To celebrate a year of your reading and possibly eating (if you made any of the recipes on Blog Appetit) my words, I thought I would post this recipe for a wonderfully complex and delicious pasta dish. Watch later today for my recap of my first year as a blogger.
Pesto Mushroom Lasagna
About 8 to 10 servings
This lasagna which was inspired by a trip to the farmer’s market and a long conversation with the man who grew the mushrooms about which varieties could stand up to the dish’s intense flavors and play off the creaminess. He recommended shitake and matsuke and I do, too. However, when I went to make it again, I was shopping in a supermarket so my mushroom choice was more limited. I used half fresh shitake and half cremini (brown, button-like) mushrooms. You could use all cremini if fresh shitake aren’t available or half brown and half white mushrooms. Experiment with the mushrooms available to you, but try not to use all white mushrooms.
This dish has lots of layers of flavors, with the acid in the tomatoes mellowed by the dairy and complimenting the rich pesto. The mushrooms add an earthy, meaty texture and flavor. It is worth the effort (and the dirty pots). It makes an impressive company dish but is a great family dinner, too, with lots of leftovers. (And of course, like most lasagnas it can be assembled, covered and refrigerated for a few hours before baking or even baked ahead of time. Adjust baking or reheating times accordingly.)
8 ounces whole wheat or regular lasagna noodles (do not use no-boil noodles)
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons of olive oil
Medium onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 medium carrots, finely diced
1/8 teaspoon dried ground thyme
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes or dash of dried ground cayenne pepper
¼ teaspoon dried ground oregano
16 ounces mixed mushrooms (see note above), stemmed and sliced into approximately ¼ thick slices
28 ounce can of crushed or chopped tomatoes with juice
1 pound of spinach or chard, cut into bite site pieces (optional)
Salt and pepper
1 teaspoon sugar (optional)
32 ounce carton ricotta (full, part skim, low fat or non-fat)
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
Dash salt and pepper
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup milk (non fat, low fat or whole)
8 ounces prepared pesto sauce
26 ounces of prepared tomato sauce or marina-style spaghetti sauce, divided
Prepared mushroom filling
Prepared ricotta filling
6 ounces grated fresh mozzarella cheese (whole or reduced fat), divided
Prepared pesto filling
Preheat oven to 400ºF
In a large pot, begin boiling water for lasagna noodles. Prepare according to package directions. When finished, drain, rinse, toss in tablespoon of oil and set aside.
While the noodles are cooking, begin preparing mushroom filling. Add the two tablespoons of oil to a 12” fry or sauté pan on a medium high heat. When oil is hot, add onions and sauté for a minute or two until beginning to soften. Add garlic, sauté until garlic is just beginning to brown. Add in thyme, red pepper flakes and oregano. Stir to release flavors. Add carrots and mushrooms and sauté until the mushroom slices have begun to soften. Add tomatoes with the juices from the can. Stir well. Bring mixture to a simmer (add the optional greens if using) and let cook, stirring occasionally until the mushrooms are softened and the flavors melded. At that point, taste the sauce and add salt and pepper to taste. The sauce should have a more acidic taste than sweet to balance the richness of the dairy, but if the taste is too acidic, stir in the optional sugar. Set aside.
While the sauce is cooking, make the ricotta filling. Mix the ricotta, eggs, nutmeg, salt and pepper in a bowl until well combined. Set aside.
For the pesto sauce, melt the butter over a medium low heat in a sauce pan, add in the flour and stir constantly until the mixture is well combined and forms a paste. Be careful not to brown the butter or the butter-flour mixture. Add in the milk, stirring constantly to incorporate the flour-butter paste and being careful not to bring the mixture to a full boil. Keep stirring and cook until the mixture has thickened and will coat a spoon without running off. It should be the consistency of a medium thick sauce. Take off the heat and add in the prepared pesto sauce. Mix well, set aside.
To assemble the lasagna, spread a half cup of the prepared tomato or spaghetti sauce on the bottom of a baking pan (approximately 9-10 inches by 12-14 inches). Place a layer of lasagna noodles to cover the bottom of the pan. Cover with the mushroom filling. Spread half of the ricotta filling over it. Sprinkle with one third of the shredded mozzarella cheese. Top with another layer of lasagna noodles. Spread pesto mixture on top of that, then the remaining ricotta filling. Sprinkle with another third of the shredded mozzarella. Top with another layer of noodles. Spread with the remaining tomato or spaghetti sauce. Sprinkle with remaining mozzarella.
Place in oven and bake for 30-35 minutes or until heated through and cheese is melted.