gabriella's lasagna goes vegetarian with mushrooms

For many years bob wondered if it might not be possible to go vegetarian with the traditional Bolognese meat sauce in our self-proclaimed excellent authentic lasagna production process, learned directly from a Roman mom and her daughter. Because... meat consumption contributes to the narrowing of the possibilities for our future as a species, so moving towards vegetarian cuisine is simply the right thing to do. Not so easy when you are part of a traditional eastern Mediterranean family where a judicious but not exaggerated use of meat flavors many of our favorite ethnic dishes.

So how to do it? Mushrooms. When you finely chop them in a food processor, they look very much like ground beef. Similar texture as well. So the thought was to minimally adjust our Marcella Hazan Bolognese sauce recipe for the substitution of the beef by mushroom crumbs. But when?

So we hosted the aging inlaws for a whole weekend, and had already done the mall walking and shopping on Saturday, so what to do to pass the time on Sunday? Mushroom lasagna fit the bill. We had the time and just needed to fill it. So we got 2 lbs of baby bellas and 6 big portobello caps at Costco. Ani took the lead on what modifications had to be made to accomodate the mushrooms. Isgouhi suggested the cayenne red pepper correction when tasting the nearly done sauce and added just enough to subtract that sweetness impression without making it actually spicy hot.

The result was simply the best tasting lasagna we have made to date.

pasta
1 1/2 lb whole wheat pasta lasagna noodles destined for a 9x13 or 10x14 inch nonstick baking pan (sprayed with vegetable cooking spray)
[for fewer people and if abundant leftovers are not prized for another meal after all this work, depending on the number of guests, you can make 1 lb pasta with 4 c bechamel sauce, for about 6 or 7 layers, then use the extra red sauce for a pasta dish later]
bechamel sauce [see a previous recipe]
6 c milk
3/4 stick = 6 T butter
6 T flour
3/8 t salt
tomato-mushroom sauce
food process saute group
1 c onion
1 small leek
1/2 c celery
1 c carrots
2 T olive oil 
mushroom group
2 T olive oil 
2 lb baby bellas, peeled (ani insisted) and food processed
4 portobello caps food processed with the babies
sauce group
1 c dry white wine
2 28-oz cans peeled italian plum tomatoes (San Marzano?)
1 heaping t pepper paste
2 heaping t tomato paste
1/2 t cayenne red pepper (to taste)
cheese
as much as needed, maybe 1/2 lb, freshly grated parmigiano, pulse chunks in a food processor to grate it more easily

instructions

  1. Start with the sauce, and once that is complete and simmering, do the fresh pasta noodles, without which this will not be authentic. We usually do the sauce a day in advance of assembly.
  2. Prep the veggies and the mushrooms (peel the babies, damp paper towel the grownup caps). Food process the vegggies, then separately the mushrooms.
  3. Begin sautéing the veggies until softened.
  4. Add the mushroom crumbs and continue sauteing for enough time to reduce the liquid that is shed by the mushrooms. Takes a while. Be patient.
  5. Then toss in the wine, not sure why we used white and not red wine. Reduce that too.
  6. Hand crush the canned tomatores in their juice in a large bowl, then add them to the pot with the tomato and red pepper paste and cayenne red pepper (careful!) and stir together. Bring to a simmer and cook for about an hour while then turning your attention to the fresh pasta production. Or do ahead of time and refrigerate overnight. When ready to  assemble, continue.
  7. Meanwhile make the bechemal sauce until thickened. This is the usual story. Melt the butter in a nonstick pot, then whisk in the flour. Microwave the milk to warm it a bit. Slowly whisk the warm milk into the flour-butter mixture and continue stirring until smooth and let thicken. Remove from heat to let cool down a bit before assembly.
  8. Then follow the whole wheat pasta recipe for a pound and a half of pasta.
  9. Assembly requires 2 chefs working as a team. Baking is then half an hour at 350°.
  10. We use two big pasta pots, one for boiling the pasta noodles one by one for one minute, then one filled with ice water with a steamer basket at the top to keep the ice underneath so each noodle can be quickly cooled by immersion in the ice water and then laid out on kitchen towels until cut to fit the length and be laid in place. A big chinese sieve on a handle can be used to extract the cooked noodle from the boiling water.
  11. We ended up doing 8 layers so you need to divide your sauce and bechemal sauces into 9 parts in theory. Dabble roughly 1/2 c of bechemal in 4 or 5 dabs and dab a bit more sauce on each layer as well, starting with the bare bottom of the pan. Then spread them both together around the layer until they are all mixed up. Remember, not too much sauce between layers, just enough. The biggest problem with American lasagna and pasta in general is overwhelming the noodles with the sauce. Then hand sprinkle the freshly grated paramigiano over the sauce. Then on to the next layer until the sauces run out. We use a wooden spoon to measure the length of each cut noodle, two strips seem to do the job nicely. Pieces we put together on some of the inner layers, reserving two nice noodles for the top layer.
  12. Bake about a half hour at 350°.
  13. Let it sit at least 15 minutes out of the oven before serving or the layers will slide apart when portioning out servings.
  14. Good luck. It is worth the effort. Get some experience and the result will improve. Practice makes perfect.

notes

  1. Our lasagna story has a long history
  2. complete with illustrations:
  3. This takes a team of two people working together because they enjoy doing so. Find a compatible partner if you are cooking alone.
  4. Illustrations available.

 

wfglsgn4.htm: 27-feb-2016 [what, ME cook? © 1984 dr bob enterprises]