Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Porcini Mushroom Lasagna or Treasure in My Mother's Pantry

I did not grow up liking mushrooms. They seemed like slimy little creatures and they were brown. They came in cans and one had to always pick them off of pizza or out of spaghetti sauce. I DO NOT LIKE THEM said SAM, I AM. Until I had a gorgeous hunk of a boyfriend. He was very tall and blonde and even my parents liked him. He played basketball and had great biceps and drove a forest green beetle when he came to see me. HE liked mushrooms AND they weren’t out of a can. He cooked me dinner one night. I remember a steak. And I remember butter and mushrooms and him in his tight little ribbed white t shirt sautéing them at the stove. I couldn’t not eat them. And so I did. And from then on I had mushroom fever.

I didn’t know mushrooms came fresh and from then on I think my mother started to serve them many ways. She sliced them and put them in salads. She grilled them. She sautéed  and stuffed them. But every now and then those canned mushrooms still made an appearance. As they still do, especially in my mother’s pantry. It was while visiting this last holiday that I decided I couldn’t take it any more. It was getting tougher and tougher to find the See’s candy and the Heath bars and all the varieties of mixed nuts and specialty popcorns and caramel corns that have been bestowed upon my father as gifts over the years. Yet somehow my mother managed to hide this treasure in her vast closet called a pantry.

It was after she sent us on an errand to find crackers on Christmas Day that I decided I should lend a hand. They were needed for an hors doeurve that I can’t recall. And so it is I found myself at Walgreen’s on Christmas Day buying crackers. Only to return and find at least 6 unopened boxes of crackers that may or may not have had expired dates from before I was  born. (OK – I’m exxagerating on the dates, but not the number of boxes.) Now mind you these were the unopened boxes; the others have now died and gone to cracker heaven. And soon I caught myself rearranging. I couldn’t help myself.

I put dried soups and canned soups on the same shelf. I lost track of how many of those there were. But let it suffice to say that if there is an apocalypse, as long as there is water, there is enough dried soup to see my parents clear through to kingdom come. It is good to know they are prepared. I then got to the crackers and shortly thereafter I hit pasta. My rearranging was causing me to think that there weren’t enough shelves in this pantry. I didn’t want to be impolite and throw a lot away but I’m thinking I should have.

I then entered the canned arena where I found tomato sauce and tomato paste and crushed tomatoes and whole tomatoes and diced tomatoes. And sundried tomatoes both in the package and the jar. And then I hit the beans, well I won’t bore you further. But it was at that point I discovered the mushrooms. Lots and lots of little cans of tinned mushrooms. Costco is very happy to have my mother as a card holder, I assure you.

It was at this point while zeroing in on the shelves I hadn’t yet gotten too that I discovered the real thing. The giant, at least 454g, of dried Italian porcini mushrooms. They looked lost sitting next to the flour and the sugar and THE CANDY. So I helped them out. Out of the pantry that is. They deserved a spot of beauty for they were uncared for and forgotten. They were starting to crumble and turn to dust. They needed a home where they were appreciated. It was at that point I asked my mother where she got these dried, forgotten, specimens of mushrooms. To which she said with forlorn eyes, “ When we were last in Italy.” And when was that dearest mother?  “I can’t remember, she replied, but it was a long time ago.” Well, one thing led to another and I was able to come home with a zip locked bag of dried porcini mushrooms from Italia.

To which I say to all of you. Just because they are dried does not mean they last forever. Porcini dust is not what you want to pay for. You want big, beautiful slices of gorgeous porcinis to fill your bag. And you get what you pay for. Heavenly, intoxicating aromas will greet you like an old friend if you buy them correctly. And they are expensive so you must treat them with dignity and love. Use them, don’t wait. And if you have friends going to Italy plead with them in that special Italian way to bring some back for you. And then reward them with this lasagna. They will be happy and so will you!

And as a footnote. I never got to discover the rest of my mother’s pantry. I have no doubt that by now it has returned to its natural state. Which leaves me starting on the shelves I didn’t get too whenever I return. I’m dreading all the little dried up bags of brown sugar that are yet to come. And luckily, the spices are not kept in the pantry…

A very decadent dish!

