When I saw Sam Sifton’s gooey wild-mushroom lasagna in last weekend’s Times magazine I 1) held the magazine up to my nose and tried to inhale the aromas and 2) logged onto Fresh Direct’s website and ordered all the ingredients in the recipe. And thus began this weekend’s cooking adventure.
I’m into mushrooms. I have a friend who puts them in the category of “things that are slimy like sushi and therefore gross,” but I couldn’t disagree more. They are a vegetarian’s best friend, a meat-lover’s confidant, an umami-laden, savory, rich, earthy delight that adds depth and complexity to any dish.
This was not a thirty-minute meal. I started cooking last night at 6:30 and didn’t get the dish on the table until 10 pm. And I worked relatively quickly, or so I thought, but did not have a sous chef to help me cut all the shallots or grate the cheese or assemble the herb oil. But it was so worth it.
Let’s start with the herb oil. As Sifton writes, Monica Byrne and her partner Leisah Swenson run a tiny restaurant in Red Hook, Brooklyn, called Home/Made, and this herb oil infuses many of their dishes. It’s essentially good olive oil marinated with sage, rosemary, thyme, salt, and garlic. It’s an oily pesto that you use to roast the radicchio and cook the shallots and even make the bechamel in this recipe. I made extra so plan to use it to marinate sandwiches for lunch this week or even use as a pistou in soups.
I used three different kind of mushrooms for this lasagna: cremini, shiitake, and oyster; and four different kinds of cheese: Gruyère, Fontina, Parmesan, and smoked mozzarella. This is not a cheap dish to make, but it does yield about ten servings so in actuality it’s not too bad. Plus the results taste like something you’d pay good money for at a restaurant, with layers and layers of taste. It’s the perfect cold-weather dish to savor warm, rich flavors, and if you’re into wine, would go well with a dry, crisp white to cut the richness of the cheese.
I didn’t, however, use the optional truffle oil. Personally I don’t use the stuff. I find the smell slightly nauseating and besides, it’s not made with real truffles so what’s the point? But the herb oil should not be optional—it’s worth the extra effort.
If you’re hosting a dinner party this would be a great dish to make to serve lots of folks, including vegetarians, and could even be made in advance and just popped in the oven an hour before serving. I only wished I’d had a nice crunchy green salad to serve on the side, but made do with some crisp sliced carrots and sour green beans I had pickled over the summer. I would even try serving this to my anti-mushroom friend in the hopes that she could make nice with the fungus once and for all.
Gooey Wild-Mushroom Lasagna
Sam Sifton, adapted from Monica Byrne, Home/Made, Brooklyn
1/2 c extra-virgin olive oil or herb oil
6 large shallots, peeled and minced
1 1/2 pounds mushrooms, wild or best available (oyster, shiitake, cremini), trimmed and sliced
1 c dry white wine
1 softball-sized head of radicchio, halved, cored, and cut into small pieces
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 tbsp unsalted better, or herb oil
3 large cloves garlic, peeled and minced
4 tbsp flour
3 c whole milk
1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
1 c Gruyère cheese, grated
1 c Fontina cheese, grated
2 tbsp best-quality truffle oil (optional)
2 9-oz boxes no-boil lasagna sheets
1 baseball-size ball of smoked mozzarella, sliced
1 c fresh Parmesan, grated
1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Place a large sauté pan over medium-high heat and add 1/4 c of the herb oil. When it’s hot, add half of the shallots and cook until translucent. Add the mushrooms, toss to coat, and cook for approx. 12 to 15 minutes, until they start to turn color but remain plump. Add the white wine to deglaze pan and allow to cook down into a syrup, approx. 5 to 7 minutes. Put the mushrooms into a large bowl and reserve.
2. In another bowl, toss the radicchio with 1/4 c herb oil and season with salt and pepper. Spread the strips onto a baking sheet and place in the oven approx. 15 minutes, until the strips are lightly browned. Combine with the mushrooms and reserve.
3. Make the béchamel. Place a saucepan over medium heat and melt the butter. When it foams add the rest of the shallots and cook until they’re translucent. Add the garlic, stir to combine, and cook until the garlic has started to soften. Stir in the flour and cook gently until the mixture turns light brown and gives off a nutty scent, approximately 10 minutes. Add the milk to the mixture, whisking, until the sauce is thick and creamy. Add the nutmeg and 1/2 c of the Gruyère and 1/4 c Fontina, and stir to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
4. Reserve a cup of béchamel and pour the rest over the mushroom-radicchio mixture and stir to combine. Add the truffle oil, if using.
5. Assemble lasagna. Spread all of the plain béchamel across the bottom of a 9- by 13-inch baking dish. Place a layer of lasagna sheets across the sauce, and do not overlap the sheets. Spread a generous layer of mushroom mixture on top of the pasta, and follow with some grated Fontina and Gruyère. Put another layer of pasta above the cheese, and top with smoked mozzarella. Repeat until the pasta is gone and the pan is full. Top with remaining cheeses and grated Parmesan. Cover with a buttered sheet of aluminum foil and place in the oven for 45 minutes. Remove the foil and cook (or broil) until the top is golden and crispy. Pat yourself on the back for making such an awesome dish.