Wild Mushroom Lasagna

It is no secret that the foothills of our northwest mountains provide bountiful habitats for some of country’s best wild mushrooms. Because they don’t grow in freezing temperatures, fresh wild mushrooms are seasonal and available from April through November when mushroom enthusiasts in Washington and Oregon stand in lines at local farmers markets or poke through specialty produce sections for whichever prized fungi has been brought from the woods by foragers.

Some wild mushrooms can be dehydrated, but the texture after re-hydration is noticeably compromised. Added water doesn’t duplicate the mushroom’s plump natural moisture so for example, the delicately tender center and slightly crisp edge that comes with sautéing fresh mushrooms just doesn’t happen with re-hydrated ones. They can be delicious in soups, risottos, some pasta dishes, or ground into a terrific flavor-enhancing powder (a pantry mainstay in my kitchen).

Years ago when I was in a place where wild mushrooms don’t exist, I saw a recipe for Wild Mushroom Lasagna and decided to try it using fresh portabellas and dehydrated wild mushrooms. I was blown away with the sophisticated flavor and texture combinations; it was absolutely delicious. Now recipes for it are easy to find on the Internet, but none of them includes the mushroom broth with wine and sherry that turns it into a real delicacy.

Cast aside thoughts of marinara, thick, curly edged pasta, sausage and lots of gooey cheese. This lasagna is made with tender, no-boil pasta, a béchamel of mushroom stock, a little milk and character-filled aged provolone or pecorino cheese, fresh cultivated and dehydrated wild mushrooms sautéed in butter with shallots and tarragon, radicchio softened in red wine and balsamic vinegar, fresh mozzarella, ricotta and a final crust of grated pecorino cheese. After baking, the lasagna is served in a broth made with wine, balsamic vinegar, tarragon and mushroom stock.

This sophisticated, special occasion entrée includes a couple of pricey ingredients and is cooked in four phases. It isn’t difficult to make, but it does take time.

If you like the taste of wild mushrooms and enjoy delicate textures, this may become a favorite of yours and some lucky dinner guests.

Wild Mushroom Lasagna
Serves 4-6

Finished Wild Mushroom Lasagna. Note the dark, rich sauce with sauteed mushroom pieces surrounding the lasagna.

Hints

  1. Here is a list of wild mushrooms of the northwest. Note: Shiitake, Crimini and Portabella are cultivated, NOT wild.
  2. The stem textures among wild and cultivated fresh mushrooms are as different as the tastes. Some are delicate, delicious and cook perfectly; others are tough, stringy and hardly edible. The bottom halves are tougher than the top halves. For this recipe I recommend using no more than half of any stem. I tear rather than cut the tops of wild mushrooms, but with both wild and cultivated I follow this guideline: the thicker the stem the thinner I slice it. When you select the fresh mushrooms, remember that Portabella stems weigh a lot. One whole mushroom can easily weigh a half pound. For this recipe I prefer smaller size Portabellas or Crimini which are just immature Portabellas.
  3. To avoid cook’s confusion and a seriously messy kitchen, read the recipe a couple of times and become familiar with the steps before you cook. Prep the chopping, slicing, grating etc. and then start cooking.
  4. Mixed combinations of dehydrated wild mushrooms are less expensive and produce good flavor.
  5. In this recipe, dried tarragon works as well as fresh.
  6. To produce a light, delicate texture in the baked lasagna, the béchamel sauce should be noticeably thinner than usual white sauces.
  7. Be sure to let the lasagna set up for after it is baked so it won’t come apart in the surrounding sauce when it’s served. Reheat the sauce to a low simmer just before you ladle around the lasagna.

Ingredients

1, 1.5oz package dehydrated mixed wild mushrooms
3/4# fresh shiitake, Crimini, or portabella, stems removed, cut or torn into thin slices (see hint #2 above)
8 tbs. unsalted butter (1 stick)
1/3 cup minced fresh shallot (1 large or 2 medium)
½ cup dry white wine
3 tbs. dried tarragon (should be deep green, ½” strips
Kosher or sea salt
3 tbs. all purpose flour
1 quart mushroom stock, at room temperature
¼ tsp. nutmeg, allspice or star anise
1 cup milk, room temp.
1½ cups finely grated aged pecorino or provolone plus one shaving per portion for garnish
1 tbs. extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup chopped red onion
1 cup thinly sliced fresh radicchio
½ cup robust red wine
½ cup good balsamic vinegar
¼ tsp. granulated sugar
¼ cup medium dry sherry (suitable for drinking)
1 box no boil lasagna sheets right out of the box(9oz size will leave extra sheets for another time)
¾ cup ricotta cheese
3 oz. fresh mozzarella (soft, not rubbery)
1/3 cup minced Italian parsley or sprigs of fresh tarragon for garnish

