Wooden Nickels Was Here

As evidenced by this little vignette.

That’s coffee, which she drinks by the gallon, and those are homemade nonpareils.  I made them because Wooden Nickels loves them, and also because I wanted to make my own, instead of paying too much for the Trader Joe’s ones that SCL introduced me to.  Wooden Nickels was very serious about getting all possible sprinkles onto her spoon.  She was in town because I have some time off of work, and she likes me.  We visited Grandma Glass of Milk, got our nails done, ate food at a girly French bistro, and annoyed each other.

Wooden Nickels is a vegetarian, so I always have to think carefully about what we’re going to have for dinner when she comes over.  This time around, inspiration came from the Barefoot Contessa.  Shocker.  I honestly don’t even know what to say about Ina anymore.  Her recipes are the best.  The best.  She gets the classics exactly right, every time.  And even her mushroom lasagna, which takes a bit more effort to make, is nothing a home cook can’t master.

What an elegant meal to serve vegetarians and omnivores alike.  It’s perfectly filling without being heavy, which I think comes from the *gasp* noticeable lack of cheese.  As I was putting this together, I started second guessing Ina, thinking that surely I should be adding Fontina, the cheese that pairs so well with woody mushrooms and melts into the nooks and crannies of any good casserole once it’s baking.  Jennie, you fool.  You know Ina knows what she’s doing.  Despite the bechamel sauce this is not a macaroni and cheese.  It doesn’t need a punch from something pungent, just the hint of something extra you get from Parmesan (or Parmesan and Pecorino Romano, which is what I used).

One bite into our lasagna and Wooden Nickels shouted to the heavens, “It’s like 5 pounds of salt and some cheese!”  She later added she meant it as a compliment.  “That’s what makes it so good.”  She exclaimed.  I’m inclined to believe her, as she went up for seconds, and left with two more brick-sized leftover portions.

I tweaked Ina’s recipe by cutting back on some of the richer ingredients, though I doubt anyone would ever guess.  I also tweaked the process a bit so I wouldn’t have to wash as many dishes.

To make mushroom lasagna for 8, you will need:

  • 1 lb. lasagna noodles
  • Kosher salt
  • olive oil
  • 4 C 2% milk
  • 4 T (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1/4 C all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 1 1/2 pounds mushrooms (I used 1 lb. cremini and 1/2 lb. portobellos), sliced
  • 1/2 C Pecorino Romano
  • 1/2 C Parmesan cheese

Boil lasagna noodles in a large pot of salted water.  Drain and run under cold water.  This will prevent the noodles from drying out while you work on the rest of the lasagna.  You can check on the noodles every now and again and run some more water over them if they look like they’re getting crunchy.

Once the pot is empty, throw it back on the burner, and melt the butter in the bottom.  Add flour, and stir constantly 2-3 minutes, to take off that raw-flour edge.  Pour in milk, and add nutmeg, pepper, and 1 tsp. Kosher salt.  Stir till thickened, about 10 minutes.  Don’t call it done till you can run your finger along the back of a spoon and see the trail it left.  I recently learned that this is called nappe (pronounced nappay).  It sounds so pretentious and French.  Try it out on your friends.  Take the bechamel you just made (oooh, another new French word) and set it aside.

In a large saute pan, heat some olive oil and throw in as many mushrooms as will fit (I did mine in 3 batches).  Saute, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms are brown, about 5-7 minutes.

Now it’s all about assembly.  Layer some bechamel in the bottom of your favorite casserole dish (mine is pretty close to 9 x 12).  Then set a layer of noodles on top of that.  Spread more cheese on top, and sprinkle 1/3 mushrooms over.  Sprinkle with 1/4 C of one of the cheese.  Then repeat: noodles, sauce, mushrooms, 1/4 C of the other cheese.  Repeat again.  Then top with one more layer of noodles, sauce, and cheese.

At this point, you can let the casserole sit and cool off a bit, cover it with foil, and pop it in the fridge or freezer.  Alternatively, pop it in a 375 degree oven for 45 minutes, until sauce bubbles and the stick-out noodle edges are crunchy.

3 thoughts on “Wooden Nickels Was Here

  1. The two leftover bricks of lasagne were gone within 24 hours! Also, Wooden Nickels recommends a large pitcher of ice water as the perfect accompaniment! For dessert–coffee and nonpareils!

  2. ming and i made white lasagna this week! and by that i mean ming made everything and i helped layer the stuff at the end.

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