Porcini Mushroom Lasagna (Serves 8-10 or 6 hungry people)

1 box of no boil lasagna noodles
1 stick unsalted butter
6 T all purpose flour
3 c milk heated with 1 bay leaf (I do this in a 4c measuring cup in the micro. Heat for about two minutes or until it feels hot to the touch but hasn’t yet boiled.)
Freshly ground nutmeg
Salt and fresh round pepper
2 c dried porcini mushrooms
1 c chicken broth
1 lb baby bella mushrooms sliced
6 shallots, peeled and diced
2T extra virgin olive oil
4 cloves of garlic minced
1 c white wine
1 c gruyere shredded
1 c fontina shredded
1 ball of smoked mozzarella shredded
2 T of truffle oil (That’s another story, but try to use the good stuff or leave it out.)
¼ c flat leaf Italian parsley minced
2 t fresh thyme

1 c grated parmesan cheese (only for the top)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly butter a 13 x 9 pan.

Soak your dried porcinis in 2 cups of hot chicken stock. (I use Better than Bouillion and it comes in a jar.) After they have softened chop them up and drain them well.

Bechamel Sauce
In a medium, heavy saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the flour and cook, whisking constantly, for 2-3 minutes. Gradually whisk in the milk that has been heated with the bay leaf but remember to remove the bay leaf. Whisk until smooth. Simmer very slowly for about 10 minutes or until  bit thickened. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. (You need to trust that fresh nutmeg gives it a little extra pizzaz. I didn’t used to like it but I think it was because most people insist on using the ground variety.) Reserve 1 ½ c sauce .

In a large sauté pan heat 2 T olive oil over medium heat and sauté the garlic and shallots until softened, about 2 minutes. Add the fresh mushrooms and cook until done. Add the parsley and thyme and use the wine to deglaze your pan. You can do this again if you want to use up your porcini/stock liquid too. More flavor there if you like. Season with salt and pepper.

Now stir these mushrooms and the porcinis into the larger portion of your béchamel. Also stir in ¼ c of the fontina, gruyere and mozzarella. Add the truffle oil if you are using it.

Run each sheet of no boil lasagna under hot water. It doesn’t say to do this but I think they cook better. Make sure they are dry.

Pour 1 c of béchamel on the bottom of the pan. Now a layer of pasta. Now some of the mushrooms/béchamel sauce. Add a little of the cheeses. Now more pasta, more sauce, more cheese. Do this until you’ re out of mushrooms. I got three layers. Finish with a layer of pasta and cover with the remaining béchamel. Sprinkle with parmesan. Bake for about 45 minutes or until the top is golden brown.



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  1. Seriously - I had forgotten canned mushrooms existed until you wrote about them! But when I was growing up, that was the only mushroom I ever saw. I didn't hate them, but they weren't my favorite. Funny story about your mother's pantry. And great recipe! I make a tomato-based mushroom lasagna that always includes fresh mushrooms and often dried porcini. I like your bechamel version - sounds delish. Good stuff - thanks.

  2. I still ask at pizza places whether the mushrooms are fresh! It is a good recipe and yours sounds good, too! My mother's pantry saga-I'm sure will continue!

  3. Ori loves lasagna, but I think she doesn't like mushrooms (Although I use only fresh mushrooms). The bechamel sauce with the bay leaf is a great idea, I will try it next time.

  4. I am too a fan of mushrooms. The lasagna must be very tasty!

  5. If you like mushrooms you will like this! Guaranteed!

  6. The bay leaf steeping in the milk is a good idea. It infuses a little bit of extra flavor! Glad you are back, Meirav!

  7. O.k. I made lasgnia today (Ori asked me to make some a few days ago. Are you a mind reader?). I made the bashmal with the bay leaf - she ate 9 servings! (good for her, she is so thin). Thanks Abbe.

  8. That's funny Meirav. I hope she doesn't get sick!

  9. This is a fantastic lasagna! Like you, if I use no-boil pasta, I'll run it under hot water, too. I don't care what the package directions say. They work better this way! The last can of mushrooms I bought was tossed for being beyond the "use by" date. I wonder how long it was on that shelf? :)

  10. Coming from you John, that is a real compliment. And I check the expiration. I found a box of crackers that were from 2009! Guess I better clean my pantry, too!

  11. I love mushrooms like you wouldn't believe! This is MY kind of lasagna, must try it out ASAP :)

  12. Then try this! My husband eats steak and I eat this! Thanks for staying in touch!

  13. I love mushroom and mushroom lasagna for me anytime.

  14. For a very long time, I'm talking up until last year (and I'm 31) and I wouldn't touch a mushroom. My mom even cooked with fresh ones, and I still wouldn't eat them. Don't know what happens, but it's one thing I like about growing older, your palate changes and suddenly things you didn't like suddenly aren't so horrible any more. Kinda like this wonderful lasagna!

  15. So true, Susan. Do you think my palate will ever change when it comes to oysters? Anyway, porcinis have a very unique, rich taste. I think you will love this!