Every year for J’s birthday I give him his choice of what he wants for dinner, anything goes. Frequent choices are lamb shanks, spaghetti bolognese or penne with zucchini. This year he told me to cook whatever I wanted that I thought he would like. I chose to adapt a lasagne from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking as he loves Italian food.
This lasagne is quite different then the traditional american lasagna with no tomato sauce at all. The dried mushrooms give the sauce a rich, earthy depth of flavour and the bechamel is creamy and delicious. While the ham is nice, I think a vegetarian version omitting the ham would also be fantastic. Oh and J was very pleased. Though he is fond of what he ate as a child, he said it might be the best lasagne he has ever had. Thanks again Marcella.
This is definitely a weekend meal as there are many steps and it probably takes at least 60 minutes of labor even before baking. If you are looking for something quicker and simpler it tastes quite similar to this creamy linguine with ham and peas. However, the work you put into the lasagna will be worth it, I promise.
Ham and Mushroom Lasagne Recipe(6 servings)
Adapted from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking
Add dried mushrooms to 2/3 cup warm water. Allow to soak for at least 30 minutes. Carefully remove mushrooms without disturbing water too much. Pour soaking water through a cheesecloth or paper towel lined wire strainer and set aside. Rinse mushrooms under water and carefully remove any grit, squeeze dry, roughly chop and set aside.
In a large saute pan with a lid, melt butter and oil over medium heat. Add onion and cook until translucent, stirring regularly. Add chopped reconstituted mushrooms, tomatoes, parsley and mushroom soaking water. Turn heat down to medium low and partially cover. Simmer gently until liquid is gone. Add fresh mushrooms turn up the heat to medium high and stir regularly. The mushrooms will release liquid. Cook until liquid is absorbed again and mixture is generally dry. Taste and correct for seasoning. Remove from heat and set aside.
Cook lasagna noodles to package directions, leaving slightly al dente. Drain and set aside. (You can keep them from sticking in several ways, separated on damp dish towels or oiled parchment paper.)
Preheat oven to 400F. Make the bechamel. In a sauce pan melt the 4 tablespoons of butter, bring heat to medium and whisk in flour. Slowly whisk in milk and bring to a gently simmer, whisking until nice and thick. Add 1/4 teaspoon of salt to start. Than correct and taste for seasoning. Reduce heat to low and stir occasionally while assembling lasagna.
Now it is time to assemble the lasagna. First gently butter an 8×8 dish. Put down a layer of noodles then scatter with a layer of mushrooms, using about 1/4 of the mushrooms. Top with a quarter of the ham, then 1/5 of the bechamel and 1/5 of the cheese. Top with another layer of noodles. Do 3 more layers like this. The last layer should end with noodles, then the last of the bechamel topped with some cheese.
Bake for 20 minutes covered with aluminum foil, remove foil and bake for another 10 minutes. Let rest for 5-10 minutes before cutting and serving.