Sunday, January 24, 2010

Mushroom Lasagna

I am a member of a wonderful book club group called “Readers Under the Influence.” We meet 12 times a year and each person takes a turn hosting the meeting, picking the book we’ll read and serving dinner, and in our honor of our moniker, some libations! We have some fun traditions including a summer gathering where we all bring a dish from a cookbook we like. It’s completely random and always delicious!

I hosted January’s meeting and picked a short book (The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway) and a long recipe—Mushroom Lasagna, which I adapted from Cooks Illustrated. Don’t let the length of the recipe intimidate you though as it is worth the work—it's decadent and the flavors are so intense it’s mouth-wateringly good. What makes the lasagna a standout are two things: roasted mushrooms and Fontina cheese (plus, I used fresh noodles from a local store).

This makes a great party dish. The presentation is beautiful and it feeds a small army! I made a batch and a half to feed 10 of us (plus Jeff), and there was enough left over for another meal for two and a lunch. I served the lasagna with a light salad of butter lettuce, chopped artichoke hearts, roasted pine nuts and Gerard’s Champagne Vinaigrette (not pictured here as I had to take the photos after the meeting and there was no salad left). The meal was a big hit, and we had a great evening discussing Hemingway’s Pulitzer Prize winning classic tale.
Mushroom Lasagna

Serves 8
4 oz. dried Porcini mushrooms, dehydrated in one cup boiling water
2 lbs. Portobello mushroom caps (about 10 medium), cut into 2- to 3-inch by 1/4-inch slices
4 tbls. olive oil
1 large red onion, chopped medium
8 oz. brown mushrooms, chopped into rough pieces
4  cloves garlic, minced or pressed through garlic press
3  tbl. unsalted butter, plus additional for greasing pan
3  tbl. all-purpose flour
3½ cups milk 
¼ tsp. nutmeg
¼ cup fresh parsley, minced
¼ cup fresh basil leaves, minced
 8 oz. Fontina cheese, shredded
1 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
12 lasagna noodles (packaged or fresh)

Poor 1 cup boiling water over Porcinis, cover and let stand for 15 minutes. Lift mushrooms from liquid with fork and roughly chopped. Strain liquid through fine-mesh strainer lined with paper towel into medium bowl. Set mushrooms and liquid aside.

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees. Line two rimmed baking sheets with aluminum foil and spray with nonstick cooking spray. Spread Portobello mushrooms in even layer and drizzle with 2 tbls. olive oil, tossing to coat mushrooms evenly; sprinkle with ½ tsp. salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and toss again. Roast mushrooms 20 minutes, stirring halfway through cooking time. Set mushrooms aside to cool.

While the Portobello’s roast, heat 1 tablespoon oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add onions, ¼ tsp. salt, and ¼ tsp. pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are browned around edges, about 10 minutes. Transfer onions to large bowl and set aside.

Process brown mushrooms in food processor until coarsely chopped. Heat remaining 1 tbls. oil in now-empty skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add chopped mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned and all moisture has evaporated, 6 to 8 minutes.

Reduce heat to medium and stir in porcini mushrooms, 1 tbls. garlic,1 tsp. salt, and 1 tsp. pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, until garlic is fragrant, about 1 minute. Add butter and cook until melted. Add flour and cook, stirring constantly, about 1 minute. Slowly add reserved porcini soaking liquid, scraping pan bottom to loosen browned bits. Add milk and nutmeg. Increase heat to medium-high and bring mixture to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until sauce has thickened and reached consistency of heavy cream, about 15 minutes (about 4 cups). Remove from heat and stir in ¼ cup parsley and ¼ cup basil.

Cook lasagna noodles per package instructions until el dente. Drain and toss them in 1 tbls. of olive oil to prevent them from sticking together. Combine Fontina and Parmesan in medium bowl. Toss cooled Portobello mushrooms with onions in large bowl.

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Coat bottom of 9x12 baking dish with butter. Using rubber spatula, evenly distribute 1 cup mushroom sauce in bottom of baking dish; position 3 noodles on top of sauce. Spread 3/4 cup sauce evenly over noodles followed by 1 cup mushroom-onion mixture and 3/4 cup cheese. Repeat layering of noodles, sauce, mushroom-onion mixture, and cheese two more times. Place 3 remaining noodles on top of last layer of cheese. Spread remaining sauce over noodles and sprinkle with remaining cheese. Lightly spray large sheet of foil with nonstick cooking spray and cover lasagna. Bake until bubbling, about 45 minutes. Cool 10 minutes, then cut into pieces and serve.

Tips and Tidbits
This is a somewhat labor intensive dish, taking a solid 90 minutes to prep and assemble. But there are some “sous chefy” things you can do the day before: Shred the cheese; cut up the onion, garlic and parsley; and make the mushroom sauce. When you get ready to assemble the dish, slowly heat up the mushroom sauce (it doesn’t need to be boiling, but it should be warm).

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