Wednesday, March 31, 2010

White Lasagna with Spinach and Mushrooms

One of the many things I love about How to Cook Everything Vegetarian is how many variations there are for almost every recipe!  

Here is how I wound up making my delicious white lasagna with spinach and mushrooms:  I had half a box of pre-boiled lasagna noodles in the pantry and most of a container of ricotta cheese leftover from last week.  So I figured I could make half a lasagna recipe out of that, which would still be two meals for us.  I started by looking at the basic Vegetarian Lasagna recipe.  Then I was tempted by the "White Lasagna" variation so I headed over to the corresponding white sauce recipe, which is called "Bechamel Sauce, 11 ways" (eleven!!).  I remembered that I had some dried mushrooms so I decided to make the "Mushroom Sauce" variant of the Bechamel sauces.  I also thought it would be cool to add sauteed mushrooms to the lasagna filling so I looked up his method for that as well.  

Good grief!  Actually, I was still really motivated because all I would need to buy were spinach and mushrooms, and seeing as this was the Sunday before payday I was not looking to spend a lot anyway.  

I knew I wouldn't have much time Monday to cook so I assembled it Sunday night, while Joe made that night's dinner of refried beans and grilled peppers and onions for burritos.  There was a lot going on in the kitchen but it was really fun!  It was SO nice to just be able to bake the lasagna on Monday and not have to get the kitchen dirty again!  

This might look a little daunting, but it helped me to think of it as several small recipes rather than one big one.  So that's how I wrote it up here.  First I started with the components (the mushrooms and the sauce) and set them aside.  Then I just had to steam the spinach really quick, and I was pretty much ready to assemble (I cheated and used pre-boiled noodles, so that saved a lot of time as well).

Sauteed Mushrooms
adapted from Mark Bittman - How to Cook Everything Vegetarian
Serves 4

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil or a mixture of oil and butter
About 1 pound mushrooms, preferably an assortment, trimmed and sliced
A big handful of dried porcini, or a mixture of dried mushrooms (optional)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup dry white wine or water
1 teaspoon minced garlic
Chopped parsley leaves for garnish (optional, I had parsley but forgot to use it)

To reconstitute the dried mushrooms, rinse under warm water for about a minute, then soak in a bowl of hot water for 10 minutes.  Save this soaking liquid for the sauce later! (I confess, I accidently poured mine down the sink, but luckily I had some mushroom broth in the freezer that I could use instead)  Set aside 1-2 tablespoons worth of the reconstituted mushrooms and mince them.  Set these aside for the sauce as well.  

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  When good and hot, add the fresh and reconstituted mushrooms, then sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Cook until they are tender, about 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Pour the wine into the skillet.  Let it sizzle for about a minute, then lower the heat to medium-low.  Stir in the garlic and let that cook for about a minute.  Taste and add more salt/pepper if necessary.  Garnish with parsley, if using, and set aside.    

Mushroom Bechamel sauce
adapted from Mark Bittman - How to Cook Everything Vegetarian
Makes about 1 cup

2 tablespoons butter or extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
3/4 to 1 cup milk
1/2 to 3/4 cup mushroom soaking liquid
1-2 tablespoons minced reconstituted dried mushrooms
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, add the butter or oil.  When melted or hot, whisk in the flour.  Lower the heat and cook for about 3 minutes, whisking constantly, until the mixture turns tan (for some reason, I kept picturing the color of the tan M&M, remember when they used to have that color?)

Continue to whisk constantly and stir in the milk/mushroom soaking liquid, a little at a time.  After about a cup has been incorporated, the sauce will still be pretty thick.  Keep adding liquid until it's a little thinner than you'd like it to be, stir in the minced mushrooms, then cook over low heat until it thickens back up again.

Season with salt and pepper.  I just set my sauce aside until I was ready to assemble the lasagna, but Bittman suggests that you keep it warm over a pot of gently simmering water, stirring occasionally.  He's probably right,

White Lasagna with Spinach and Mushrooms
adapted from Mark Bittman - How to Cook Everything Vegetarian
Serves 6-8

12 dried lasagna noodles (alternatively, you could use fresh pasta, or you could also use "no boil" lasagna noodles, which is what I used)
2 tablespoons softened butter or extra virgin olive oil
1 recipe Mushroom Bechamel sauce, see above
About 2 large bunches fresh spinach, washed and trimmed
1 recipe Sauteed Mushrooms, see above
3 cups ricotta, plus more as needed
2 cups freshly grated Parmesan, plus more as needed
Freshly ground black pepper

Bring a large pot of water to a boil for the pasta.  Add a good pinch of salt.  If using fresh pasta, cut the sheets into noodles that will fit your lasagne dish (probably 3 x 13 inches).  Cook about half the noodles at a time, until they are tender but still underdone.  They will finish cooking in the oven.  Fresh pasta will take a minute or less, dried pasta will take a little longer.  Drain and lay the noodles out flat on a clean towel.  If you are like me and using the pre-boiled noodles, skip this step entirely!

While you are boiling the noodles, steam the spinach.  Put a couple inches of water into a put fitted with a steamer basket and bring it to a boil.  Once the steam is going add the spinach (in batches) and steam for one minute, setting the cooked spinach aside in a colindar.  Squeeze out any excess water (ring it out with your hands), then roughly chop.  Add to the sauteed mushrooms and gently mix both together with the ricotta.      

Preheat the oven to 400 F.  

Butter or lightly oil a rectangular baking dish.  Add a large spoonful of sauce and spread it around to evenly coat the bottom of the pan.  Add a layer of noodles, trimming to fit if needed.  Top with more sauce, 1/3 of the spinach mixture, and a good sprinkling of Parmesan.  Season with salt and pepper between layers.  Repeat 2x (remember the order: noodles, sauce, spinach mixture, Parmesan, salt and pepper).  Top with the remaining noodles, sauce, ricotta, and Parmesan (the top should be covered with cheese).  At this point, you could cover the baking dish with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to a day or freeze.  Bring to room temperature before baking.

The lasagna bakes for about 30 minutes, or until it's bubbling nicely and the cheese is melted and lightly browned on top.  Remove from oven, let rest for a few minutes before cutting into wedges and serving.  


  1. This looks really yummy! You can make this the next time you come to my house:-)


    we make this a lot!!! i am not a fan of red sauce and this is one of the meals i feel really comfortable making for other people! we do a different variation every time and dont even use the recipe now. we love it!!!


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