Procedure

  1. Put dehydrated mushrooms into a non-metallic bowl and cover, just barely with hot water. Let stand for 30 minutes, drain and return to bowl. Set aside.
  2. Re-hydrated wild mushrooms before cooking

  3. Cut any slices of fresh mushrooms into bite size pieces. Heat a non-stick sauté pan over medium low and add mushrooms. Move around gently until they have released their moisture. Add 2 tbs. butter and half of the shallots and cook until the shallots soften. Add white wine and 1 tbs. tarragon. Continue cooking for 4-5 minutes, until the mushrooms are tender and almost but not quite cooked completely (they will finish cooking in the oven). Set aside.
  4. Put 2 tbs. butter into a small skillet and heat to bubbling state. Add drained, re-hydrated mushrooms. Cook over medium low heat for 8-10 minutes. The mushrooms should be tender and easy to bite, but not soft. Transfer half of the mixture to the fresh mushroom mixture and stir to blend. Set aside. Set aside remaining fresh mushrooms separately.
  5. Good mushroom broth

  6. Heat a medium sized pot over medium low temperature. Add 2 tbs. butter. When it is foams, add flour. Stir to combine and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring frequently. Add 2 cups mushroom stock a little at a time, blending thoroughly after each addition. Stir in spice, milk and half of the grated cheese. Taste and correct seasoning with salt. The sauce should pour easily; it will thicken slightly as it cools. If it is too thick, add a little more milk or mushroom stock. Cover and set aside.
  7. Heat olive oil in a skillet at medium low temperature. Add chopped red onion and cook for 1-2 minutes. Add sliced radicchio and cook for about 3 minutes, until it is softened a little. Add red wine and simmer until wine has cooked down almost completely. Add ¼ cup vinegar and cook for 3 minutes more. Move the pan off heat and let it cool to room temperature. Taste. If it tastes astringent, add sugar and stir it in. If it doesn’t, leave the sugar out.
  8. Thinly sliced radicchio

  9. To assemble the lasagna: lightly butter the bottom and sides of a 13”x9”x 3” baking pan. Spread a thin layer of béchamel sauce over the bottom of the pan. Cover the bottom of the pan with single sheets of lasagna leaving no space along the sides. Ladle a layer of béchamel over the sheets. Arrange cooked mushrooms over the sauce and sprinkle radicchio in empty spaces. Put teaspoon portions of ricotta and pieces of mozzarella among the mushrooms and radicchio. Repeat for two or three more layers with another layer of pasta, béchamel, mushrooms etc., portioning all to last through the top layer.
  10. First layer without radicchio, ricotta or mozarella

  11. Brush butter or oil over a sheet of foil large enough to cover over the edges of the baking pan. Cover the lasagna with the foil, butter side down.
  12. Preheat oven to 350º. Bake lasagna on the center rack for 40 minutes. Take it out of the oven, remove the foil and increase the heat to 400º. Sprinkle remaining pecorino over the top of the lasagna and return to the oven. Bake an additional 5-8 minutes, until the top is golden brown and slightly crusty. Remove from the oven and let it set up for 10 minutes.
  13. While the lasagna bakes, put remaining shallots and tarragon into a saucepan. Add 2 tbs. butter and cook over medium low heat until shallots are softened. Add remaining stock, sherry and remaining vinegar. Heat to a steady simmer and cook until sauce is reduced by about ¼ of its original volume. Taste and correct flavor with salt if necessary. Add remaining cooked fresh mushrooms and tarragon, remove from heat and set aside.
  14. To serve: Heat pasta bowls in the oven until they are a little too hot to hold without protection, and heat the sauce until it returns to a low simmer. Using a knife, cut lasagna into portions. Using a spatula, transfer portions to the heated pasta bowls. Ladle sauce around the sides of each portion sharing the pieces of mushroom among the portions. Garnish each serving with a shaving of pecorino and minced parsley or a sprig of fresh tarragon. Serve immediately.
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