February 20, 2009
Mushrooms for the masses


It wasn't so long ago that when a recipe called for mushrooms, it meant those white button ones that could be purchased sliced or whole at the grocery store. Now, with growing interest in the hundreds of edible varieties out there, and busy foragers (sometimes former loggers whose livelihood now depends on trees remaining standing), many mainstream grocery stores are offering an increasing variety of the formidable fungi.

In homage to this welcome trend, I made a wild mushroom lasagne for dinner last night. It was a combination of cheesy goodness and melding flavors from the chanterelle, oyster, beech, trumpet and hedgehog mushrooms that were included. Look out for Wednesday's Food & Wine section for more on a day of foraging with Connie Green, owner of Napa's Wine Forest Wild Mushrooms, which supplies some of the Bay Area's most talked-about restaurants and Sacramento's Ella and The Kitchen, and Todd Humphries, chef and co-owner of St. Helena's Martini House. We even end up back in Humphries' Michelin-rated kitchen to cook up some matsutakes.

In anticipation of Wednesday's coverage, here's the lasagne recipe to whet your appetite. And read more about lasagne here.

Wild mushroom lasagne
Recipe from "Mushroom" (First Lyons Press, $29.95, 160 pages), by Johnny Acton and Nick Sandler
Serves 4
For the béchamel:
3 cups milk
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) butter
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt and a little pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 cups parmesan, grated
For the spinach layer:
10 ounces spinach, washed, de-stalked, blanched and finely chopped
a heaping cup of ricotta
1/2 teaspoon salt
a generous grind of black pepper
For the mushroom sauce:
2 cloves garlic, chopped
6 ounces shallots, finely diced
1/3 cup olive oil
10 ounces mixed mushrooms, sliced (about 3 cups)
a couple sprigs of thyme, chopped
a handful flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
a generous amount of black pepper
1 cup crème fraîche, or heavy cream
For the lasagne:
10 ounces fresh or dried lasagne sheets, or enough for 3 layers

For the béchamel:
Heat milk and creme to a simmer.
Meanwhile, melt butter in a thick-bottomed saucepan, add flour, and cook resulting sandy paste over low heat for a couple of minutes taking care not to burn.
Keeping heat low, slowly pour in a little milk. Whisk until thick and smooth. Then add a little more milk, again whisking until smooth, and so on, until all the milk has been added.
Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg, and sprinkle in half of the parmesan. Whisk until smooth. Cook slowly for 10 minutes, stirring continuously to prevent sauce from burning. Set aside, putting wax paper on top to prevent skin from forming.
For the spinach layer:
Mix together ingredients in a bowl and set aside.
For the mushroom sauce:
Fry shallots and garlic in the olive oil for a few minutes over medium heat, then add mushrooms and cook for 10 to 15 minutes until they are cooked. Add the rest of the ingredients and, stirring frequently, reduce the sauce over low to medium heat.
For the lasagne:
Check lasagne package to see if it needs to be precooked.
Start putting the dish together by spreading a little béchamel on the bottom of a rectangular lasagne dish, then place a sheet of lasagne on top. On this, evenly spread the ricotta mix. Add another layer of lasagne and pour mixed mushroom sauce on top. Next comes the last layer of lasagne, and finally the béchamel sauce. Sprinkle with the last of the parmesan.
Cook in oven at 400 degrees for 45 minutes. If lasagne needs a little more browning after cooking, finish off under the broiler.

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