When the very first Ottolenghi book came out, I had no idea what this mysterious restaurant, or person, was. But I was immediately captivated by the spectacular salads, cakes, vegetables, flatbreads, and more piled up on tables at Ottolenghi. The pictures in the book had a vibrancy that I’d not seen in any other cookbook before; mounds of vibrant-green fresh herbs piled atop salads, charred vegetables and lavish use of tahini (which I narrowly once thought was only used to make hummus), and plum-marzipan cakes with the rosy, glistening fruit juices sliding off the top and pooling at the bottom. Wow.
We’ve since seen that style in plenty of other books, but the Ottolenghi books continue to evolve and each one marks another evolution in Yotam Ottolenghi’s cooking. And even when you don’t think he could come up with another great idea, he does.
Flavor is Yotam Ottlenghi’s latest book which he’s written with Ixta Belfrage. The title refers to the concept of the book, which is about how (and which) ingredients can be used to amplify flavors when cooking and baking. Ixta had a multicultural upbringing and she’s brought references and flavors from around the world in this book, which includes this Spicy Mushroom Lasagna. The recipe features dried and fresh mushrooms, as well as dried chiles, likely influenced by Mexico where she spent time with her grandfather, who lived there. The photo of it in the book made me want to make it. So I did!
The “get to the recipe” folks might want to make good use of their thumbs to scroll down to the recipe, but I’m not going to lie to you. I picked one of the more challenging recipes from the book, although the easier-looking the Iceberg Lettuce Salad with Smoky Eggplant Cream (page 38), Za’atar Cacio e Pepe (page 104), Broccolini with Mushroom Ketchup and Nori (page 227), and the Tangerine and Ancho Chili Flan (page 278, which I think is next…) also have my name on them. But first, I needed to tackle this lasagna.
Fortunately, I keep a big stock of dried chiles on hand, but went on a scavenger hunt around town before our current lockdown, getting the ingredients, hitting supermarkets, the outdoor market, and the Italian épicerie, to gather everything else I needed. The dried mushrooms were the biggest challenge, which I located at Monoprix; three canisters for €13 ($15.)
My heart skipped a beat when I first saw the dried morels on the same shelf, which were four times the price, but was relieved to see the dried cèpes next to them. It seemed a lot to shell out for just one ingredient but reasoned that when we go out to dinner, a main course usually runs at least €15-20, and a bottle of wine more than that. And honestly, a chicken for roasting at home costs at least that. So why am I balking at spending €13 for a recipe that feeds six?
The other ingredients were easy to find, and easier on the wallet, with the possible exception of the oyster mushrooms, called pleurottes in French. Those ran about €6 ($7), but still, I was feeding my two favorite people – me and Romain – so why not?
Okay, back home, and on to the recipe: The outline of it is that you make a mushroom ragù. Usually made with meat, since all the recipes in Flavor are vegetarian or vegan, the fresh mushrooms replace the meat, and the dried mushrooms along with their soaking liquid provides a savory richness to the sauce. The generous pile of mushrooms cooks down a lot in the oven, and while I was skeptical when I put the overloaded baking sheet in there to cook, around thirty minutes later, and a few good stirs, they were indeed cooked down to a near crisp.
Separately, in a large skillet or Dutch oven, you make a thick stew or ragù starting with a base of onions, carrots, and garlic, then add fresh tomatoes and tomato paste, then chopped dried mushrooms and chiles, and their soaking liquid, as well as the roasted mushrooms and cook until thickened. It gets a good splash of cream (which is optional) and a few more good stirs on the heat until it’s a thick sauce. Sounds easy, right?
Yotam and Ixta are ace recipe writers but I took it upon myself to recast the recipe order a little, since I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer. Before you start, I recommend getting all the ingredients measured out and together on the counter, what’s called a mise en place, before starting to assemble the lasagna.
I recommend doing that because I made a goof in the order of things when I made this, but in the end, everything ended up in the same skillet. It’s just food and it’s all going to the same place.
No-boil noodles I’ve learned are the norm here and that’s what they use in the book. They absorb some of the liquid while baking. I didn’t find this lasagne dry but if your mushroom ragù is a little more liquidy than mine, I think that’s a good thing. I’ve added additional notes in the recipe and the in headnote but I have to say, Romain absolutely swooned over this, and so did I. It truly lives up to the title of the book and is packed with flavor.
Spicy Mushroom Lasagna
- 2 1/2 ounces (70g) dried mushrooms, see headnote
- 2 dried red chiles, coarsely chopped and seeds removed
- 2 cups (500ml) hot vegetable stock
- 1 pound, 10 ounces (750g) brown button mushrooms
- 1 1/4 pounds (565g) fresh oyster mushrooms
- 8 tablespoons (125ml) extra-virgin olive oil, total, plus additional for preparing the baking dish
- 2 1/2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt, total
- 1 medium onion, peeled and cut into 8ths
- 1 medium carrot, peeled and cut into 4 pieces
- 5 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
- 3 Roma tomatoes, quartered
- 1/3 cup (75g) tomato paste
- 1 3/4 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper, plus extra for serving
- 3 1/4 cups (800ml) water
- 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (130ml) heavy cream
- 1-2 teaspoons fish sauce or soy sauce, (optional)
- 2 ounces (60g) grated Parmesan
- 2 ounces (60g) grated Pecorino Romano
- 1/4 cup (15g) chopped fresh parsley, plus 1 tablespoon for serving
- 1/4 cup (15g) chopped fresh basil
- 8-9 ounces (250g) no-boil lasagna noodles
To prepare the dried mushrooms and chiles, put the dried mushrooms in a medium bowl and the chopped chilis in a separate small bowl. Pour enough hot stock over the chiles to cover them and pour the rest over the dried mushrooms. Let both stand 30 minutes or until softened. When soft, set a strainer over another bowl or measuring cup and strain the mushrooms, squeezing out as much moisture as you can.
