Simply the Best: Using your noodle pays off

Kate Lawson

Save for an occasional casual dinner party, lasagna is not one of those dishes I make very often. When the kids were younger, it was part of my repertoire, as everyone loved it and I could make it in advance and then go off to a field hockey or soccer game knowing dinner was ready when we got home. Now, with just two of us, a pan of lasagna can wreak havoc on the diet as we eat it for days then spend days trying to work it off. Somehow my big plan to freeze half of it never quite materializes and lasagna becomes our version of a holiday ham — that never seems to go away.

So I knew what I was getting into when I planned this white mushroom version of lasagna made with a creamy bechamel spiked with Marsala. When I spied fresh, sliced mushrooms that just happened to be marked down in the produce aisle, I took it as a sign that I needed to make this lasagna, company or no. I grabbed several cartons of the mushrooms and promised myself that I was going to freeze half the dish.

Making lasagna on a crisp Saturday afternoon is not such a difficult task. The wind was blowing the leaves about at a fierce clip so I knew raking would be futile and didn’t feel guilty about not working in the yard. Besides, the Michigan-Michigan State matchup was on to keep me company. So I set to work grating, chopping, whisking and layering.

The result was a unctuous, creamy dish studded with mushrooms and the thyme, Marsala and cheese melding perfectly in every bite. I also broke my rule about never using no-boil lasagna noodles and was pleasantly surprised at how great they baked up. (Skipping the boiling noodles step sure saves time). It was elegant enough for company, but then I wouldn’t have been able to freeze half. Which I did. I think I’ve finally learned to use my noodle.

Mushroom Lasagna with Bechamel

Recipe adapted from Williams-Sonoma.

2 pounds fresh mushrooms, (can use a combination of cremini and button)

1 package dried mixed wild mushrooms

4 tablespoons fresh thyme (about 1 bunch)

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon butter

3 large shallots, minced

½ cup Marsala wine

3 tablespoons flour

1 cup whole milk

1 cup half-and-half

2 cups fresh ricotta cheese

2 eggs

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

8 ounces grated white cheddar or Fontina cheese

No-boil pasta sheets or fresh lasagna, enough for 4 layers

8 ounces grated Gruyere cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Wipe mushrooms clean, trim stems and thickly slice. Reconstitute dried mushrooms in cup boiling water, let soak for 30 minutes, then drain and rinse, squeeze dry and roughly chop. Set aside.

Heat a large saute pan on medium high heat (do not add oil or butter) and saute the mushrooms, and about half of the fresh thyme leaves, in batches, stirring constantly until they have begun to lose their moisture and are nice and fragrant and browned. The mushrooms will pop and sizzle, so do them in batches so as not to crowd the pan. Put the mushrooms aside on a plate, and finally add the reconstituted dried mushrooms for just a minute or so. Set aside.

In the same pan, heat the olive oil and butter and saute the shallots for a few minutes. Add the Marsala and let it simmer for a minute, scraping the bottom of the pan. When the liquid has reduced, sprinkle the flour over the shallots and stir to combine. Stir for another minute. Combine the milk and half-and-half and add it to the pan in a stream, stirring constantly. Whisk to combine everything well, and then cook until the sauce thickens. Do not let mixture boil. Turn off the heat and add the grated cheddar cheese. Sprinkle the Parmesan cheese in and stir to melt it, too. If the sauce seems too thick, add a little more milk. Taste it and season with salt and pepper as necessary.

Whisk together the ricotta and the two eggs. Set aside.

Layer lasagna: Spoon a little of the sauce across the bottom of a 9-by-13 casserole. Lay down a layer of pasta. Scatter 1/3 of the mushrooms across the top. Then 1/3 of the ricotta cheese, then ¼ of the sauce.

Add another layer of pasta, and repeat. When you get to the top layer of pasta, you will be adding the remaining sauce. Spread evenly over the entire top. Then add the Gruyere cheese evenly sprinkled over the sauce. Cover loosely with foil that’s been sprayed with oil so that the cheese doesn’t stick, and bake for about 40 minutes, or until everything is bubbling and hot throughout. If you want some color, slide it under the broiler for a minute. Scatter the remaining fresh thyme over the top and serve. Serves 8.

Per serving: 687 calories; 40 g fat (22 g saturated fat; 54 percent calories from fat); 47 g carbohydrates; 7 g sugar; 168 mg cholesterol; 480 mg sodium; 38 g protein; 2 g fiber.