Thursday, 31 May 2012

Mushroom Lasagne

Poor Queen. After weeks of unexpected, uninterrupted, unadulterated sunshine - just as everyone is looking forward to the Jubilee, and buying industrial quantities of bunting, flags and solar-powered waving Queen lights - another Great British tradition has reared its ugly head. Have you seen the weather forecast? It's a Bank Holiday, therefore obviously it's going to rain. On the flotilla, the open air concert and the crowd-cheered procession. I do hope her Maj has a pair of Jubilee-themed wellies, don't you?

I can tell you, we've got all kinds of plans here. As one of her Majesty's loyal civil servants, I get an extra day off tomorrow (woo to the hoo!). Then we've got barbecues and street parties, afternoon teas and evening drinks. All topped off with some DIY, some royal-themed baking, and quite a lot of sleeping in and reading the paper. Honestly, even if it pours with rain every single day, I won't mind. Five day weekend! This is the way life SHOULD be.

Another reason not to whinge about the change in the weather is that it has made today's recipe all the more appropriate. As I mentioned before, my sister just had a baby - after an epic four day labour. God knows, she deserves a treat after that, so I made it my Good-New-Aunt mission to see what I could do. For our first visit to the hospital, we just took along a big bag of squidgy and blue cheeses from our lovely local cheese shop (aka the ones she couldn't indulge in throughout pregnancy), along with a few odds and ends from our party. But when we went round to their house a week or so later, we were more prepared. We had supplies. We had a plan. And we had another batch, as requested, of Chocolate World Peace Cookies.

Sweet stuff aside, our food parcel was quite modest. As well as more cheese, we bought some disposable foil trays from Sainsburys (which wouldn't need washing up or returning to sender) and filled one with a huge Spring Veg Lasagne - frozen, tasty and chock-full of nutrients. Boringly, we filled the other one with lasagne as well - more specifically, a mushroom one from Smitten Kitchen which I've been itching to try for ages. Since Him Indoors is vehemently anti-mushroom, any previous, hopeful suggestion from me in a mushroom-lasagne-direction had always been on the receiving end of an immediate veto. This time, however, I was cooking for a different audience - and one which I know has a far more sensible attitude to mushrooms. Ta-dah, the perfect opportunity! Take that, Greedy Gusto.

I didn't follow the recipe exactly, partly because it was written with American cup measurements and partly because, well, it's a lasagne - how hard could it be? But I took the idea and freestyled - softening batches of mushrooms in butter, mixing up a thick, garlicky white sauce, layering it all up with cooked lasagne sheets and copious quantities of parmesan. I also pimped it a bit, where it seemed like a good idea - adding chives, thyme and parsley to the buttery mushrooms, crumbling a porcini stock cube into the sauce (purely because I had one), adding some cheddar to the parmesan (just because I like it) and leaving out an extra step of infusing the milk with garlic in favour of just chucking the garlic into the sauce directly. The whole thing took a bit of time but none of it was remotely difficult and even if the final result didn't look all that attractive (a bit of a symphony in brown), it certainly smelled good.

As for the taste? Well, it's resting in a freezer in Kent, so I can't really tell you. I made a titchy version in a ramekin, just to check it was edible, and that seemed pretty promising to me. But it wasn't layered or sauced properly, so it's hard to tell - I think we'll just have to assume it turned out ok. I tell you one thing though. Although it seemed pretty rich when I made it (on a bakingly hot day), I bet it would be pretty perfect now. It might not be red, white or blue - no crowns or diamonds in sight - but that doesn't mean that it couldn't fit into any Jubilee weekend shenanigans. 80 hours of labour non-compulsory, of course.

Mushroom Lasagne
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
- 2 punnets of mushrooms (I did a mix of white and chestnut) washed/wiped and sliced
- butter
- olive oil
- a few sprigs of chive, thyme and parsley, chopped
- dried lasagne sheets
- a tablespoonful of plain flour
- a fat clove of garlic, crushed
- milk
- if you've got it, a mushroom stock cube. If not, don't worry about it
- pinch of ground nutmeg
- salt and pepper
- parmesan and cheddar
First of all, cook the lasagne sheets in boiling water with a good glug of oil to stop them sticking together, until cooked through. Drain and keep on one side while you make the fillings. Preheat the oven to 180C.
Melt a knob of butter with a bit of oil in a big, deep frying pan over a medium heat. Add enough mushrooms to cover the base of the pan, along with a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until they're soft and dark, some of their liquid has oozed out and they're starting to go golden around the edges. Transfer the cooked ones into a bowl and cook the rest in batches, until they're all cooked - you might need need to repeat the process three or four times. When the final batch is nearly done, pour all the cooked ones back in and chuck in the herbs. Stir around to wilt and spread the herbs, then turn the heat off and set the mushrooms aside.
Next, make the white sauce. In a medium-sized saucepan, melt a knob of butter over a gentle heat. Chuck the crushed garlic into the butter, stir it around for a minute or so to take the rawness off, then add the flour. Cook for a few minutes, stirring well, then gradually whisk in milk, slurp by slurp, until you've got a smooth and relatively thick sauce. I didn't measure quantities, I'm afraid, just kept going until it looked like I had enough to make the lasagne with. If you have a mushroom stock cube by any chance, then crumble it in, but it won't matter if not. Add a good grinding of black pepper and the nutmeg, then turn off the heat.
Ok, time to start layering! Get out a big oven-proof dish (or a foil tray if this is a gift, or you're feeling too lazy to wash up). Start with a thin layer of sauce, then pasta, then a good grating of cheddar or parmesan. Then mushrooms, pasta, sauce, cheese - repeat until you've used it all up, finishing with cheese.
Bake in the oven for 45 minutes or until golden and bubbling around the edges.  

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