A Study in Mushrooms and Cream

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A Study in Mushrooms and Cream

It’s been cold and icy here in the ‘Burgh, which to me means just one thing: an excuse to eat cream sauce. I saw an episode of Barefoot Contessa in which Ina Garten makes a mushroom lasagna – for lunch! – and I’ve been ruminating on the bechamel-mushroom combination ever since. Plus, Presto Pasta Night is a year old this week, and I wanted to make something fancy!

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Anyone who has known me a long time will be surprised with my fungal fascination. Unfortunately, I think that most of my childhood encounters with mushrooms were limited to the watery little slugs in cans or to rubbery button mushrooms. I do remember hunting morels with a group of family friends once, but the idea of eating something so wormy and shriveled did not jive with my eight-year-old sensibilities. So even though I loved the smell of Stroganoff, I would pick every mushroom out of the sauce when it was time to eat.

In more recent years, mushrooms have grown on me (figuratively, thank you). First I started making Stroganoff with diced portobellos instead of canned buttons, so my mushrooms cooked up to be just as meaty as the beef. In moments of dire starvation while catering, stuffed mushrooms and fettuccine with mushroom cream sauce were sometimes the only options available. They helped me figure out that I actually didn’t hate mushrooms (as long as they weren’t swimming in oil) and that anything, really, anything, can be thoroughly enjoyed if coated in cream, butter and cheese.

Because the mushrooms are finely minced, these lasagna rolls are a good fungus trial for anybody who doesn’t like the texture of mushrooms. Their woodsy, earthbound flavor permeates the cheese filling cleanly, and the sage infused into the cream sauce is an appropriately forestial counterpoint. Preparing this dish will keep you busy in the kitchen for a good 90 minutes and probably dirty most of your pans. Fortunately (if you care), there is plenty of time to clean up while they bake, if you wish, or cuddle on the couch, which I recommend. It’s winter, after all. Got to stay warm.

Lasagna Rolls with Three Mushrooms, Four Cheeses and Sage Bechamel
A Burghilicious Original

For the filling:
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
8 ounces mixed mushrooms,* stems trimmed
2 large portobella caps, black gills removed
1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
4 ounces mascarpone
4 ounces goat cheese
1 egg

For the sage bechamel:
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup stock or water
2 cups whole milk
Pinch of nutmeg
1 large sprig of fresh sage
3/4 cup asiago, finely grated, divided
3/4 cup pecorino romano, finely grated, divided

For the lasagna:
1 pound curly lasagna, cooked in salty water
2 sprigs sage, chopped

Prepare the filling:
Melt the butter and olive oil in a large, stainless steel skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and cook for three minutes, until onions are soft. Add garlic and cook for one more minute. In a food processor,** finely chop all mushrooms. Add minced mushrooms and thyme to the pan. Cook for 10-15 minutes, until mushrooms are fragrant and cooked through. Season with salt and pepper.

In a large bowl, beat together mascarpone, goat cheese and egg until combined. Add the warm mushroom mixture to the cheese and egg mixture, and stir to combine. Refrigerate until ready to assemble lasagna rolls.

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Prepare the sage bechamel:
In a 3-quart saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Whisk in flour all at once, and continue whisking as the roux cooks for 2-3 minutes, until its color begins to deepen. Whisk the cream, stock and milk into the roux. Add the sage sprig and a few grates of fresh nutmeg, and slowly bring just to a boil over medium heat. Boil gently for 15 minutes, until the sauce has thickened slightly. Turn off the heat but leave the pan on the burner, and pick out the sage sprig and any leaves that have fallen off. Whisk in 1/2 cup each of asiago and pecorino romano until melted. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Assemble the lasagna rolls:
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Spread 2 tablespoons cool mushroom-cheese mixture down the length of one lasagna noodle. Gently roll up the noodle, mushrooms in. Place the roll curly end up in a 9″x9″ glass or ceramic casserole dish. Repeat with remaining lasagna noodles. Squish the final rolls into the dish to ensure every roll stands upright. Pour the bechamel over the lasagna rolls. Top with remaining cheeses, chopped sage and whispers of fresh grated nutmeg, salt and pepper.

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Bake for 40 minutes on a center rack. Switch the oven to broil, and toast the top of the lasagna rolls for 5 minutes or until all cheese is melted and golden-brown. Remove from oven and let sit 5 minutes before serving. These little guys reheat well, so they’re very smart to save for lunch.

*I used a mixture of oysters, shiitakes and creminis, which are immature portobellos.
**You could certainly chop the mushrooms by hand, but you are looking for a very fine mince that will become easily spreadable. The food processor just makes sense, and since you are getting it dirty, you may as well use it for the onion, too.

 

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