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Lasagna with mushroom-port sauce

I love a good lasagna and this is one of those dishes I make only a couple of times a year. For me, lasagna is not a hastily thrown-together dish, but a work of art. Each layer is cooked individually, but the chef needs to have a mental picture and the scope to imagine how all the layers will taste together. A lasagna is complex, packed with flavour and sublime.

The traditional lasagna has three essential layers, though the better versions have up to 10 layers. the bottom layer is usually a tomato-based sauce, the middle is the filling which can be meat or vegetable, and the top is a creamy Bechame1l. the layers play together beautifully, the tomato sauce is robust and bold, the middle layer adds heft in the form of meat or vegetable and the top has the creaminess that a lasagna is famous for. The layers of cheese, Parmesan, ricotta, Gruyère, Fontina and others add gooey-ness that makes the lasagna a mess to eat but oh so delicious.

This lasagna is spectacular. It drifts from the standard in that the base is a rich port-infused mushroom sauce rather than the more traditional tomato sauce. This is a dish targeting the mushroom lover, the earthiness is dominant and the mix of mushrooms adds nuances of flavours. the sweetness from the port and the herbs make this dish divine. There is a richness from the Bechame1l and loads of cheese make this dish irresistible.

Deborah Madison was one of the first chefs to embrace the farm-to-table movement when she opened her restaurant Greens, one I have dined at a few times. Her cookbooks are lovely, and this one, in particular, is amazing. Simple recipes that are loaded with flavour. Like me, you should get all her cookbooks, each is a masterpiece!

For more wonderful recipes from this cookbook, click here.


For the mushroom sauce:

1/2 oz. dried porcini mushrooms soaked in hot water for 30 minutes

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 onion, finely minced

Salt, to taste

1/4 teaspoon pepper

5 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 cup port or sweet Madiera wine

2 tablespoons butter

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

For the Mushroom stuffing:

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 large leeks, well washed and cut into half moons

Salt, to taste

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

5 garlic cloves, minced

1 lb mushrooms, button, cremini or a mix of others, chunked

3 tablespoons port or Madiera wine

1/4 cup mixed fresh and dried herbs: parsley, mint, marjoram, and others

For the ricotta custard:

1/2 cup ricotta

1 egg, beaten

3 tablespoons grated Parmesan

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

Salt, to taste

1/4 teaspoon pepper

For the herbed Bechamèl:

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Salt, to taste

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1 teaspoon mixed dried herbs, sage, thyme, marjoram, tarragon and others

2 1/2 cups milk

For the lasagna:

Lasagna sheets, cooked as per the instructions on the box inus 1 minute

1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1 cup grated Gruyère cheese

To make the mushroom sauce:

Strain the soaked porcini mushrooms saving the soaking liquids. Careful there will be sandy grit on the bottom. Finely chop the mushrooms.

Heat the oil in a wide frying pan. Add the onions and salt and cook on low heat till the onions are translucent and soft. Add the pepper, garlic and mushrooms and cook till the liquids are dried out and the mushrooms are fried.

Add the port wine and cook till the liquids are absorbed and the mushrooms are dry again. Remove into a bowl and set aside to cool.

In the am pan melt the butter. dd the flour and whisk into the butter. Cook on very low heat for 3-4 minutes till the roux gets to be a light golden. Add the strained mushroom stock avoiding the grit. Whisk well till the sauce is smooth.

Add the mushrooms and mix in well. Cook till the sauce is very thick. Taste for salt and pepper. The sauce should be very flavourful and have a light earthy sweetness from the mushrooms and port. Set aside.

To make the mushroom filling:

Heat the oil in a wide shallow pan or wok. Add the leeks and salt and cook on low heat with the lid closed till the leeks are soft. Do not colour the leeks.

Add the mushrooms, pepper, thyme and garlic and cook on medium heat. the mushrooms will give out their liquids. Cook till dry and the mushrooms have a light golden colour. Add the port and cook till the wine has evaporated.

Take off the heat and mix in the herbs. Taste for salt and set aside.

To make the custard:

Add all the ingredients and mix in well.

To make the herbed Bechamèl:

Melt the butter in a small pot and add the flour. Whisk well till the flour is fully incorporated into the butter. Cook for 3-4 minutes till the roux is lightly golden. Add the salt, pepper and dried herbs and mix in well.

Add the milk and whisk well till the sauce is smooth. Break up any lumps with the whisk as needed. Cook on low heat till the sauce is thick. Taste for salt and herb. Set aside.

To assemble the lasagna:

To a 9X13-inch baking dish add the mushroom sauce and spread into an even layer. Add 1/3 of the grated Parmesan and Gryuère.

Add a layer of pasta and tamp down to flatten. Add the mushroom filling and flatten evenly. Follow with the ricotta custard, grated Parmesan and Gruyère.

Add another layer of pasta. Top with the herbed Bechamèl, and the last of the Parmesan and Gruyère cheese. The assembled lasagna can be sealed with cling wrap and stored in the fridge for a day.

Preheat the oven to 375° F. Bring the lasagna up to room temperature if chilled. Cover tightly with foil and bake for 45 minutes. the lasagna should be bubbling in the centre. Remove the foil and bake for an additional 15 minutes to brown the top and crisp the edges. Remove and sir for 5 minutes. Serve hot.

An alternative way to serve this is to assemble the lasagna into individual-sized ramekins as described above. bake for 30 minutes and then remove the foil and bake for 10 more minutes. serve hot in the ramekins.

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