I thought it would be fun to celebrate my boyfriend Ben’s birthday with a special dinner inspired by a few of my favorite Seattle restaurants. I lived in Seattle for many years, and that is where I would safely say my passion for food blossomed. There are so many fabulous restaurants in Seattle, that when Ben and I visited there in September with only 24 hours to see all the sights, I only got to introduce him to a sampling of some of my favorites. I narrowed down the birthday dinner menu to the Panzanella Salad from Hale’s Ales Brewery and Pub in Fremont, and the Lasagna Pink Door, from none other than the famous Pink Door restaurant on Post Alley at Pike’s Market. Dessert was inspired by a cheesecake I had once savored at Ray’s Cafe, with a few twists of my own.
This dinner was a bit of an undertaking, as there is no recipe for the Lasagna Pink Door. In fact chef and owner Jacquelina Di Roberto La Padrona is so secretive about how her signature dish is made she says when asked, “Even Bill Gates has asked for it and I won’t give it to him!” I have had the dish enough times that I felt I could probably deconstruct it – or at least get the gist of it. I even dragged my friend and Chef Marcia Newlands of The Savory Gourmet to lunch one day in an attempt to put her taste buds to work to help me figure out how it was made. The Lasagna Pink Door is no ordinary lasagna. It features fresh, paper thin layers of spinach pasta with bechamel and pesto and topped with a marinara sauce.
making fresh spinach pasta
I had never made fresh pasta before, but I had seen it done on Food TV, and it didn’t seem all that hard. The only gadget I was missing was a pasta rolling machine of some sort. What did the Italians do before Cuisinart? A rolling pin would have to do.
Making the dough was great. I was worried that adding runny eggs to a pile of flour on my counter top was going to result in an hour of disinfecting my kitchen, but I was pleasantly surprised when the flour formed a bowl for me to whisk the eggs in. I mixed the dough and added the cooked spinach that I had chopped fine after it had cooled. So far so good. I incorporated the spinach, flour and eggs together with my hands and formed a ball. Proceed to knead.
Rolling the pasta dough
Adding lots of flour to the counter, I whipped out my rolling pin and set to work. It stuck. I mean REALLY stuck to the counter. Do over. I pulled it all up, added more flour and rolled. Not exactly the shape I was going for (these are lasagna noodles I’m shooting for here) but it was working. Rolling the dough too thin made it difficult to lift off the counter, so I rolled it about 1/8″ thick and cut the strips right on the counter. The spinach added moisture that caused the pasta to tear, and I was concerned it wasn’t thin enough. The beauty of the Pink Door version is that the layers (about 7 of them) are paper thin.
I then set out to make the pesto and ricotta infused bechamel sauce. I have been making bechamel since I was a kid. It’s the key ingredient in my mom’s mac and cheese recipe. I always
Pesto Ricotta Bechamel Sauce
enjoy variations on a theme, so adding pesto was not difficult to conceive. But how much should I add? Always start with a little and add more. In the end, it was about 3 cups of bechamel sauce with about 1/4 cup of pesto and 1/2 cup of ricotta cheese added. Green, but not too green. And cheesy, but not too cheesy. Rich.
Let the layering begin! I started with a layer of bechamel, then a noodle, then fresh baby spinach, then bechamel, and topped that with another noodle. I made 3 layers, topping the whole thing off with a spicy marinara sauce and a little mozzarella cheese, although I don’t think the Pink Door does that. Now into the oven, covered at 375 for 35 minutes.
I was not entirely convinced that this dinner was going to hold up, taste good, or be worthy of my boyfriend’s birthday celebration. So I hedged my bets and made ANOTHER lasagna using the remaining bechamel sauce and spinach basil lasagna noodles from Rossi Pasta. Not only is this some of the best pasta I’ve ever had, these noodles do not need to be boiled before use! Just layer them in, add the water to your lasagna, and cover tightly. A just in case dish delish, and if nothing else, lunch for tomorrow.
Next came the Panzanella salad from Hale’s Brewery. I LOVE this salad. It consists of field greens, grilled Columbia Bread, Fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, kalamata olives, tossed in their house balsamic vinaigrette. It’s so simple, and so delicious. So where was the challenge? Well first of all, I live on an island off the coast of Maine, so finding fresh ingredients is ALWAYS a challenge. Fresh Buffalo mozzarella is a key
ingredient, so 4 stores and 25 miles later, I had some. Hale’s ace in the hole… It’s their vinaigrette. If anyone knows the recipe to their house balsamic vinaigrette, oh-do-tell.
Desert was Chocolate Espresso Cheesecake. I remembered having something very similar at Ray’s Cafe at Shilshole and went searching for a recipe online. I stumbled upon the Barefoot Contessa’s recipe and gave it a shot. It wasn’t too difficult with my KitchenAid Artisan mixer at my side. The mistakes? Well, I didn’t know I needed to cook the cheesecake in a ban Marie (a water bath) and so the cake was very dense and cracked horribly. I made the ganache topping and used it to fill in the cracks. The other mistake? I substituted Sanka instant coffee for the instant espresso the recipe called for. It had the flavor, but I think next time I’ll just brew up some really strong espresso and use that instead. All in all, with a little raspberry sauce, the cake was a hit.
Lasagna Pink Door Deconstructed
So how did dinner turn out? Salad was great. Lasagna was so-so. the noodles tasted amazing, however, as suspected, they were a little too thick. And a little more bechamel and marinara would have been nice, sans mozzarella. I asked my friend John Rossi, founder of Rossi Pasta for some tips. “Bread flour. And get yourself a pasta roller.” Practice makes perfect so this will not be my only stab at this dish, or making pasta from scratch. As my best friend Josie quipped after the first bite, “You’re on to somethin’ here.”
Ben felice compleanno!
— Gal Foodie
Lasagna Pink Door Deconstructed
Spinach Pasta Dough
1 1/2 Cups bread flour
2 large eggs
1/2lb fresh spinach or 1/2 (10oz) pkg of frozen spinach thawed and well drained.
Cook the spinach and drain it thoroughly. Squeeze out any excess liquid (VERY important.)
Chop it very fine. Pour the floour ont your work surface and shape it into a mound with a deep hollow in the center. Break eggs into the hollow, add spinach and whisk together.
Slowly incoporate the flour into the egg/spinach mixture until a nice dough is formed. Knead by hand or by machine (I used my hands but maybe my mixer next time) until smooth as baby skin. Cut pasta into desired shape.
Pesto & Ricotta Bechamel Sauce
3 tbsp Butter
2 tbsp flour
3 cups heavy cream, milk or 1/2 & 1/2 depending on your diary preference
1/2 cup ricotta
1/4 tsp nutmeg
salt & pepper
Over medium heat, melt the butter and whisk in the flour until completely incorporated. Add nutmeg and cream, stirring over high heat until thickened. Add ricotta and pesto. If sauce becomes too thick, thin with milk.
Layer the lasgana as follows – I used 2-12 ounce casserole dishes to mimic the Pink Door presentation. I had just enough dough to make 3 layers in each. Start with bechamel, then add a noodle, then a layer of fresh baby spinach, and top that with more bechamel and another noodle. Completely cover the entire top layer with marinara and bake covered at 375 degrees for 30 minutes. It should be bubbling.