Sunday, October 26, 2008

Wild Mushroom Lasagna

In a recent post I mentioned a wild mushroom lasagna I made a couple of years ago, a particularly memorable dish. Since I had a chunk of hen-of-the-woods and a bit of tooth mushroom to use up, I thought I'd try to recreate it. I made the original with hens, tooth, and a good amount of giant puffball, and it was sublime. This one wasn't as transcendent, but it was still very good. Worth making, and it will feed a crowd.

The usual way of making lasagna is to add the tomato sauce in layers with the bechamel, pasta, and cheese, and you can do that with this recipe if you like, but I prefer to leave it out in making the lasagna, then sauce each portion on the plate. If you want to add the sauce in with the other ingredients, you should double the sauce recipe I've given below.

I realize that wild mushrooms can be difficult to find and expensive to buy, and frankly, I wouldn't spend a lot of money on mushrooms to put in a dish like this. You can certainly substitute cultivated mushrooms for part or all. It will be best with a flavorful variety of fungi like shiitake, oyster, cremini, etc., rather than just, say, all button mushrooms (but even that would be pretty tasty...). Asian markets are often a good source for interesting and inexpensive mushrooms like oysters and shiitake.

Wild Mushroom Lasagna
serves eight

1 pound wild mushrooms (such as hen-of-the-woods, oyster mushrooms, sulfur shelf, puffballs, tooth mushrooms, etc.), chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
1 medium onion, chopped
2 large cloves garlic, chopped fine
3 Tbsp unsalted butter or olive oil
2 Tbsp dry white wine or dry vermouth
2 Tbsp flour
1 1/2 cups unsalted chicken stock
2 cups whole milk
1/8 tsp pimente d'espelette or cayenne pepper
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley

12 ounces dried lasagna
8 ounces gruyere cheese, grated (or another nice melting cheese that you like)
4 ounces pecorino romano, grated (or another hard, fragrant cheese, parmesan, asiago, etc.)

In a large saucepan heat 2 Tbsp of the butter or olive oil. Add the mushrooms and onion, and cook over medium heat until the mushrooms begin to give off some liquid. Turn the heat to low, cover, and cook for five minutes. Remove the lid, add the garlic and a good pinch of salt, and continue cooking until the mushrooms are lightly browned and tender. (Some wild mushrooms, notably those hen-of-the-woods, will remain a bit al dente even after quite a bit of cooking.)

Add the white wine or vermouth, and scrape with the wooden spatula to deglaze the pan. Add the last Tbsp of butter or oil to the pan, and sprinkle the flour over everything. Stir with a wooden spatula for about a minute. Now begin adding the stock, just a little at first, stirring constantly. As the liquid thickens, add the rest of the stock, then slowly add the milk, stirring as you do. Add the espelette pepper (available in gourmet shops and worth seeking out) or cayenne, a couple sprigs of fresh thyme or a pinch of dried (dried thyme is about the only dry herb I use).

Simmer the mixture gently for about ten minutes, till it has thickened to a gravy-like consistency. Turn off the heat and stir in a handful of chopped fresh parsley. That's your mushroom bechamel.

At this point you can let it cool and refrigerate for a couple of days, or freeze it for...however long you need to, I guess. (I've never really understood recipe directions that say you can freeze something for, say, a month. I mean, it's frozen; as long as it stays frozen, what's going to happen to it? On day 32 does it suddenly go bad...?)

To make the lasagna: Preheat your oven to 375 F. Cook the noodles according to the directions on the package. Get out your 9" X 13" pan and spread a little of the bechamel in the bottom. Lay a layer of noodles over that. Cover that with one third of the remaining bechamel, and one third of each of the cheeses. Lay down more noodles, half of the remaining bechamel, half of the cheese that's left. The last of the noodles, bechamel, and cheese. Voila.

Bake for 40 minutes, till the top is brown and all is bubbly and aromatic. I like to serve this with a simple fresh tomato sauce, like this (this will sauce four portions):

1 1/2 pounds fresh ripe tomatoes (if all you've got is styrofoam winter supermarket tomatoes, you're better off using canned--or, maybe you've got some delicious
tomato gratin in your freezer! That would do nicely.)
1/2 medium onion, chopped
large clove garlic, chopped
1 1/2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp red wine
1/2 tsp red wine vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
fresh herbs to taste--basil, thyme and parsley my choice

Peel, seed and chop the tomatoes. Heat the olive oil in a skillet and add the onion. Cook over medium heat for a couple of minutes, then add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds more. Add the tomatoes, red wine, vinegar and a bit of salt. Simmer for 10 minutes. Taste for seasoning, add herbs if you like. Spoon over lasagna hot from the oven.

Tutti a tavola, a mangiare! (With apologies to Lydia B.!)

Text and photos copyright 2008 by Brett Laidlaw

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