Due to last summer's wealth of fires around our listening area, this spring is turning into a morel mushroom lover's bonanza. Food Guy Greg Patent found some for sale at the farmer's market and put them to use in morel mushroom lasagna, a delicious and light alternative to meat lasagna.
Morel Mushroom Lasagna
Cooking the Morels:
1 1/2 pounds fresh morel mushrooms
1 1/2 to 2-inch sizes preferable
8 tablespoons butter (1 stick)
1/2 cup minced shallots
1/2 cup dry white French vermouth (I use Noilly Prat)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1. Make sure morels are free of dirt or grit. Cut larger specimens into halves or quarters. Try not to exceed the 2-inch size.
2. To cook the mushrooms all at once, you’ll need a 14-inch skillet or a 6-quart sauté pan. Both pans should have lids. Lacking them, use a 12-inch skillet with lid and cook morels in two batches, dividing the other ingredients accordingly.
3. To cook, melt the butter in the skillet or sauté pan over medium heat. When foamy and hot, add the shallots and stir and cook for about 30 seconds. Add the morels and stir and toss to coat with the butter and shallots. Cover the pan, and cook about 10 minutes, on medium or medium low heat, until morels have softened. Pour in the vermouth, stir, and re-cover the pan. Cook another 5 to 10 minutes, until morels are completely tender. Uncover the pan, and if any liquid remains, continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until it has evaporated. Add the salt and pepper and take the pan off heat and let the mushrooms cool completely.
4. Scrape the mushrooms onto a cutting surface and hack away with a large chef’s knife going left to right and back again, then up and down. Just keep hacking until the morels are chopped into medium-small pieces. Put the chopped mushrooms into a medium bowl.
You can either make your own noodles or use commercial lasagna noodles. For the latter, cook 3/4 to 1 pound following package directions. Rinse well under cool tap water and blot dry with kitchen towels. Keep them between cloth towels until ready to assemble the lasagna. Have an 11 x 7 x 2-inch baking pan ready.
White Sauce and Parmesan:
4 cups whole milk
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt, plus more if needed
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
4 ounces grated Parmesan cheese (1 lightly packed cup)
1. Heat the milk until almost boiling in a 2-quart saucepan over medium to medium high heat. Melt the butter in a 3-quart saucepan over medium heat until hot and bubbly. Dump in the flour and cook 2 minutes, stirring vigorously with a wooden spoon. Take the pan off the heat and pour in all the hot milk at once. Whisk well and set the pan over medium to medium-high heat. Continue whisking constantly as the sauce comes to the boil and thickens into a cream. Take the pan off heat and whisk in the salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Taste carefully and add more salt if you feel the sauce needs it.
2. To put the lasagna together, use a soupspoon to smear about 1/4 cup of the sauce on the bottom of the lasagna pan. It won’t be an even layer. Arrange a layer of noodles on the sauce. Spread about 1/4 of the remaining sauce in an even layer on the noodles. Sprinkle evenly with 1/3 of the morels and 1/4 of the Parmesan. Repeat the layering twice more: lasagna noodles, white sauce, morels, and Parmesan. Top with the final (fourth) layer of noodles, the last of the white sauce, and the remaining Parmesan. At this point you can cover and refrigerate the lasagna for up to 1 day before baking.
3. Adjust an oven rack to the center position and preheat the oven to 375 degrees. If lasagna was refrigerated, uncover it and bring to room temperature before baking. Bake 45 minutes, or until top is well-browned. If not browned enough, turn on the broiler and cook briefly until top is nicely speckled with brown. Cool 15 minutes before cutting and serving.
Makes 6 to 8 servings.