From the jaws of disaster, a victory is snatched.
A funny thing happened on the way to a lasagna.
I managed to bring back a couple of porcini mushrooms from Rome. September and October are porcini season, so the markets had crates of huge porcinis. A couple are all you need for a dish, but one didn't quite make the trip intact, and when faced with a sauté pan, the other shrank into more normal mushroom size.
Dried porcinis raced to the rescue, after a quick soak in hot water. Hurdle number one seemed to be solved, at least if I could content myself with only one layer of mushrooms.
I considered a layer of spinach, but no spinach presented itself in my veggie bin, nor in my freezer. (Note to self: a block of frozen spinach is a good thing to keep on hand.)
So this would be a height challenged lasagna. Politically correct and all that.
But then my lasagna noodles were stuck together in the middle when I poured off the cooking water. One big mass of pasta, with floppy sides. (Lasagna noodles are wider and shorter here, about 4 by 6 inches, and not ruffled on the edges.) Now, I don't normally cook my lasagna sheets; I just add more water to the tomato sauce. But this was to be a white sauce lasagna, so I thought it best to cook the lasagna first.
In trying to pull the sheets apart, I ended up with pieces of lasagna. I layered the bigger pieces on the bottom, then pieced together more bits until I had covered the whole thing more or less.
The only thing that worked properly was the bechamel. All hail bechamel!
Surprisingly, for such a problem-prone dish, the result was pretty good. I'd definitely make it again, next time with cremini or portobello mushrooms if porcini aren't in season. Although, the porcini really were good in this. Try to find them if you can. (They're also known as ceps in France.)
If you try this at home, your mileage may vary. Which may be a good thing.
Wild Mushroom Lasagna
5 small shallots, chopped
2 large porcini mushrooms, or 1 large plus a 1/2 cup dried and reconstituted porcinis
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
3 cloves garlic
9 sheets lasagna (depending on the size of the sheets, and how big your dish is.)
2 ½ tablespoons margarine
2 ½ tablespoons flour
2 cups soy milk
pinch of nutmeg
pinch of salt
1/4 cup vegan parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon margarine or olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup breadcrumbs
1 tablespoon chopped parsley (optional)
2 tablespoons minced basil or Greek basil leaves, for garnish
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Add the shallots and porcini; sprinkle with the dried thyme. Sauté over high heat until porcini are golden brown. Add garlic and sauté briefly. Remove from heat. (If using dried porcini, add them with the garlic and sauté until they are dried and heated through.)
Meanwhile, cook the lasagna noodles in salted boiling water according to package directions. Try not to let them stick together.
Also meanwhile, make the bechamel: Melt the margarine in a saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour until it's smooth. Slowly pour the milk (it's a good idea to bring it to room temperature first), whisking all the while. Drop in a pinch of nutmeg and salt. Stir in the vegan parmesan. Continue to stir for around 7 minutes, or until the sauce thickens.
In a medium-sized casserole dish, pour a thin layer of bechamel sauce, enough to cover the bottom. Add a layer of lasagna sheets, or pieces if that's the case.
Cover the lasagna layer with the mushroom mixture. Pour half the remaining bechamel over the mushrooms, and add another layer of lasagna. (You may also make another mushroom/bechamel layer, if you've planned properly and have enough mushrooms.)
Pour the remaining bechamel over the lasagna. Cover with aluminum foil and place in a preheated 350F/180C oven.
Make the breadcrumb topping:
Melt the margarine or olive oil in a small saucepan. Add the garlic, and then the breadcrumbs. Stir a couple of minutes over medium heat until the breadcrumbs turn golden brown. Stir in the parsley and remove from heat.
When the lasagna has been baking for 20 minutes, add the crumb topping and remove the aluminum foil from the top. Bake another 10-15 minutes, or until the crumb topping starts to brown.
Let cool for 5-10 minutes if you can wait that long, then cut into squares.
Serve with Tomato Confit on the side or across the top. Sprinkle with basil leaves.
1/4 cup olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
4 or 5 fresh tomatoes, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons fresh basil, minced, or 2 teaspoons dried
(You can use the same skillet you made the mushroom mixture in.)
Heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add onions and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add tomatoes and garlic. Continue to cook while the lasagna bakes, about 20 more minutes. Serve on top or on the side of the lasagna.
Note: You can also slow roast the tomatoes in a 200 degree oven for an hour or two, but I was in a hurry.