This is one of the reasons we’ll be on a clear soup diet by New Year’s. This rich and homey dish transforms into an elegant buffet entrée with thin fresh pasta sheets, mixed mushrooms seasoned with thyme, lapped with a creamy gorgonzola cheese sauce. I tend to make vegetable lasagnas with fewer layers than other versions. Served in small servings, they offer a few savory bites, with crispy edges and creamy filling. I made this lasagna for a Christmas luncheon, along with noodle-free butternut squash lasagna with leeks and mushrooms, and a chicken and red pepper lasagna with spinach pasta. Much to my surprise, rather than picking one, most of the guests sampled them all. This was a good lesson in menu planning as the three lasagnas and the sides (ham, wild rice salad, broccolini and garlicky red pepper, braised fennel, green salad, and bread) could be assembled in many combinations. Go Mom.
I’ve made this lasagna numerous times, successively diminishing the amount of salt, butter and milk fats, and varying the mushroom combinations and herbs. In the spring, I pluck blade-like tarragon leaves from my pot garden. In winter, I snip over-wintering thyme. The recipe originated with Susan Wyler, once an editor of Food & Wine Magazine and the author of Cooking for a Crowd. The mushrooms and the sauce can be prepared days in advance. By using fresh pasta sheets, which are softened for a minute in boiling water and patted dry with towels, assembly is quick. After baking until the top is golden, you can serve as is or sprinkled with reserved mushroom slices so that the guests can figure out what might be inside.
Mixed Mushroom Lasagna with Gorgonzola Sauce adapted from Susan Wyler, Food & Wine
1 oz dried mushrooms (first choice porcini, or a combination of porcini and chanterelles)
1½ c boiling water
1 lb fresh cremini mushrooms (or use white mushrooms or a combination)
6 tbsp unsalted butter, divided (1 tbsp, 1 tbsp, 4 tbsp)
2 tbsp olive oil, divided
Salt and black pepper
A couple of pinches of cayenne pepper (divided)
1 medium sprig fresh thyme or tarragon (about 1–1½ tsp of leaves)
2 shallots, minced (divided in half)
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice (divided in half)
½ lb shitake mushrooms
¼ c all-purpose flour
1 c milk (lowfat is fine)
½ c heavy cream (can cut this back and increase the milk)
¼ lb gorgonzola dolcelatte cheese (or a combination of regular and the milder dolcelatte)
¼ c grated Parmesan cheese, plus an additional 2 tbsp for sprinkling on top
Optional garnish: sautéed mushroom slices or chunks
Fresh sheet pasta to line a 9×13-inch baking dish (about ½- ¾ lb homemade or more if store bought in packages; you can use dried pasta instead but use flat sheets without curly edges)
Butter for the pan
Prepare the dried mushrooms and mushroom broth. In a small bowl, cover the dried mushrooms with boiling water and set aside for 30 minutes. Drain, reserving the liquid (you should have about 1 cup). Strain the liquid in cheesecloth if gritty. Chop the mushrooms into small pieces and set aside.
Prepare the duxelles. Coarsely chop the cremini or white mushrooms. Melt 1 tbsp butter in 1 tbsp olive oil in a large sauté pan and add 1 tbsp of the shallots, cooking them gently until translucent. Add the garlic and stir until it becomes aromatic. Add the chopped mushrooms and cook over medium heat, stirring, until the mushrooms have exuded their liquid and become nearly dry. Stir in 1 tbsp the lemon juice, season with salt, black pepper and cayenne and add the herbs. Set aside.
Prepare the shitake mushrooms and assemble the mushroom mixture. Remove the stems and reserve for another use (add to vegetable broth). Clean the caps and slice them, cutting them in half if large. Melt 1 tbsp butter in 1 tbsp olive oil in a large sauté pan and add the remaining 1 tbsp of the shallots, cooking them gently until translucent. Add the sliced mushrooms and cook over medium heat, stirring. Add the reserved reconstituted dried mushrooms and ½ c of the reserved mushroom broth, and cook, partially covered, for about 5 minutes or until the mushrooms are nearly tender. Uncover the pan and cook the mushrooms, stirring, until the liquid has evaporated. Stir in the remaining 1 tbsp lemon juice and season with salt and black pepper. Add the duxelles and set aside. The mushroom mixture can be made up to a few days ahead of assembling and baking the lasagna. Bring to room temperature before proceeding.
Make the gorgonzola sauce. Melt 4 tbsp butter in a medium saucepan and add the flour, whisking to combine well. Cook for 2-3 minutes over medium heat to cook the flour slightly, whisking. Do not let it brown. Gradually whisk in the reserved ½ c of mushroom broth, milk and cream, and bring the mixture nearly to a boil. Lower the heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until thick. Remove from the heat. Add the gorgonzola cheese and ¼ c of Parmesan cheese and stir until smooth. Season with a pinch of cayenne and a little salt if needed. The sauce can be made up to a few days ahead of assembling and baking the lasagna. Bring to room temperature before proceeding (lightly heat in a pan).
Prepare the noodles. Cut the pasta sheets to fit into the baking pan (9×13 inch glass or ceramic pan), extending a little up the sides. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Place a large bowl of ice water in the sink and spread towels on the countertop. Add one pasta sheet at a time and cook for 1 minute. Cook for 2 minutes if you have thick sheets of pasta or longer if using dried noodles unless they’re the no-boil type, in which case I recommend dunking them in water first. Remove the pasta and dunk in ice water to stop cooking and spread it flat on the towels to dry.
Assemble and bake the lasagna. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter the bottom and sides of the baking pan. Add a layer of noodles, overlapping them slightly. Cover with half the mushroom mixture. Spoon on 1/3 of the sauce. Cover with another layer of noodles, mushrooms and sauce. Top with the remaining sauce and sprinkle with 2 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese. Bake for about 30 minutes or until the top is golden brown. Remove and set aside for 10-15 minutes. As an optional garnish, you can top the lasagna with sautéed mushrooms.