Friday, April 16, 2010

Mushroom & Cheese Curd Lasagna

This is my new favorite lasagna ever. It is in my signature round style, if you haven't bought a cazuela yet I think it is a great investment. I use mine all the time and love the free form lasagna I make in it, so much easier then using a pasta machine and so much tastier than the dried packaged stuff.

This is like one of those movies with two endings, as you look through the pictures you'll see one lasagna that has bechamel and cheese on top and another that has the mushroom sauce. You'll also notice that in one version I used both fresh mozzarella and cheese cuds, but in the end recipe (as pictured above ) cheese curds are all you need.

In part this recipe was created in response to recipes that replace ground meat with mushrooms. Certainly there is a textural similarity, but that's about it. Also I notice that recipes, especially those published by magazines (it was a recipe in Saveur that got this all started) want you to add so many unneeded ingredients making the lasagna prohibitively expensive, you don't need to add sun dried tomatoes, four herbs and parsley and tomato paste and you certainly don't need to buy expensive mushrooms, especially if the point is that you are replacing cheap ground meat with them. Button, Crimini, Portobello or ideally a mixture of the three work great. No need to break the bank on Shitaki you aren't going to taste anyway once you add all that spice and tomato.

The other thing is I hate recipes that call for an odd amount of things like a can and a half of tomatoes, I don't know about you, but in my kitchen that left over tomato will sit in my fridge, get moldy and at some future point be thrown away. The mushroom sauce in this recipe, which is a generous amount, calls for two 28 ounce cans of diced or crushed tomatoes and will most likely leave you with some left over, but at least it's a left over you can use more readily, it doesn't call for you to makes something else - add it as a topping to quickly boiled mid-week spaghetti, or spooned over a baked potato and then melt some cheddar cheese on it or on buttered toast as mentioned above.

OK that's enough ranting from me, hope you like the pictures, the recipe is at the bottom of the page.
You can never have too much Parmesan.
The big round "noodles" before being par boiled.
The mushroom sauce, there will be extra - it's great on toast!
This is from the first version where I started and ended with sauce in the final version I reversed it and started with bechamel - in the end the only real difference it makes is aesthetic.
Let the layering begin!
Even though it starts off sloppy, but with visible layers, notice how after it is cooked it spreads out and takes up the entire dish.
The close up.
This was the first attempt where I used two kinds of cheese.
This is the final version with bechamel on top and just cheese curds (above)
And below is how the two cheese version looked coming out of the oven -
notice how it spread out.
and this final image (below) is just a close up of the cheese curd only final version, looks nicer, eh?
Mushroom & Cheese Curd Lasagna

Make the pasta dough: In a large bowl add 2 cups of all purpose flour, 2 whole large eggs and 2 egg yolks, mix with a wooden spoon or in a standing mixture with a paddle until the eggs are incorporated, adding 1-3 T of ice cold water until the dough has just come together. It should be tough, take it out of the bowl and knead it for a few minutes, shaping it into a ball and letting it sit covered for at least an hour.

Make the mushroom sauce: Clean and roughly chop 2 pounds of button, crimini or portobello mushrooms, or a mixture of all three of just one of any of them, in this instance you should for sure go for the ones that are the least expensive as the mushrooms in this recipe are all about adding texture.

Wash and chopped 1/2 pound of spinach (chard leaves, kale or arugula would work as well).

In a large heavy bottomed pot add 1/4 cup olive oil and 1/4 cup unsalted butter over medium heat, when the butter has melted
add 8-12 crushed and roughly chopped garlic cloves, cook for a minute or two, just until the garlic is translucent, but not browned, add the mushrooms and cook for about 5 minutes or until the mushrooms have reduce by half and start to give off a little juice. Add 2 teaspoons of hot pepper flakes, 5 T fresh Rosemary finely chopped, the Spinach and two 28 ounce cans of organic crushed or diced tomatoes (of course if they are in season feel free to use fresh tomatoes - you want about 6 cups). Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Remember that this is only one part of the dish, it's flavoring will be toned down by the pasta and the bechamel once layered , so it should be a little on the acidic, spicy and well salted side.

Let the sauce simmer on low heat while you make the bechamel.

In a large pot over medium heat melt 8 T of unsalted butter (I like Kate's of Maine)
add 3 roughly chopped shallots, cook for a minute or two until translucent, but not brown . Add 1/2 cup all purpose flour, whisk together and cook another few minutes then add 5 cups of whole organic milk bringing the heat up to medium high whisking constantly for about 5 minutes until the sauce has thickened. Remove from heat, cover with a piece of parchment directly onto the top of the sauce so as to prevent a thick skin from forming.

Grate a generous 2 cups of Parmesan cheese and put aside for layering.

Preheat your oven to 400 F.

Place a 12" skillet 3/4 filled with salted water over high heat and bring to a boil. While you are waiting for this to start to boil roll out the pasta dough.

I like to use local non GMO corn meal for this, but flour works just fine. Roll the bowl of dough that has been sitting out for at least an hour into a rope about a foot long. Cut the rope in half and each half in half and then repeat so you have 8 sections, roll each one into a ball. One at a time place on a lightly floured (or corn mealed) surface, press down with your palm to form a disk and then roll out into a large thin round (mine are often not round, often they are the shape of Africa, but not to worry this is a very forgiving recipe, just get them as big and thin as you can), stack them up, sprinkling with flour between each layer so they don't stick. Continue until all 8 are done. (Conversely if you are not using a round shaped dish you can roll them out to fit whatever baking dish you are using.)

In your cazuela (or what ever container you are making this in) make a thick layer of bechamel then lightly sprinkle it with parmesan. Just remember you have to have enough bechamel for 4 layers.

One at a time place a noodle round in the boiling water for no more than 30 seconds (making sure it's totally submerged). When done transfer to a surface to cool, put another one in the water and while you are waiting for it to cook place the cooled one in the cazuela on top of the bechamel, then top with a generous layer of mushroom sauce, more cheese, then remove the next cooked noodle and repeat...finishing off with a top layer of bechamel which you cover with a generous 2 cups of cheese curds (which if you live in NYC are available at Saxelby Cheese). If you want to roughly chop the curds you can but then melt so well there really is no need.

Bake in a preheated for about 45 minutes or until the edges are bubbling and the cheese as browned. Let sit for about 10 minutes before digging in. This will taste better the day after so if you are having a big party feel free to make this the day before and under cook it by 10 minutes and just re-heat and brown when your guests arrive. Serves 8-10.

Heart whole wheat bread and a simple green salad complete the meal.

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