Guest Post: Vegetarian Mushroom Lasagna via Alex Proaps

by Grace Boyle on January 21, 2011

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Note: This is a guest post from my blogging (turned IRL) friend, Alex Proaps. She shares my love for food and has taken a delicious vegetarian recipe adapted from The Green Cookbook by Deborah Madison to share with everyone here. Mangia!

Bio: I am full time doctoral student who blogs over at The Tao of Grad School. I live in HamptonRoads (the area around Virginia Beach, Virginia) where I am fortunate to be surrounded bylocal produce, fresh seafood and numerous restaurants whose chefs use local goods to caterto a meat-free clientele. I love good food and great wine and I’ve been exploring vegan andvegetarian recipes since high school.

I wanted to share one of my favorite vegetarian recipes with you today. I am not a vegan or vegetarian, but I was in the past and I currently limit my meat intake to mostly seafood (and a number of my friends are vegan).  This is a recipe for a rich, flavorful mushroom lasagna I’ve adapted from The Greens Cookbook by Deborah Madison and Edward Espe Brown. Greens is a world famous restaurant that serves exclusively vegetarian dishes.  It was founded in the 70s in San Francisco. If you live in San Francisco or ever visit, I highly recommend heading there for lunch (or dinner if your budget allows). The chef, Annie Somerville, uses fresh produce and goods from the organic Green Gulch Farm Zen Center.

I received this cookbook from my grandmother when I was in college and since then I have made about a quarter of the recipes. Most of their recipes are designed to be made completely from scratch. One day I hope I have more time to make the “real” versions of each recipe – making my own pasta dough, for example, is a major goal of mine in the future. This does not require you to make your own pasta, but you certainly can!  I’ve made it enough times that I’ve discovered what alterations and substitutions I prefer to the original recipe.

While this recipe is not vegan, it is possible to make it vegan.  Below I have suggested gluten-free, dairy-free, lower calorie options for each ingredient in parentheses.  I hope those suggestions help anyone who has a dietary restriction.

You Will Need:

  • 1 lb lasagna noodles, cooked (I use 1 large package gluten-free or whole wheat lasagna noodles)

Mushroom filling:

  • 1 cup Parmesan, Asiago and/or Monterey jack cheeses, shredded (I use all three; for a vegan dish, add some nutritional yeast to the béchamel as it cools if you want to capture a little tangy flavor, but I do not recommend using soy based cheeses because they do not melt well)
  • 4 tablespoons butter (I use Smart Balance)
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 fresh bay leaves (I do not recommend using dried bay leaves – for anything – ever)
  • 1 small sweet onion, finely diced
  • 1 spring fresh thyme, crushed in fingers (or dried equivalent – 1/2 teaspoon)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh marjoram (or dried equivalent- 1 teaspoon)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped (again, it’s best to use fresh, but you can use the dried equivalent)
  • 1 1/2 lbs crimini mushrooms (baby portabellas), sliced thin
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • Freshly ground salt and pepper, to taste
  • 4 tablespoons tomato puree (or tomato paste)

Béchamel:

  • 3 tablespoons butter (I use Smart balance)
  • 1 tablespoon shallots (or sweet onion), minced
  • 3 tablespoons flour (I use unbleached organic flour; you can use any kind of vegan-friendly flour or healthier flour option)
  • 2 1/2 cups milk (you can reduce calories by using 2%;  make it vegan with soy milk)
  • 1/2 cup heavy (or light) cream
  • Fresh nutmeg, grated to taste (or 1/8 teaspoon dried nutmeg)
  • Freshly ground salt and pepper, to taste

Method:

Start by prepping:

  • Grate cheese and set aside to rest
  • Clean mushrooms (if you wash them, they will absorb water; clean them with a towel)
  • Chop mushrooms, onion, shallot and garlic cloves.

Directions:

  • Start mushroom mixture:
    • In a large shallow pan, gradually warm the butter and the olive oil with the bay leaves over medium heat.
    • Add the onion.
    • Raise the heat and cook briskly, stirring frequently, for 3 or 4 minutes.
  • Start béchamel:
    • In a small sauce pot, melt the butter.
    • Add the shallot or onion and cook slowly until it is soft.

  • Finish mushroom mixture:
    • Add the sliced mushrooms and the garlic to the large shallow pan.
    • Season with salt and cook 3 minutes
    • Add the tomato puree.
    • Continue to cook until the mushrooms are tender and the syrupy juice remains on the bottom of the pan.
    • Season with freshly ground pepper and more salt if needed.
    • Remove pot from heat so they do not overcook.
  • Finish béchamel (I do this while the mushroom mixture is cooking; when mushrooms are done, I remove them from the heat):
    • Stir in the flour to make a roux in the small sauce pot.
    • Cook it gently over a low heat for 3 to 4 minutes; then set it aside to cool.
    • In a separate small sauce pot, combine the milk and the cream.
    • Heat mixture nearly to the boiling point.
    • Whisk liquid into the pot with the cooled roux.
    • Return the pot to the heat and cook 15 to 20 minutes, stirring frequently (stay on top of this so it doesn’t boil over or scorch).
    • Season with a few scrapings of nutmeg, and salt and pepper to taste.
    • Turn the eye off, but you can leave the pot on the heat.

  • Cook lasagna noodles in boiling water (use directions for your specific pasta – usually 6 to 10 minutes).
    • I recommend starting this step after you return the béchamel to the heat.
    • Salt the water if that is part of your pasta boiling routine.
    • There are some varying schools of thought when it comes to cooling lasagna noodles.  I pour my water and pasta into my strainer and instantly run cold water through the pasta, tossing the noodles with tongs until it stops steaming.  Others recommend placing the lasagna noodles in a bowl of cold water. Others say not to shock the pasta at all, but to just toss with a little olive oil and let it rest. Do it however you like, just have it ready for layering when the béchamel is finished.

  • Preheat the oven to 375F.
  • Layer lasagna:
    • Spread a dash of olive oil in a 9-by-13-inch baking pan.
    • Spoon a ½ cup of the béchamel over the bottom of the dish.
    • Lay down enough pieces of pasta so that they cover the bottom and hang over the edges of the pan. Later the flaps will be folded over the top to seal in the filling. I usually place six at the bottom length-wise so the ends meet in the middle.
    • Spread another ½ cup of béchamel on this first layer of pasta, a quarter of the mushrooms, and some shredded cheese.
    • Cover with another layer of pasta, then add more béchamel, mushrooms, and cheese.
    • Continue in this fashion, making four layers in all.
    • Finish by laying one or two pieces of pasta down the middle and folding the overlapping pasta over it to seal in the filling.
    • Spread the remaining béchamel over the top, followed by the rest of the cheese. Be sure to pour a little béchamel around the edges so they don’t burn.

  • Bake lasagna
    • Cover the lasagna loosely with foil and bake for 15 minutes.
    • Then remove the foil and continue baking until the top is puffed and browned, about 25 minutes.
    • Let the lasagna rest a few minutes; then cut into pieces and serve.
    • Freezing tip: Instead baking the lasagna, cut into individual pieces, wrap tightly in freezer paper and tape shut. Then you can bake each piece when you’re ready.

Wine pairing and serving:

The Greens Cookbooks recommends: Zinfandel, a California barbera, or a French Cotes-du-Rhone.  I recommend eating a small piece alongside a large, fresh salad with a light vinaigrette dressing.

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