Last night for dinner, I wanted to make some sort of mushroom pasta to use up a bunch of farmer’s market shiitake, maitake, and oyster mushrooms (three bagfuls purchased for just $10—hard to resist!) before they shriveled up. In the face of some seriously depleted supplies, I ran to the little market down the street for a quart of whole milk and rummaged around the fridge, almost magically producing just enough ingredients to pull off a lasagna. It wasn’t ready to eat until nearly 9:00 pm, but since I didn’t get started until after 6:30 pm due to furniture being moved through my kitchen, I really made pretty good time. Time-turners—who needs ‘em? (Gee, do I have Harry Potter on the brain? Jeremy and I are just over halfway through the last book now; we have read all of the books aloud to each other, and that takes a while.)
The lasagna filling was the fresh mushrooms tossed with olive oil, salt and pepper, and roasted whole at 400F for about 15 minutes (stirred halfway through), then coarsely chopped. While those cooked, I trashed some elderly farmer’s market bacon, regular bacon, and prosciutto, and found a stash of 5 pieces of bacon in the freezer, stored in accordion-folded plastic wrap. Perfect. I sliced it up and browned it in a skillet while scrounging for alliums. No whole onions, scallions or leeks; no chopped onion or leek left in the freezer (I used the last of that stash in the zucchini cakes the day before). Eventually the search turned up a few shriveled shallots that I minced and quickly sautéed in the bacon fat and tossed with the mushrooms and bacon bits. I think I ended up with a scant two cups of filling. I considered adding some rehydrated porcini, but I’m nearly out of those too, and decided to hoard them for a future meal.
Next up was the sauce, a white roux-based cheese sauce of whole milk and chicken stock infused with fresh thyme branches and bay. While it thickened, I pulled out every viable bit of cheese in the drawer: A few slices of smoked fontina, half a chunk of raw-milk Gruyere, some aged Grana padano, one fist-sized ball of mozzarella, and my Parmesan. The first three were slivered up and tossed in the sauce to melt; I decided to save the mozzarella and Parm for layering.
Of course I had no lasagna noodles in the pantry, so I made them myself using a batch and a half of Marcella’s basic pasta recipe (1 ½ C flour and 3 eggs). The dough was a bit sticky, but I just kept everything well floured. The real problem was that I was trying to make my lasagna in a rather messy kitchen because I’d gotten a late start cooking, so there was not much available counter space for strewing pasta sheets. I managed—just barely—and tossed the huge, translucent ribbons into boiling water for a few seconds, just long enough to set the dough. As they came out of the water, I dumped them in a bowl of cold water and olive oil, to prevent sticking.
Finally I was ready to layer: Sauce in the bottom, then a layer of pasta, squeegeed between my fingers to remove the excess moisture and oil. A scant scattering of mushroom-shallot-bacon filling and some slivers of mozzarella, then more sauce and pasta. I squeezed 4 layers out of the filling and cheese, with just barely enough sauce leftover to coat the top layer of noodles, followed by a shower of grated Parmesan. The dish, foil-covered, went in a 350F oven for about half an hour, then I took off the foil, bumped the broiler up to 500F, and browned up the top a bit. Jeremy had been plaintively asking about dinner for an hour, and had already consumed his appetizer (boysenberry cobbler, what else?), so the finished lasagna was very gratefully received.
You would hardly guess how bottom-of-the-barrel this dinner really was from the taste of it. The mushroom filling packed a big flavor punch, and the sauce was decadently creamy. The mozzarella, little as there was of it, nevertheless produced an impressively stringy show as Jeremy served up our portions. And of course the homemade pasta was tender and perfect, much more delicate than store-bought sheets would have been. If I make this again, and believe me, I’ll consider it, my only adjustments would be to increase the amounts of filling and mozzarella, and consequently the number of layers, since, tasty as it was, it wasn’t exactly a deep-dish lasagna. (It was also rather difficult to photograph, being crazy-pale and creamy and ooey-gooey.)