Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Beef & Mushroom Lasagna

Rich meat sauce...earthy, chewy baby bella caps and ooey...gooey...cheese...

Perhaps my love of using season-appropriate foods in my cooking stems from my conviction that fresh, well-sourced ingredients are the true secret to any good meal. Whatever the reason,mid-October's gray skies and chill have had me craving hot, filling, stick-to-the-ribs comfort food. To many people, lasagna is the very definition of a comforting, rib-sticking dish. Many home cooks will protest that they already have a favorite lasagna recipe--a few may even protest that since it was the first dish they mastered, a recipe would be almost irrelevant. To them I say: you haven't had lasagna this decadent, this harmonious. With a three hour bolognese as the base and fresh thyme in the ricotta, this is an unforgettable twist on an old classic. I always use Marcella Hazan's recipe for bolognese, which I cook for about 3 hours total, and add large pieces of portobello and fresh baby spinach to the sauce at the end. I'm ashamed to say that I don't make my own noodles, but I swear the other elements in this lasagna are so delicious that I never miss them. A couple of things to note with this recipe are: don't use anything but fresh mozzarella (trust me, the other stuff simply doesn't do a three hour meat sauce proper justice!); this is an American style lasagna--Italian lasagne typically has little to no cheese and includes both a white sauce and a meat sauce; also, please feel free to look at this recipe as a starting point for lasagna experimentation. When I made my first incarnation of this dish, a meat and vegetable lasagna I simply browned the beef before tossing in the veggies, sauce ingredients and some roasted garlic. Having tried it with the bolognese, I highly recommend taking the time to make one. If you opt to just brown the meat, I'd say omit the mirepoix (carrots, onions and celery), milk, nutmeg, and wine and toss in some roasted garlic along with the tomato sauce ingredients, after the beef and mushrooms have been sauteed. If you don't opt to use a bolognese, please try making it at least once, as it tastes amazing.

This recipe makes a lot of lasgna, so you may want to freeze some. Wrap it in plastic wrap or tinfoil after it is cooled and store it in the freezer in an airtight, covered container, otherwise the freezer will destroy all that effort!

The recipe for Marcella Hazan's bolognese can be found here (reprinted in the Seattle Times): http://seattletimes.com/html/foodwine/2002983420_bolognese10.html


10 ounces of baby or portobello mushroom caps, roughly chopped
1 lb. baby spinach, stems removed
Optional (for quick sauce) 1 Tbl. roasted garlic
(See bolognese recipe for meat & sauce ingredients and assemble either quick meat sauce or bolognese; if you're going with a quick meat sauce, saute the mushrooms before adding the tomatoes, but if you're making the longer meat sauce, toss the mushrooms in in the last 25 minutes of making the sauce and make sure they are covered in liquid to poach.)

3/4 lb. chopped fresh mozzarella
1 box of lasagna, cooked al dente (you probably won't need the whole box)
1 15 ounce container of ricotta
2 Teas. dried Italian herb mix
3 sprigs of thyme
1 jumbo, or large egg
1 pinch of salt (for the pasta water)

1. Make the bolognese. While the sauce is cooking, this is an excellent time to prep for other dishes on the menu (garlic bread, salad dressing, dessert), or just catch up on your favorite show. In the last hour, put up a pot of water to boil, add the pinch of salt and cook lasagna noodles according to package directions. I have a very knowledgeable chef friend who suggested that the no cook lasagna noodles always turn out the best end result, but I haven't yet tried this. I'll get back to you, dear readers, if I have more success with that type of product.

2. Strip the thyme leaves from the woody stems and add leaves to the ricotta. Mix the ricotta with the fresh thyme, egg and dried Italian spice mix.

3. Add a little extra water to the bolgnese and stir to create a little extra sauce liquid. Ladle some sauce liquid into the bottom of your baking dish, then lay down a layer of noodles. Spoon a thin layer of ricotta cheese over the noodles, then cover with a thin layer of sauce. Sprinkle sauce with chopped fresh mozzarella. Top with another layer of noodles, then more ricotta, then more sauce and more mozzarella cheese. Repeat until dish is filled, ending with a double layer of noodles with some remaining mozzarella sandwiched between. Cover pan with tinfoil and cook at 375 degrees for 30 minutes. Uncover and cook at 400 degrees for an additional 15 minutes, or until the top is browned and/or crunchy.

4. Serve with a salad (my recommendation) and enjoy!

I hope you like this recipe and I welcome your feedback!

Pictures to follow!