from The Splendid Table
Wrinkles and spatter marks impart a sense of history to a page. They are evidence of repeated visits. I first made this recipe from Rossetto Kasper’s splendid book while I was spending a year at Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, D.C., in 1993. Strange to think that I’ve been obsessed with cooking for that many years — but actually it’s been longer. Memory tells me that that year stands about mid-way on my personal culinary time-line. But that can’t be!

Every time I’ve made this for the Holiday Crew, as I’ll refer to those of you with whom I usually spend Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter, it seems to have pleased. I believe when I first made this recipe, I hadn’t yet worked out my all-purpose pasta recipe. For that, I had to move back to the West Coast to learn about pasta-making (none of my friends in Italy make their own dough). I still stick to Marcella’s two-egg/one cup flour ratio, but, recently, additional egg yolks have made their way into my dough.

Here’s how LRK does it:

1 1/2 cups (1 1/2 oz) dried porcini mushrooms
2 cups hot water

3 T extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, minced
1 oz Prosciutto di Parma, finely chopped (optional)
1/4 cup minced Italian parsley
1 lb fresh button mushrooms, sliced
1 large garlic clove, minced
2-inch branch fresh rosemary, or 1/2 t dried whole-leaft rosemary
4 fresh sage leaves or 4 dried whole sage leaves
2/3 cup dry white wine
1 1/2 to 2 lbs canned tomatoes, drained of most of their liquid and crushed

6 quarts water
3/4 recipe Egg Pasta cut for lasagne (to follow) or 12 oz imported dried lasagne
1 1/2 cups (6 oz) freshly grated Italian Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1/2 cup heavy cream blended with 1/4 milk

Working ahead: The sauce can be made 2 days ahead; cover and refrigerate. The lasagne can be assembled several hours before baking. I prefer not to refrigerate lasgne before cooking, as the topping usually overcooks before the interior is heated through.

Preparing the porcini: Rinse the dried mushroom pieces under cold running water to rid them of sand and particles. If mushroom pieces are small, rid them of sand by swishing them in a bowl of cold water. Pause for a moment, allowing the sand and particles to settle to the bottom of the bowl, then quickly scoop out the mushrooms with your hands. Repeat if necessary. Then place them in a medium-size bowl and cover with hot water. Let stand 30 mins, or until softened. Life the mushrooms from the soaking liquid, squeeze out excess moisture, and coarsely chop. Line a small sieve with a paper towel for straining the liquid into the mushroom sauce.

Making the sauce: Heat the oil in a large skillet. Add the onion, prosciutto and parsley. Sauté over medium heat, stirring frequently, 5 mins, or until the onion is barely tinged with gold. Add the fresh mushrooms and cook over high heat 10 mins, or until they are golden brown. Stir in the chopped porcini, reduce the heat to medium-high, and cook 2 mins. Cook in the garlic and herbs 1 minute.

Strain the mushroom soaking liquid into the skillet. Let it bubble down over medium heat, 5 minutes, or until it forms a thin film on the bottom of the skillet. As the liquid simmers, use a wooden spatula to scrape up the brown glaze on the bottom of the pan. Add the wine and reduce it in the same manner, about 3 mins. Once the wine has cooked down to a sheer film, add the tomatoes. Cook, uncovered, over medium-high heat 10 mins, or until the sauce is richly flavored. If it is at all watery or lacking body, keep it bubbling over medium-high heat until reduced and intensified.

Cooking the pasta and assembling the lasagne: Spread a double thickness of paper towels on a large counter space. Have a large bowl of cold water handy. Bring the salted water to a vigorous boil. Drop three or four sheets of lasagne into the boiling water, and cook until tender but still pleasingly firm to the bite. This will take about 2 mins for fresh pasta, or 4 or more for dried. Remove the sheets with a large skimmer or flat slotted spoon, and drop them in the cold water to stop the cooking. Then lift the sheets from the water and drain on the paper towels. Repeat with all the lasagne sheets. Lightly oil or butter a shallow 2 1/2 – 3 quart baking dish. Have the sauce, cheese, pasta, and cream mixture close at hand. Film the bottom of the baking dish with a little of the sauce. Cover the sauce with overlapping sheets of pasta. Spread about 1/4 to 1/3 cup of the sauce over the pasta, just enough to moisten the sheets. Sprinkle the sauce with 2 to 3 T Parmigiano-Reggiano. Repeat the layering, saucing, and sprinkling with cheese until you reach the top of the dish. All the mushroom sauce should be used up, and about 8 T of cheese will be left over. Blend the remaining cheese with the cream mixture, and spread it over the last layer of pasta. Lightly cover the lasagne with foil.

Baking and serving: Preheat the oven to 350 F. Bake the lasagne 30 mins. Uncover and bake another 10 to 15 mins, or until bubbly. Turn off the oven, leave the door slightly ajar, and let the lasagne rest about 10 mins. Cut the lasagne into squares, slipping a spatula under each portion to lift it to a dinner plate.

Pasta:

4 jumbo eggs
3 1/2 cups (14 oz) all-purpose unbleached flour

Blend ingredients, shape into dough, divide into two halves, prevent one half from drying out by covering it while you roll out the other half, cut into 3in x 5 inch rectangles.

Here’s how I adjusted it:

I made an American compromise. I did everything the same, only I doubled the sauce. For the pasta, I used 4 cups of flour, but that’s the sort of thing that requires practice and a sense of how the dough feels. Better to use too little flour and work in extra than too much. The cream/milk/cheese mixture evaporates in the baking, so I keep the proportions the same but increase the amount. When the entire dish is assembled, I pour the mixture over the top, lifting the edges to let it seep through to the bottom. The baking dish should be filled right to the top edge. And I sprinkle a bit more cheese over the top.

Last Thoughts:

You may think that I have prescribed a typical Italo-American tomato-saucy lasagne, but you’d be wrong. In spite of the changes in proportions of ingredients, the result still has the look and taste of a rather austere lasagne. By the way, prosciutto is not optional, unless you’re a vegetarian. And I once made two lasagne for the same meal, one with fresh porcini, the other with dried. Some of the crew, including myself, preferred the dusky, earthy flavor of the dried mushroom. Others liked the meaty texture but more delicate flavor of the fresh.