My first cookbook was Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, which collects into a single volume two of her earlier books, The Classic Italian Cook Book and More Classic Italian Cooking. (Actually, it was owned by my girlfriend Martha, who would later become my wife, and even back then it was dog-eared and flecked with red sauce.) We refer to the book simply as Marcella, and it remains our go-to reference for Italian cuisine.
For many of us, making Italian at home means a night of romance: wine, maybe too much of it; endless antipasti of olives, roasted peppers, prosciutto; some candlelight. It’s an occasion. Having a signature Italian ingredient on hand such as fresh porcini mushrooms (translated as the evocative “little pigs”) seals the deal.
When we heard that Marcella Hazan had passed away at the end of September, we took a nanosecond to decide on dinner. It would be a night to celebrate the whiskey-drinking, chain-smoking woman who introduced so many Americans to Italian culinary traditions. We cracked open a bottle of Chianti and started slicing up the last of our hard-won little piggies, which we had gathered in the North Cascades Mountains of Washington State for just such a meal. Next we flipped open Marcella to remember her very particular rules about making a béchamel sauce. A Porcini Lasagna would mark the occasion.
This recipe is adapted from both Marcella and a recent edition of Health magazine (a publication she would surely object to). While conventional, store-bought mushrooms such as cremini and portobello will suffice, it’s the sweet, nutty flavor of fresh wild porcini that truly makes this dish.
12 lasagna noodles, boiled and drained
4 cups milk
8 tbsp butter (1 stick)
6 tbsp flour
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp white pepper
1/8 tsp nutmeg
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup parsley, chopped
1 tbsp thyme, chopped
1 tbsp sage, chopped
3 tbsp olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 lbs mushrooms, sliced
1 cup Parmesan
1 cup Asiago cheese
salt and pepper, to taste
1. Make the béchamel white sauce by simmering milk in a saucepan and setting aside. In a separate pan, melt butter over medium heat. Add flour to melted butter while stirring until a paste forms; the paste should darken ever so slightly without becoming too colored. Slowly whisk hot milk into flour. Continue to whisk until the sauce is smooth. It should be thick enough to coat a spoon. Stir in minced garlic, most of chopped parsley (reserving 1 tablespoon for garnish), salt, white pepper, and nutmeg. Set aside and cover.
2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a pan over medium heat. Sauté diced onions until soft and translucent. Remove to a bowl.
3. In same pan, heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium heat and sauté sliced mushrooms until tender (porcini mushrooms should be lightly golden on outside). Season with salt and pepper. Return onions to pan and add chopped thyme and sage. Cook together, stirring, another minute. Remove from heat.
4. Mix cheeses together in a bowl.
5. In a greased 13 X 9 inch baking dish, assemble the lasagna. Spread a few spoonfuls of béchamel over bottom. Place three noodles lengthwise in dish, then spread about a 1/2 cup of sauce over, followed by a third of the mushroom-onion mixture, and 1/3 cup of cheese. Repeat layers twice more. Top with final layer of noodles, remaining sauce, and cheese.
6. Bake uncovered, about 45 minutes. It should be lightly browned on top and edges. Garnish with remaining parsley and allow to sit for 15 minutes before serving.