As a Biology major in college, I took a class titled “Fungi & Algae” with one of my favorite professors Dr. Perry. I spent hours poring over notes on the asexual reproductive cycles of various fungi, learning about the symbiosis of algae and fungus to make lichen, the unique Sargassum seaweed floating in large rafts in the Sargasso Sea, and the highly-prized edible morel mushroom. I also have the stark memory of learning to spot the ominous Green Gill (Chlorophyllum molybdites) mushroom, highly toxic if ingested.
The class spent time together collecting specimens for our final projects at a nearby forest reserve. We squatted down in the moist dirt to find the tiny Agrocybes pediades, poked at slimy jelly fungus, and reveled in the varigated colors of the Turkey Tail (Trametes versicolor). Although I did not find any morels on that trip, there was another trek through the same shaded trees where a friend and I found them, quickly squirreling them away for a late night bath with butter in a saute pan.
Even with my keen eye to spot the Green Gill, I wouldn’t trust my edible mushroom hunting capabilities now; it’s been too long since I’ve studied those books and notes. I do, however, trust my use of fungus in the kitchen with mushrooms already deemed edible by someone trained to do so. Be they wood ear, oyster, or the lowly white button mushroom, I can easily delve into a mushroom recipe. Forget tomato sauce: these mushrooms are the star here. Feel free to swap out creminis for other mushrooms. I’m sure some wild mushrooms would easily fit the bill.
- Salt for pasta water and seasoning
- Olive oil for mushroom sauteing
- ¾ pound dried lasagna noodles*
- 1 large clove garlic, minced
- 3½ cups 2% milk
- ½ cup heavy cream**
- 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
- ½ cup all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
- scant 2 pounds cremini mushrooms***
- 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan
- Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F. Bring a large pot of water to boil with salt and a splash of oil. Add the lasagna noodles and cook for 10 minutes. Drain and set aside to cool enough to handle.
- Make béchamel sauce by bringing the milk and garlic to simmer (don't boil!) in a saucepan and set aside. Melt butter in a large saucepan. Add the flour and cook for one minute over low heat, stirring constantly with a whisk. Pour in the hot milk, a little at a time at first and stirring until combined. Once half of it is added, add the second half all at once. Stir in 1½ teaspoons table salt, the pepper, and nutmeg. Cook over medium-low heat, whisking frequently, for 3 to 5 minutes, or until thickened. Add shredded mozzarella and stir in to melt. Set aside.
- Slice mushrooms ¼-inch thick. Heat 3-4 tablespoons of olive oil over medium in a large sauté pan. Cook half the mushrooms with a couple generous pinches of salt for about 5 minutes, or until they are tender and release some of their juices, tossing to make sure they cook evenly. Repeat with additional oil and remaining mushrooms.
- Assemble lasagna by first spreading sauce in the bottom of a 9 x 13 baking dish. Arrange a layer of 3 noodles on top, then more sauce, ⅓ of the mushrooms and ¼ cup grated Parmesan. Repeat two more times then top with a final layer of noodles, the remaining sauce and last ¼ cup of Parmesan.*
- Bake for 45 minutes, or until top is browned and the sauce is bubbly. Allow to sit at room temperature for 15 minutes before serving. Serves 6 to 9.