LASAGNE WITH MUSHROOMS AND HAM (for six)
For the mushroom sauce:
1-½ pounds fresh, firm button mushrooms
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 tablespoons butter plus more butter for greasing and dotting a 9 x 12 inch bake and serve lasagne pan, no more than 2-½ inches high
1/3 cup onion chopped very fine
two small packets or 2 ounces dried porcini mushrooms, reconstituted (soak in 2 cups barely warm water for at least 30 minutes, lift out of the soaking liquid by hand, squeeze out as much water as possible, letting it run back into the water bath, rinse under cold water and pat dry with paper towels)
the water from the mushroom soak, filtered through a strainer lined with paper towels
1/3 cup canned imported Italian plum tomatoes, drained and chopped
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
black pepper, ground fresh from the mill
For the béchamel sauce:
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2-½ tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 cups whole milk, heated
1 garlic clove, smashed
¾ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
For the lasagne:
16 lasagne noodles, either oven-ready (no boil — two 9 ounce packages, soaked in a bowl of very warm water for 3 to 5 minutes so that they will be pliable enough to trim to fit your baking dish, if necessary) or dried (cooked according to package instructions and separated)
¾ pound unsmoked ham
2/3 cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese, plus additional cheese at table
1. Make the mushroom sauce: Rinse the fresh mushrooms rapidly under cold running water. Drain and wipe thoroughly dry with a soft cloth or paper towels. Cut them very thin in lengthwise slices, leaving the stems attached to the caps.
2. Choose a saute pan that can subsequently accommodate all the fresh mushrooms without crowding. Put in the oil, the 3 tablespoons butter and the chopped onion, and turn heat to medium. Cook, stirring, until the onion becomes translucent. Put in the reconstituted dried porcini, the filtered water from their soak, the chopped tomatoes and the parsley. Stir thoroughly to coat all ingredients, set the cover on the pan slightly ajar, and turn the heat down to medium low.
3. When the liquid in the pan has completely evaporated, put in the sliced fresh mushrooms, salt and a few grindings of pepper, and turn the heat up to high. Cook, uncovered, for 7 to 8 minutes until all the liquid thrown off by the fresh mushrooms has evaporated. Taste and correct for salt and pepper, stir, turn off the heat and set aside.
4. Preheat the oven to 400*.
5. Make the béchamel: Heat butter in a 2 quart heavy saucepan over moderately low heat until melted, than add flour and cook roux over low heat, whisking, 3 minutes. Add hot milk in a fast stream, whisking vigorously, and whisk in garlic and salt. Bring to a boil, whisking. Reduce heat and simmer, whisking occasionally, 10 minutes, then remove garlic and add pepper. When done, keep it warm in the upper half of a double boiler, with the heat turned to very low. If a film should form on top, just stir it when you are ready to use it.
6. Assemble the lasagne: Cut the ham into very thin julienne strips.
7. Thickly smear the bottom of the lasagne pan with butter and a little bit of béchamel. Line the bottom with 3 or 4 lasagne noodles (if you are using no-boil lasagne noodles, leave space between them and do not allow them to touch the edges of the pan. They will expand as they bake. If you have boiled lasagne noodles, overlap them slightly).
8. Combine the mushrooms with all but 2 or 3 tablespoons of béchamel, then spread a thinly distributed layer of the mixture over the pasta. Scatter a few strips of ham over the sauce, then sprinkle with a little grated Parmesan. Cover with another pasta layer, repeat the sequence of mushrooms and bechamel mixture, ham, and grated cheese. Continue building up layers of pasta and filling up 4 layers of pasta. Over the topmost layer spread only the remaining béchamel, sprinkle with the rest of the Parmesan, and dot with about 2 tablespoons butter.
9. Cover lasagne with buttered foil and bake 40 minutes. Remove top and bake until top is browned and bubbling, 10 to 15 minutes more. Let stand 15 minutes before serving.
adapted from Marcella Hazan, Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking