Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Dinner is served at last-the promised Mushroom Lasagna!

     For those of you who do not know, I am a huge, HUGE fan of pasta. And cheese.  And creamy sauces-or tomato sauces.  So, obviously, it seems like a given to say that I like a lasagna. Fits right in with the character profile, no?   But let me just try for a moment to emphasize the deliciousness of the following recipe.  It is creamy-so, so creamy-with just the right pinch of flavor from nutmeg and black pepper.  And the mushrooms, of course, which I adore, carry the main weight of the dish.  They are not overwhelming, but I have to say, the aroma that filled my kitchen before I took this thing out sufficiently made my mouth water.  This lasagna is simple, lacking in heavy meats and dozens of cheeses, and is therefore a bit lighter than your average Italian heavyweight.  Follow the jump to learn why this is one of my favorite lasagna recipes ever, and why YOU should dig up some excuse to make it!

     Anyone who has read the past two blog posts about butter mishaps and oh-my-god-I-can't-stop-eating-these-cookies is already aware of this, but the lasagna in question was served as the main dish for a dinner I shared with my boyfriend a couple of days ago.  I had never made a lasagna before, but seeing as both of us love pasta, and mushrooms, it didn't seem like there could be a better choice.
     I'll admit it was not the perfect cutesy setup-he came over in the early afternoon, so he had to witness the madness of cooking and wait about two hours for dinner (find out later why he made it even longer). However, I'd like to think it was worth it, given that after his first bite he looked up in surprise and simply said:

     "This is delicious".

     And then continued to dive in.  No higher praise, methinks.

Mushrooms sliced courtesy of the boyfriend, since I was busy
running around the kitchen like a chicken with its head cut off.
     As per my usual train of testing, I halved this recipe to be sure I wasn't whipping up a big pot of Disaster and Despair that I would later have to deal with.  However, the recipe being taken from Smitten Kitchen (I know, I know...do I USE any other blogs for recipes!?) who in turn adapted it from one of my favorite Food Network stars, Ina Garten, I had a pretty strong faith in the dish before even beginning. It was really only my abilities that seemed in question.
The box of lasagna recommended laying the strips out on dry towels
after draining them whilst assembling the lasagna.  Seemed wise to me.

     Overall though, I have to say I was quite pleased.  The biggest challenge with this recipe is that there is so much going on all at once, all over the kitchen.  (It didn't help that I was also baking a loaf of Pillsbury bread in the oven which had to be dealt with.)  I did help myself out a little bit though by pre-measuring any ingredients I could so that I wouldn't have to pause what I was doing later--rather a good idea, since the Béchamel sauce is on strict time limits and at moments must be whisked constantly.  No time for other things!  Also, the recipe does sort of call for 3 pots/pans, along with all your mixing, cutting, and measuring tools.  Bit of a hefty clean up, but in my honest opinion this little gem was completely worth it.
Downside: This is the mess left in the wake of that little pot of lasagna.Or, I SHOULD say,
this is the mess in THAT half of the kitchen. There was a whole other area covered in chaos.

     Towards the end, I was getting all excited as the smell of baking cheese and mushrooms began to waft through the lower floor of my condo.  With about 20 minutes on the clock and the lasagna in the oven, however, my boyfriend...fell asleep.  And slept. And slept. And then the lasagna came out, so I took it out to cool, set the table, sliced some bread, plated the lasagna and....

     He kept sleeping.  

     Not in a oh-my-god-is-he-dead kind of way; he certainly roused himself when I pestered him, but for various reasons he was so tired that not even the promise of a delicious lasagna could rustle him from my couch.  So, slightly put-out that my perfect dinner plans were going to be put on hold, I popped some foil over the plates, ate my slices of bread (because honestly, it's just better warm!) and amused myself for another hour-that's right, HOUR-until he finally woke up and was ready to eat.  However, like I mentioned earlier, the lasagna was still absolutely delicious, and quite frankly I wasn't all that bothered about the nap time interruption--the guy works hard, and sometimes you just need to relax.  I should mention that the meal did NOT include the garlic butter (linked earlier in the post) for two reasons: One, I had not had further chance to test it and still wasn't sure of whether or not it was "good", and two, AFTER his arrival, I was reminded that my boyfriend does not, in fact, like garlic-y foods.  Hmm...wish I'd remembered that on Saturday. Oh well.  The no-bake cookies, however (also previously linked), were eaten both before AND after the meal, and as I sent him home with a box and neither of us have much self-control around sweets, they've been completely gone for about a day now.
     The only real trouble I encountered with this recipe was that I, having never really made a lasagna or a pasta sauce before, neglected to think that the fact that the recipe called for whole milk, and the fact that I used skim milk, would have any consequence.  Didn't even cross my mind until about 5 minutes after the Béchamel sauce was supposed to have thickened up and be done, but was still runny as water.  As a last minute desperate attempt to fix the situation, I dumped in a heaping teaspoon of flour to the sauce and about a tablespoon of heavy cream, whisking it into the mixture as fast as I could.  It worked decently well and, while still probably a bit thinner than intended, the sauce was absolutely delicious, and I'll probably plan on making it again with other pasta dishes in the future!  
     Also, as a note, the original recipe called for 1 tsp of ground nutmeg, but Deb (the genius behind Smitten Kitchen) recommended less, so, as I was already halving the recipe, I used only a quarter of a teaspoon. Tasted fantastic to me, but you can put in a bit more if you want a stronger flavor!  Also feel free to replace the mushrooms with beef or even chicken for those die-hard carnivores, though particularly with beef I'd recommend eliminating the olive oil and most of the butter when cooking on the stovetop-the natural juices of the beef will take care of greasing the pan themselves.

     As I followed the recipe by and large to a T, I'll just go ahead and link rather than re-post, (you'll appreciate it, as the photos in the Smitten Kitchen blog are much lovelier than mine!) and hopefully you'll have an excuse to serve this dish up soon!  Find it here!

For cooking beginners:  When making Béchamel sauces, beware-they burn quickly, and then you're left with nasty pots to scrub.  So stir constantly and do not overheat!
For cooking experts: What do you usually pair with lasagnas and other heavy pasta dishes?  Bread, of course, is the easiest thing that came to mind-but what are some good side dishes that won't make you completely pop from over-eating?

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