduce heat to low. Simmer, stirring gently and often, until thickened and creamy, about 10 minutes. While bechamel is cooking, start a pot of water to cook the fresh noodles.  Remove from heat.

5. Get out a 9x13 baking dish and cover the bottom with a layer of bechamel sauce.  Cut your pasta noodles to size and cook.  With fresh pasta you can work in batches by layer - they only need to boil for 2 minutes and drain for a few seconds.  Start the layering with a noodle.  Then cover with 1/3 the chard and 1/3 the sausage and some bechamel sauce.  See the amount we used in the pictures above - this amount tasted just right to us - you won't use all the sauce.  Repeat until you use all your ingredients.  Top with a noodle, then bechamel, and then grated fontina.  Don't skip the bechamel on top as it keeps the noodle soft.  I have seen others that like to put cheese in the layers - stay away from this - the top really works the best.

6. Bake until cheese is golden brown and sauce is bubbling, 30 to 35 minutes. Let cool slightly before serving.

Serve with a vinegary salad on the side.


  1. Looks amazing, as usual. Favorite part is definitely the pasta hanging on the laundry rack.

    Request: A good red beans and rice recipe.

  2. I have a Paul Prudhomme recipe in the wings for the red beans and rice. I'll get to work on it.