I made this lasagna as dinner for our New Year’s party. And it made my boyfriend believe in lasagna again. His exact words? “I used to think that lasagna was gross. But this is, like…actually good.” Followed by, “I think this is the best lasagna I’ve eaten in maybe…ever.”
This, my friends, is a lasagna to be reckoned with: decadent, woodsy, gooey, salty, cheesy, meaty, dense. It’s also an elaborate project. There are noodles to prepare (more on that in a minute); a head of radicchio, sliced and roasted; a pile of mushrooms, sauteed to golden-edged limpness and doused with white wine; a pungent, garlicky white sauce; and four–count ’em, four–different cheeses. This is an all-afternoon Sunday kind of meal, for showing lots of love or making a great impression. And if you persevere, you will be rewarded with the richest, tangiest, most profoundly savory mushroom lasagna you’ve ever tasted.
Because this is a special-occasion dish, the mushrooms matter. You could use a jumble of fresh wild mushrooms, if they’re available and affordable. They weren’t when I went shopping, so I cheated. I used a mixture of fresh and dried mushrooms–in this case, a pound of creminis and an ounce each of dried shiitakes and dried oyster mushrooms, soaked in hot water until pliable. The dried mushrooms are damply intense, the fresh ones are meaty, and together they’re dark and murky and altogether perfect.
Oh, and about those lasagna noodles: I know you’re supposed to boil them first. But I don’t like the slippery wateriness that sneaks into many lasagnas that way, and besides, I don’t have a pot big enough to fit the noodles without cracking them. So this time, I took a cue from my dried mushrooms: I laid the lasagna noodles flat in a pan, covered them with boiling water, and let them soak while I prepped the other ingredients. The result? Supple, completely intact noodles that reached the perfect al dente texture in the oven. I’ll never boil a lasagna noodle again.
Cheesy Mushroom Lasagna (serves 8-10)
For the herb mix:
2 tsp dried sage
1 tsp dried rosemary
1 tsp dried thyme
1 fat garlic clove, minced
1/2 tsp coarse salt
For the rest of the lasagna:
8 oz (1 box) lasagna noodles (I used whole wheat)
2 oz dried mushrooms (shiitake, oyster, porcini, etc.)
Boiling water to cover
1/2 cup olive oil, divided
1 medium head of radicchio, halved, cored, and cut into 1/2 inch slices
Freshly ground pepper to taste
6 large shallots OR 2 medium red onions, minced
1 lb white or brown (cremini) mushrooms, trimmed and sliced
1 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup (4 tbsp/2 oz) unsalted butter
3 large or 5-6 small garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups cold milk
1/2 tsp ground or grated nutmeg
1 cup grated Gruyere cheese, divided
1 cup grated Fontina cheese, divided
1/2 lb (8 oz) smoked mozzarella, sliced
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Special equipment: large heavy skillet or saute pan; 9 x 13 baking dish
In a small bowl, mix together sage, rosemary, thyme, garlic, and salt; set aside. Lay the noodles flat in a deep-sided dish, and place the dried mushrooms in a heatproof bowl. Pour boiling water over the noodles and mushrooms to cover, and let soak for 30 minutes, or until softened and pliable. Drain the noodles, cover with cold water, and set aside. Squeeze any excess liquid from the mushrooms, and chop them; save 1 cup of the mushroom soaking water, and discard the rest.
Preheat the oven to 350º F. In a 9 x 13 baking dish–the same one you’ll cook the lasagna in–toss the radicchio slices with 1/4 cup olive oil, 1/3 of the herb mix, and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Spread the radicchio in an even layer and bake for about 15 minutes, or until the edges are lightly browned. Remove from the oven and transfer the radicchio to a bowl.
In a heavy deep-sided skillet, heat 1/4 cup olive oil over medium-high heat. Add 1/3 of the herb mix and half the shallot or onion, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 3-5 minutes, or until starting to turn translucent. Add fresh and dried mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, for 12-15 minutes, or until the mushrooms have given up their liquid and started to brown. Add white wine and simmer for 5-7 minutes, or until the liquid has reduced to a syrup. Transfer the mushroom mixture to the bowl with the radicchio and set aside.
Reduce the heat to medium, and add the butter to the skillet. When the butter melts and foams, add the rest of the herb mix and the rest of the shallot or onion, and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes, or until starting to turn translucent. Add garlic and saute for 1 additional minute. Sprinkle flour over the mixture and stir to coat the flour in the butter. Cook, stirring frequently, for 8-10 minutes, or until the roux is golden and nutty-smelling. Add milk and the reserved mushroom soaking liquid, whisking constantly, and continue simmering for about 5 minutes, or until the sauce is thick and creamy. Turn off the heat and stir in nutmeg, then fold in 1/4 cup grated Gruyere cheese and 1/4 cup grated Fontina cheese. Spread 1 cup of the sauce evenly over the bottom of the 9 x 13 baking dish; pour the rest of the sauce over the mushroom and radicchio mixture, and stir to combine.
Drain the lasagna noodles, and place about 1/3 of them over the sauce in the pan, tearing them into pieces as needed to cover the bottom without overlapping. Spread about 1/3 of the mushroom mixture evenly over the noodles. Lay half the smoked mozzarella slices over the mushrooms in an even layer, and sprinkle over about 1/3 of the remaining Gruyere and Fontina cheeses. Add another layer of noodles, another 1/3 of the mushroom mixture, the rest of the smoked mozzarella, and another 1/3 of the Gruyere and Fontina. Top with the rest of the noodles, the remaining mushroom mixture, and the rest of the Gruyere and Fontina. Sprinkle the Parmesan cheese evenly over the top.
Lightly butter or grease a sheet of aluminum foil. Cover the pan with the foil, greased side down. Bake for 45 minutes, or until the noodles are soft and the lasagna is hot all the way through. Remove the foil and bake for another 15-20 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbling, the top is golden and the edges are crisp.
Remove the lasagna from the oven and let rest for 20 minutes before slicing. Serve warm. If there are leftovers, cut them into squares, wrap each square tightly in a double layer of plastic wrap, and freeze for up to 2 months.