I’ve spent too many years averse to casseroles, those sturdy workhorses of the Sunday potluck. So many of them are either greasy, messy or heavily processed, and I just lumped anything baked in a 9 x 13 pan into that homely category, lasagnas included. (Maybe that makes me a food snob, I don’t know. I just have a reluctance to consider canned cream of mushroom soup an ingredient.)
Maybe I was dragging my heels a bit when my husband, who I might note is the proud product of a Midwestern upbringing, made a request: How about a casserole? A casserole. Really?
But I knew what he meant: something comforting and cozy and familiar for a chilly fall day, an edible version of one of those fleece blankets with arms they sell on TV. (The Slanket? The Snuggli? You know what I’m talking about.) When thoughtful folks bring food over to welcome new neighbors, nourish new parents, or comfort a grieving family, what do they bring? A casserole. (Or at least they do that sort of thing in the Midwest, in which case we coastal types should take some notes.) I can get on board with that.
Lasagna is about as cozy and familiar and comforting as it gets. Deborah Madison’s elegant, velvety-but-not-too-heavy version skips the meat and red sauce and sneaks in a stash of iron-rich spinach and mineral-packed mushrooms instead. No-boil pasta speeds up the process; I used Barilla, but use whatever brand you like or substitute fresh noodles.
The béchamel takes a little time at the stove, in a stirring calmly sort of way, but once that’s done you can assemble the whole dish and refrigerate or freeze before baking, making it ideal for company, that neighborly gesture or your Sunday potluck. Viva la casserole!
Mushroom and Spinach Lasagna
adapted from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone
serves 4 to 6
- fresh or “no-boil” lasagna noodles, about 8 oz
- 10 oz baby spinach
- 3 Tbsp olive oil, divided
- 2 Tbsp butter, divided
- 8 oz button mushrooms, thinly sliced
- 1 lb portobello mushrooms, caps finely chopped & stems reserved
- 1 oz dried porcini or morels
- 1/3 C parsley, chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or other hard Italian cheese; about 3/4 C
for the béchamel:
- 2 1/2 C milk
- 4 1/2 C Tbsp butter
- 4 1/2 Tbsp flour
- salt and pepper
- 1/8 tsp grated nutmeg
- 1/4 med onion, quartered
- bay leaf
- parsley sprigs
- reserved portobello stems
Soak the porcini in 1 C warm water to rehydrate. Prepare the béchamel: heat the milk, onion, parsley sprigs, bay leaf, portobello stems over medium heat. Turn off the heat just before boiling and let steep for 15 minutes. (Prep the other ingredients while it steeps.)
In a separate saucepan make a roux by melting the butter and stirring in the flour; stir and cook for 2 minutes. Pour the milk through a strainer (discard the aromatics & vegetables) into the roux; whisk until thickened. Stir and take to a boil. Turn down heat on low and continue to cook for 25-30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Strain the porcini and add their soaking liquid to the béchamel. Cover with plastic if not using right away.
Coarsely chop the porcini. In a large sauté pan, heat 1 Tbsp olive oil with the garlic. Add the spinach and cook until lightly wilted. Transfer to a bowl and reserve. Wipe down the pan and heat 1 Tbsp olive oil with 1 Tbsp butter; cook the button mushrooms until they soften and brown around the edges. Season with salt and pepper and add to the reserved spinach.
Wipe down the pan again and heat 1 Tbsp oil with 1 Tbsp butter; repeat with the chopped portobello and porcini. Season and add to the spinach mixture; add chopped parsley and mix.
Lightly butter or oil a 9 x 13 baking dish. Cover with a layer of the pasta, 1/2 cup béchamel, 1/4 of the filling and sprinkle with cheese. Repeat until you have 4 layers. Spread the top layer of pasta with the remaining béchamel and sprinkle generously with cheese.
Wrap and freeze up to 2 weeks, refrigerate up to 2 days, or proceed with the recipe.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cover the lasagna with foil; bake for 25-30 minutes until heated through. Remove foil and continue baking until golden brown in spots on top, about 10-15 minutes.