Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Mushroom Lasagna

A few months ago, when Anna was still new to the cheese thing, I made some four cheese pasta... it was probably this one($$$) from Cook's Illustrated, but I didn't blog it so I can't be sure... regardless... she really loved it. It was, I believe, instrumental in showing her that cheese can indeed be delicious... and not just something people throw on everything to irritate the non dairy consuming minority. She had been Vegan for like 10 years or something at that point, so pretty much all she knew about cheese was hearsay or faint rememberances from her youth... and one of the first dishes she had after deciding to do the dairy thing was quite a disappointment... so the pasta ai quattro formaggi was pretty key to her not just abandoning the whole venture. However, ever since then, she's wanted to make it with vegetables in it... because she feels guilty about betraying her principles... is worried about all the calories in cheese... or something. Unfortunately, no such dish exists as far as I can tell... if you are going through the trouble of getting four cheeses, you generally want to focus on them. Now obviously, there are all sorts of vegetarian baked pasta dishes, but the challenge was finding one with both interesting cheeses and interesting vegetables. I checked through NBR, Bittman, and searched the net... but nothing really jumped out at me, so I got on to Cook's Illustrated's website and started poking around.

Enter Wild Mushroom Lasagna($$$), which fit the bill like a champ... five types of mushrooms(porcini, oyster, chantrelle, shiitake, and cremini) and two cheeses (fontina and Parmesan)... score! Of course, the downside is that it's not always easy to find that many wild mushrooms... which we didn't. Of the three places we visited, we only saw some pretty sad looking oyster mushrooms and neither hide nor hair of chantrelles or shiitakes. Fortunately, the people at Cook's Illustrated anticipated this and provided a recipe for Wild Mushroom Lasagna($$$) that only uses portobellos, creminis, and porcinis. Not quite as exciting, obviously, but available at pretty much every supermarket. Next time maybe we'll head to Russo's instead of Whole Foods and have some better luck.

One important note... the recipe calls for Italian fontina and says to substitute mozzarella if you can't get it... not some other kind of Fontina. They mean it. I didn't listen to them, because I thought the knowledgeable cheesepeople at Formaggio Kitchen would give me the best possible substitute... and they did... flavor-wise. However, the deal here is hardness, which I didn't appreciate until we were getting ready to make our first cheese layer and had vastly too little cheese. Of course, we had the right amount weight wise, but because the Belgian fontina we had was very soft, it didn't shred at all really... just sort of made little balls of cheese. So instead of even layers, we ended up with pools of cheese interspersed within... not the end of the world, and the same overall level of cheesy goodness, but not ideal. We almost went to the store for some mozzarella at the last minute, but I worried we might overcompensate and make it too cheesy(yes, it is possible)... so we decided to just forge ahead.

Aside from the above fiasco, I think it came out quite well. The b├ęchamel sauce was fun to make, as was assembling the layers of lasagna. I'm pretty sure we'll try it again with wild mushrooms and the right type of cheese!

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