Chop the mushrooms, leaving a few of them coarsely chopped, and put the mushrooms back in the bowl you rehydrated them in. Strain the chiles so their liquid goes into the same bowl as the liquid from the mushrooms, squeezing them to get as much moisture out as possible. (You may want to wear latex gloves if your hands are sensitive, and so you don't get chile in your eyes later if you rub them.) You should have about 1 1/2 cups (340ml) of liquid. If not, top it up to that amount with water. Finely chop the chiles and add them to the bowl of chopped mushrooms. Set the liquid and chopped rehydrated mushrooms and chiles aside.
To prepare the mushroom ragù (the lasagna filling), preheat the oven to 425ºF (220ºC) and set a rack on the top third of the oven. Working in 3-4 batches, chop the fresh mushrooms in a food processor (or by hand) until they're finely chopped. (No need to clean the food processor as you'll be using it again shortly.) Spread the mushroom pieces on a large baking sheet and drizzle with 3 tablespoons olive oil and 1 teaspoon of salt. Mix them together with clean hands, then spread in an even layer. Roast in the oven, stirring the mushrooms three times during baking, until they are dark, well-reduced, and slightly crisp, about 35 minutes.
Finely chop the onion, carrot, and garlic in the food processor (or by hand.) Heat 4 tablespoons (60ml) olive oil in a large skillet (preferably one that's at least 14-inches/35cm wide, with high sides, or use a Dutch oven) over medium-high heat. Add the chopped onion/carrot/garlic mixture and cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are soft and starting to brown, 6 to 7 minutes. While the vegetables are cooking, finely chop the tomatoes in the food processor, or by hand.
Add the chopped fresh tomatoes, tomato paste, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and 1 3/4 teaspoons black pepper. Reduce the heat to medium and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add the rehydrated chopped mushroom and chiles, as well as the oven-roasted mushrooms, and continue to cook until the mixture starts to brown on the bottom, about 9 minutes. (The original recipe said not to stir them while cooking, which I didn't read. Oops. I stirred them a few times and they came out fine.)
Stir in the reserved stock from rehydrating the mushrooms and chiles, the water, and cook, stirring occasionally, until it's a thick stew, about 25 minutes. Add 1/2 cup (125ml) of cream and continue to cook for two minutes. Remove from heat and when cool enough to taste, and season with fish sauce or soy sauce, as well as additional salt if desired.
Prepare the herb and cheese mixture by mixing the grated Parmesan and Pecorino cheeses together in a medium bowl with the chopped parsley and basil.
To assemble and bake the lasagna, preheat the oven to 400ºF (200ºC.) Spread some olive oil in a 12x8-inch (30x20cm) rectangular baking dish with high sides, or a similar-sized baking dish. Mine has 2-inch/5cm sides and it didn't overflow. If that's a concern, place the baking dish on a baking sheet lined with foil before baking.
Spread one-fifth of the mushroom ragù in the bottom of the baking dish. Sprinkle one-fifth of the cheese and herb mixture over the top. Place a layer of the lasagna noodles over the cheese, breaking any noodles to fill in any gaps. Continue to assemble the lasagna, repeating those three steps in that order, so you end up with five layers of sauce and cheese, and four layers of pasta.
Drizzle 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 1 tablespoon of heavy cream over the top. Cover with foil and bake for 25 minutes. (The original recipe said to bake for 15 minutes but my noodles didn't quite get cooked thoroughly in that time, but they did continue to "cook" after I removed the lasagna from the oven and let it sit for a bit. But I think adding 10 minutes to the baking time at this point will do the trick. Next time I make it, I'll update that to be sure.) Remove the foil and increase the heat of the oven to 450ºF (230ºC.) Bake for another 12 minutes, rotating the lasagna midway during baking.
Finally, turn on the grill or broil setting and cook for 2 minutes until the top is browned. (Make sure your baking dish is sturdy enough to stand up to being under the broiler for 2 minutes. Mine is enameled cast iron and it worked fine but if you are unsure, skip this step. You can check the website for your particular piece of bakeware to find out their recommendations.)
Remove the lasagna from oven and drizzle it with 1 tablespoon of cream and and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Sprinkle with the remaining tablespoon of chopped parsley and freshly ground black pepper right before serving.
If you’re a regular cook, you’ll know the “eureka” feeling when you discover a way to cut an everyday kitchen task in half. As our cookery team has spent so many hours writing and triple-testing recipes, they’ve picked up a fair few tricks and tips along the way, so we asked them to impart their wisdom…
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