Sunday, 18 November 2012

Meat and Mushroom Lasagne

I have been working on this lasagne recipe for a while. I had started experimenting with it in the spring, but when the hot weather arrived, I thought this monument of a recipe was a bit too heavy to cook. Who wants to slave over 3 different steaming pots when it's 35 degrees in the shade? The pesto lasagne was more weather appropriate, but now that the evenings are colder, I felt like trying my meat and mushroom sauce again.

Baked pasta dishes have an aura of intense comfort food to me. Filling, rich and covered in melty cheese. It can't get much better than that in my world, especially if I have a big glass of red wine to wash it down with. And just like non-baked pasta, it seems the possibilities are endless when it comes to combining flavors and textures. I wanted to replicate the signature sauce from my favorite little Italian restaurant, Napoli Pizzeria: meat and mushroom sauce. When I went to school a few block from that restaurant, I used to gorge myself on this delicious mixture. Now I wanted it at home!

By the way, if you are ever in Montreal and appreciate kitsch decor and perfectly done pasta, please run to this little family-owned restaurant on St-Denis street in the Quartier Latin. The prices are very reasonable, there is a about 100 different pizzas on the menu and if being serenaded by an odd Mariachi band is not a problem for you, you will have a blast.

Of course, I don't have the original Napoli Pizzeria meat and mushroom sauce recipe, so I improvised a bit, made a lovely mushroom bolognese (that I have preciously shared here), a ricotta mix laced with savory herbs and assembled a lasagne. Here is the result!

10 to 20 lasagne noodles, pre-cooked (or no-boil lasagne noodles)

Meat and mushroom bolognese:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon chili flakes
1 large yellow onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
8 ounces fresh cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 pound ground beef
1 (28 ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1 (14 ounce) can garlic tomato paste
1/3 cup red wine
Freshly ground black pepper

Ricotta blend:
1 pound fresh ricotta cheese, room temperature
1½ cups grated Parmesan cheese
¼ cup whole milk
¼ cup chopped fresh basil
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves or 1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary leaves or 1 teaspoon dried rosemary

1 (340 gram) package of pizza mozzarella, grated

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-heat. Add the garlic and onion and sauté until the garlic is fragrant and the onions are soft and slightly golden, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring often, until they have released their liquid and are getting colored (they will also shrink and become nice and soft).

Add the ground beef, breaking up the big pieces with a spoon, and cook until the meat crumbles, about 7 minutes. Add the crushed tomatoes and tomato paste and mix well to blend everything. Add the red wine, stir and bring to a boil. Lower to a simmer, cover and cook for 30 minutes to 1 hour, stirring occasionally.

Preheat the oven to 375°F and grease a 9- by 13-inch pan. Combine the ricotta, Parmesan, milk, basil, thyme, and rosemary in a medium bowl; season with salt and pepper to taste. Spread about a ladleful of the bolognese sauce in the bottom of the greased pan. Arrange about 1 layer of noodles over the  sauce (it’s okay if they overlap slightly), then cover the noodles with more sauce, followed by about ½ of the cheese mixture. Repeat once. Add a final layer of noodles, cover them with the remaining tomato sauce, and arrange the mozzarella in a single layer on top. Wrap tightly with foil and bake for 30 to 45 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 10 minutes, until the noodles are cooked through and the cheese is golden.

I highly recommend you use pizza mozzarella to top your lasagne: it has the most awesome stretchy texture. The ground beef, while delicious, can be left out for a vegetarian mushroom-and-cheese pasta treat. Oh, and by the way, this recipe does makes a ton! Use the largest baking dish you have (or a few small ones); I got 8 helpings from this recipe.

As I explained in my previous lasagne recipe, the cooking time may vary depending on whether you use traditional or no-boil noodles. It always take a bit longer with no-boil noodles, but it is important to not over-cook a lasagne; check it after 30 minutes, testing the noodles by poking the lasagne with a fork. If it gets to soft, your beautiful pasta construction will collapse when you put it on a plate.

I was out of ricotta the night I decided to make this, so I switched the cheese and herb mixture for some creamy bechamel: that will take your lasagne to another level of richness!

4 (1/4 cup) tablespoons butter
4 cups milk
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon white pepper

In a heavy medium saucepan, melt the butter, without letting it brown. Remove from the heat. Whisk in the flour, 1 tablespoon at the time until it is incorporated. Heat up the milk in another cooking pot until just about to boil. Add ladlefuls of the milk to the butter and flour mixture. Put this mixture back on medium heat and whisk. Add the nutmeg and white pepper. When the milk is absorbed, add more, a little at the time and stir until all the milk is used up. Keep whisking until the sauce is velvety. If the sauce doesn't thicken, add some flour, one scant tablespoon at the time, stirring constantly until the desired texture is achieved (I sometimes add up to 4 extra tablespoons of flour).

If you are going to use the bechamel, build your lasagne as follows: 1 layer bechamel, 1 layer bolognese, 1 layer noodles. Repeat until you run out of noddles, top with more bolognese and cover with grated mozzarella.

No comments:

Post a Comment