La La La… Lasagna!

The origin of lasagna is in dispute among food historians. Three countries with distinct cuisines all claim to have invented it. One theory is that lasagna comes from a Greek word for a flat sheet of pasta dough cut into strips. This word is still used in Greek to mean a flat, thin type of unleavened bread. Did they invent this layered dish of pasta, sauce and cheese?

It is believed the Romans came up with the Latin word “lasanum,” meaning “cooking pot.” Later, the Italians used the word to refer to the dish in which lasagna is made. Following that, the name of the food took on the name of the serving dish.

Some British food historians claim the original recipe was printed in the first cookbook ever published — in England — therefore it must be British in origin. They have mostly given up that claim since we all know Britain cannot hold a candle to Italy when it comes to cooking! Besides, pasta with sauce is a truly Italian concept. Nowadays, most folks don’t really care where it comes from as the recipes have changed over the years to include vegetables and both red and white sauces.

In Italy, lasagna noodles are totally flat, while American lasagna tends to be ruffled along the edges to help trap sauces. The best noodles are made from durum wheat — a particularly hard wheat that stands up to extended cooking, remaining chewy and firm even after boiling and baking. Some cooks prefer to use special no-boil lasagna noodles, which are layered into a lasagna pan without being precooked. The moisture in the lasagna and the heat of the oven cook these noodles so that they are finished along with the rest of the lasagna.

We’re sure you’ve got plenty of recipes for traditional lasagna; we thought you’d like something a little different. This one contains no tomato sauce at all!

Mushroom Lasagna

9 lasagna noodles

1 cup boiling water

1 ounce dried porcini, shitake or oyster mushrooms

1 tablespoon butter

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided

4 shallots, chopped

12 ounces mushrooms, sliced (variety adds flavor)

1 teaspoon salt, divided

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided

1 1/2 tablespoons fresh parsley, checked and chopped

6 garlic cloves, minced and divided

1/2 cup white wine

3 ounces low-fat cream cheese

3 cups low-fat milk, divided

1/4 cup flour

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 350°. Grease a 2–3 quart baking dish.

Cook noodles according to directions. Drain and set aside.

Combine 1 cup boiling water and dried mushrooms. Cover and let stand 30 minutes; strain mixture through a cheesecloth-lined sieve over a bowl, reserving liquid and mushrooms separately.

Melt butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon oil to pan; add shallots to pan; sauté 3 minutes. Add fresh mushrooms, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper; sauté 5–7 minutes or until mushrooms are browned. Add parsley and half the garlic; sauté another minute. Stir in wine; bring to a boil. Cook 1 minute or until liquid almost evaporates, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Remove from heat; stir in cream cheese and 1 tablespoon chives. Add reconstituted mushrooms.

Heat a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add remaining oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add remaining garlic cloves to pan; sauté 30 seconds. Add the reserved mushroom liquid, 2 3/4 cups milk, remaining salt, and pepper; bring to a boil. Combine remaining milk and flour in a small bowl; stir with a whisk. Add flour mixture to milk mixture, and simmer 2 minutes or until slightly thick, stirring constantly with a whisk.

Spoon 1/2 cup sauce into the prepared baking dish and top with 3 noodles. Spread half of mushroom mixture over noodles. Repeat layers, ending with remaining sauce. Sprinkle cheese over top. Bake at 350° for 45 minutes or until golden.