Monday, March 16, 2009

In Hopes of Spring Day 5: A New World Order - Green Lasagna

Green. Ides of March. Cute graphic. Need I say more?
Image credit, um, I think.
It was exactly 2053 years and 1 day ago in 44BC that (Gaius) Julius Caesar was assassinated by members of his own senate in ancient Rome. That day, unbeknownst to the cunning but well-meaning senators desperate to have their Republic back from the dictator perpetuo as Caesar had proclaimed himself, would live on in collective history as the beginning of a New World Order. (Sorry, had to include the gratuitous HOT photo of Ciarán Hinds as JC from the HBO show Rome.) Photo credit.

A "New World Order" because rather than giving power back to the senate as Brutus and Cicero had hoped, Caesar's death actually quickly catapulted Rome into the infamous and thereafter permanent Empire led by, ironically, Caesar's adoptive son (& nephew) Augustus Caesar, who did keep the senate in place, but more as a courtesy than anything else. Rome was forever altered. We were forever altered.

Similarly, yesterday, on the Ides of March, I thought it wise to attempt something almost as daring,
as life-altering as the assassination of one's dictator in the name of Democratic, or in this case, technically, Republican liberty: a new lasagna.

A - dare I? well, yes, because I did - GREEN

* * *
My Accidental Assassination of Traditional Lasagna for the sake of The Republic
or, A New World Order - Green Lasagna
or, where did it all go so terribly
wrong right?

It all started one day a couple of weeks ago as I was watching Ina Garten's Food Network show The Barefoot Contessa.

A small aside:

1. What the hell is with that name? (Not hers! The show's! Though yeah, Ina? What is that?) I admit, I do find it somewhat aesthetically pleasing - the image of a beautiful contessa walking barefoot through an herb garden and cooking delectable meals from simple, elegant ingredients. But then the show starts and you see...well, Ina! No offense, she's a pretty and well-put-together lady, but come on - a "barefoot contessa" she is not.

2. I'm all for using real butter and real cream - but I find Ina, as fearless culinary leaders go, tends to be somewhat exaggerated in her use of both. Whatever - I still make her recipes. :)

End Small Aside

So, as I was saying: I was watching The Barefoot Contessa and happened to catch the episode where she makes a mushroom (vegetarian) lasagna for some girlfriends. I am and always have been completely in love with mushrooms, and in this episode she actually purchases the loveliest of Oyster Mushrooms (my FAVORITE) for the dish, so I decided to make it. Sadly, upon searching for the dish, I found she wussed out of including the oyster mushrooms ("too expensive" "too hard to find" I imagine - they are neither, btw) and entitled the dish Portobello Mushroom Lasagna, which I adapted for my recipe.

my darling oyster mushrooms!

It may have been a Freudian slip or just an accident, but I also somehow ended up with a box of Green (Spinach) Lasagna in my pantry this week. I meant to get normal stuff, but no, I got Egg Lasagne Verdi instead, made from durum wheat and egg "for a richer taste" apparently. At first I was a little upset about this mishap, but I soon got over it when I realized this would allow me to create the perfect Springtime meal: GREEN Lasagna!

Green lasagna? Who knew.

But suddenly, my mind was flooded with would-be problems: It would be highly unorthodox on my part - a risk. What if the pasta was nasty? What if green lasagna just didn't look aesthetically pleasing? What about good old regular meaty lasagna? Would I be able to go back to ground beef after tasting the nectar of the gods - aka, the oyster mushroom filling mixture? Like Brutus and Cicero before me, I threw caution to the wind. It was time for a regime change and by God, I too would be stabbing the proverbial heart of the traditional (but nevertheless culinarily dictatorial) lasagna if that's what it would take.

I judged correctly, unlike the senators. Green Lasagna was a hit:
It was revolutionary enough to fit consumption on the Ides of March. Green enough to satisfy my kermit-esque obsession. Yummy enough to satiate Matt's belly. And a priceless opportunity to say the word "BESCIAMELLA!" (BESH-A-MELLA!) in an exaggerated Italian accent for the rest of the day, as this recipe requires you make your own. What else can a girl ask for?

* * *

Brenda's Green (Mushroom) Lasagna

Serves 6-8

3/4 lbs (350-400g) Dried Egg Lasagna Verdi (Spinach)
1 cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese (optional)

For the bechamel:
3 cups whole milk
1 stick butter
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp black pepper, freshly ground
1 tsp nutmeg, freshly ground

For the mushroom mixture:
good olive oil
1/2 stick butter
1 tsp or so dried thyme
1 shallot, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 to 1 tsp crushed red pepper, or to taste
salt, to taste
1 1/2 lbs mushrooms, a mix of oyster, chestnut and white

1. Preheat oven to 275 F or 160C.

2. For the Bechamel Sauce (BESCIAMELLA!) Add 1 stick of butter to a medium pot; once melted add the flour and mix vigorously over medium heat, not allowing the mixture to burn, until well-combined. Then add the milk, salt, pepper and nutmeg and mix continuously with a whiskuntil the sauce is very thick and tastes right. Set aside.

3. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil with a good splash of olive oil in it. Once boiling, add pasta and cook as directed. Drain and set aside.
NB: I'm not kidding when I say LARGE pot and I'm not kidding when I insist you add olive oil. A small pot with no oil will result in lasagna which sticks together, cooks unevenly and is therefore unusable. Don't go there.

4. Meanwhile, chop the mushrooms. For the chestnut and white varieties, chop them into pieces about 1/4 inch thick. For the oysters, chop roughly LENGTHWISE. Leave the small ones in tact.

5. Add remaining butter and another good splash of olive oil to a pan. Once melted over medium-high heat, add the shallots, garlic and crushed red pepper to taste. Sautee for a minute or two and then add the chopped mushrooms and thyme. Salt and pepper to taste. Allow mushrooms to cook through and sautee until golden (5 minutes or so).

6. Assemble the lasagna. In an oven-proof, rectangular dish make layers as follows:
- Some besciamella!
**- Some pasta
- Some more besciamella!
- Some mushrooms (roughly 1/3)
- Some mozzarella
- Some Parmiggiano!

Repeat 3 times from ** and end with a layer of BESCIAMELLA! and then cheeses.

7. Bake for 45 minutes; if the top is not golden enough, put it under the broiler for an extra 3-5 minutes. Allow it to rest for 10-15 before serving hot with a delicious and simple salad made by your obliging husband. :)

Buon Appetito!

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  1. Oooh! It looks marvelous - hooray for culinary regime change!

  2. I loved the post - this was defiintely a case where I was grinning foolishly at the computer - my husband of course asked me if I was ok. Gratutitous headshots of handsome leading men are always welcome in food posts.

    The lasagna looks wonderful and I cannot wait to try it. I recently had a wonderful butternut squash lasagna that a friend prepared - nice a sunny yellow - there's a theme developing here.

  3. You crack me up and continue to be a mavelous little rat. I can just picture you frolicking around your kitchen with your big ol' belly and your Ratatoille hands. WHAT A FIEND!!!! I miss you, and I'm sorry I missed your call. I hope to taste your tasty food soon, maybe when I have time to think i'll have a chance to cook too (well something other than recipes that come out of the kraftfoods magazine). :) ONE WEEK AND 2 DAYs and we move into the house! YAY!!