Even though it’s often just the two of us, we use holidays as special times for us to put together great dinners. This Easter was no exception. You already saw the Strawberry Balsamic Pie and the Champagne Grapefruit Sorbet; today, we’re covering our main course (we also had home-scratched bread, but, for us, that’s just part of our normal weekly routine).
This recipe doesn’t really come from anywhere, or perhaps you could say it might come from everywhere, since it’s an agglomeration of many things we love about lasagna: lots of mushrooms, little (or no) ricotta, which we feel makes lasagna too rich, and, of course, our homemade pasta. So, in that sense, it’s our recipe, but, we feel that when you make it, you’ll add your own touches, so it’ll be your recipe, too.
If you have a pasta machine, now’s the time to break it out and use it. It makes putting together lasagna a breeze. Just crank out the dough very thinly, then layer. No boiling. If not, you can roll it out with a rolling pin. More trouble, but fresh pasta is good enough that you might think it’s worth it. We didn’t specify the type of mushrooms, but we used a mix of oyster, porcini, and shiitake; we had dried, but, if you can use fresh, so much the better. We do specify using San Marzano tomatoes, though; they’re the best (besides fresh), and we’re partial to the Cento brand. And, you know by now that Parmesan cheese does not come in a green shaker can.
Procedure in detail:
Prep mushrooms. With dried mushrooms, this will be the longest part of making the lasagna. First, measure out the mushrooms into a heatproof bowl, cover with boiling water, then cover the bowl and let the mushrooms rehydrate for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Scoop out the mushrooms and filter the broth through a coffee filter, reserving the broth. Rinse the mushrooms to remove grit and chop them into 1/4 to 1/2 inch pieces, discarding tough stems (or save them for making stock). You’ll have about a quart of mushrooms.
Cook alliums. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onions and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook for about a minute. You don’t want either one to burn, especially not the garlic, as it tastes bitter when burned.
Add mushrooms. Add all those lovely mushrooms and any reserved broth to the skillet and cook until only about 1/4 inch of liquid remains, 5 to 10 minutes, depending on the amount of broth.
Add tomatoes. Stir in the tomatoes, breaking up any whole tomatoes and large pieces. Let simmer until the tomatoes begin to disintegrate, about 10 minutes.
Add spices. Add the salt, fennel seeds, oregano, pepper, and thyme. Do not add the basil just yet; we’re going to save that for last, as its flavor comes from volatile oils that are easily cooked off. Stir and let simmer for another 5 minutes, or until you’re ready to assemble the lasagna.
Remove from heat. Remove the sauce from the heat and stir in the basil. Bring the pan over to where you’re going to assemble the lasagna.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Place a rack in the middle of the oven.
Assemble lasagna. Spread a thin layer of sauce on the bottom of the pan, then build up layers of lasagna: pasta, sauce, mozzarella cheese, pasta, sauce, mozzarella cheese, …. Finish up with a layer of pasta sheets, topped with Parmesan cheese.
Bake. Place a sheet of parchment paper over the top (it’ll allow some moisture to escape, while preventing browning at first), and bake for 45 minutes until the cheese is melted and the lasagna is starting to bubble. Remove parchment and bake for an additional 15 minutes to brown and crisp the top.
Stand. Remove the lasagna from the oven and let stand 5 to 10 minutes before serving.
What a perfect Easter dinner. This lasagna was nice and cheesy, but not overly filling because we didn’t include ricotta and egg, and the mushroom flavor was incredibly tasty. Even with the wild mushrooms, the pasta still stood out — you could definitely tell that it was made from scratch (the texture and taste is very different from the dried sheets). We had one bite and immediately agreed that this was a five-star dish. We don’t recommend waiting until next Easter to try out this lasagna!