Porcini Cream Lasagna
This lasagna is extremely seductive, I think because of the unique combination of a group of foods and flavors that are each fully capable, on their own, to drive frenzied obsession: cream, butter, porcini mushrooms, white truffle oil and Parmeggiano Reggiano cheese.
Last year we were invited to a New Year's bash at a restaurant-owner friend's house and asked to bring a food contribution and I immediately thought of this dish. At the party, the table groaned with beautiful roasts, creative salads and appetizing desserts, but my simple platter of pasta emptied the fastest, and just last week one of the other guests who had been at that party asked me if I would be making "that mushroom pasta dish" again this year. (Alas, I'm not going to be in town for the party.) Seductive and memorable: what more could you want?
My friends up the street, Kit and Carrie, who are collectors of all things good and essential, had introduced the preparation to me (and generously shared their recipe) a few weeks before that New Year's party and I had been eager to give it a try. Carrie said the recipe, which they had received handwritten from another friend, was supposedly derived from one in an Alice Waters cookbook, but no one I know who has any of her books has been able to locate the ancestor recipe.
I made some adaptations to Kit and Carrie's version (using porcini instead of fresh mushrooms, using the porcini broth to intensify the mushroom flavor, and adding truffle oil) and so goes the life of a recipe. Like the original phrase in a schoolroom game of telephone, it's been mooshed and mangled into an independent life of its own. The contributions of various cooks along the way have been incorporated but can't be identified, and the descendant is therefore different from the ancestor in ways we cannot know. I love to participate in this process, shaping and changing the food we eat in my infinitesimal way, and I like to think as I do it about all the other cooks all over the world, making their interpretations of recipes, passing them on, making the food we eat endlessly interesting.
Porcini Cream Lasagna
4 oz dried porcini mushrooms (reduce to 2 oz if using optional fresh mushrooms)
[optional: 6 - 8 oz fresh mushrooms (morels, chanterelles, oyster, etc.)]
3 T sweet butter
2 T flour
1 C reduced low-sodium chicken stock, preferably homemade
1 C heavy cream
1/4 C white wine
salt and pepper to taste
1 clove garlic, minced
handful of parsley, minced
Parmeggiano Reggiano, shredded, to taste
pinch fresh nutmeg
1/2 lb sfoglia (or flat lasagne...fettuccine is ok if neither is available)
white truffle oil
Soak dried mushrooms in hot water until soft, about 15 - 20 min. Carefully lift mushrooms from the water with a slotted spoon and reserve. Slowly pour mushroom water through a fine sieve and reserve. Add 1/2 cup of the mushroom water to the stock, being careful to leave any grit that may remain in the bottom of the bowl. Reserve remaining mushroom water. Add the cream into the stock mixture and warm in a small saucepan.
Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter until it foams. Add flour and cook roux, stirring, for about a minute until it just starts to color. Add stock/cream mixture and stir in the nutmeg. Simmer sauce 1 hour in a double boiler until it coats the spoon nicely. Remove from heat and set aside.
Dry the porcini and slice the fresh mushrooms irregularly, if using. Sauté the mushrooms in the remaining 1 tablespoon butter on medium high heat, stirring constantly. When the mushroom color begins to deepen and they dry out a bit, add the remaining mushroom water (again being careful about the grit) and the wine. Raise heat and briskly reduce the liquid to a syrupy glaze on the mushrooms, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic and most of the parsley and stir a few times over heat and then remove from heat and set aside.
Preheat oven to 350º.
Break up the sheets of pasta into irregular pieces (unless you're using fettuccine) and cook the pasta al dente. Scrape the mushrooms into the cream sauce, give it a stir and correct the seasoning. Drain the pasta well and mix it with the sauce in a buttered gratin dish. Sprinkle with the cheese, drizzle with truffle oil, and bake 15 - 20 min or more until browned and crusty on top. Garnish with remaining parsley and serve immediately, with additional cheese on the side.
I serve this with a salad, a crusty bread and a glass of Chianti Classico for a simple supper, but for a more elaborate meal it would make a nice pasta course in front of a pan-roasted veal shoulder, for example, or perhaps some braised lamb shanks.
Note: the dish may be assembled but not baked ahead of time and kept refrigerated. Allow to come to room temperature before baking, or extend the baking time, and give the pasta a good toss with tongs to be sure it's well coated with the sauce before baking.