Lasagna is like pizza: Even when it’s bad, it’s good. With pizza, the saying goes, it’s still melted cheese on warm bread. With lasagna, sub in warm noodles for the bread, and you’ve got the same idea. What could be wrong with such bubbly goodness?
That doesn’t mean there aren’t better and worse lasagnas, of course. You can make your own pasta dough, labor over the sauce and fillings, and use the best possible cheese for something positively sublime on the one hand, or reach into the freezer for something positively un-sublime on the other. I think most of us lasagna-loving home cooks fall in the middle, paying attention to the quality of the ingredients but striving for ways to put it together as quickly and easily as possible.
I based this version on a recipe in “Six Seasons” by Joshua McFadden and Martha Holmberg. I love its use of kale and mushrooms (two of my favorite fall-ish ingredients, even though you can get them year-round), as well as a veloute (a flour-thickened slurry of vegetable broth and milk) rather than tomato sauce.
But after making it once, I couldn’t help but enrich it a little, adding an egg to the ricotta filling and one of my favorite cheeses, smoked mozzarella, inside and on top. The result was just what I was after – something a little more delicate than a typical meat-and-tomato-sauce affair but still hearty, cheesy and rich. Just as a good lasagna should be.
Kale and Mushroom Lasagna
Based on a recipe in “Six Seasons: A New Way With Vegetables” by Joshua McFadden with Martha Holmberg. Artisan, 2017.
6 tablespoons unsalted butter (may substitute vegan butter such as Earth Balance)
1/4 cup flour
2 cups vegetable broth, homemade or low-sodium store-bought
1 cup whole milk or reduced fat milk (may substitute nondairy milk)
1 teaspoon kosher salt or more as needed
Freshly ground black pepper
1 pound button or cremini mushrooms, trimmed and finely chopped
12 ounces kale, thick ribs cut out, leaves cut into very thin strips
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 pound whole-milk ricotta (may substitute vegan ricotta such as Kite Hill brand)
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
1 large egg (optional)
One (9-ounce) box no-boil lasagna noodles (may substitute gluten-free noodles such as Capello’s)
8 ounces (2 cups) shredded smoked mozzarella (may substitute vegan cheese shreds such as Violife or Daiya)
2 ounces (1 cup) freshly grated Parmesan cheese (optional; may substitute vegan Parmesan)
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees with the rack in the middle.
In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt 4 tablespoons of the butter. Add the flour, stir to make a smooth paste and cook, stirring, so the raw flour flavor cooks out, 1 to 2 minutes. Whisk in the broth and milk. Bring the mixture to a boil, whisking to eliminate lumps. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until thickened slightly, about 5 minutes. Season with 1/4 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of the pepper, taste and season with more salt and pepper if needed. (Remember that the store-bought broth might be salty.)
In a large skillet over medium-high heat, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter. When it stops sizzling, add the mushrooms, 1/4 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of the pepper and cook, stirring and scraping the pan occasionally, until all the moisture from the mushrooms has been released and evaporated and they begin to brown and stick a bit to the pan, 10 to 12 minutes. Taste and season with more salt if needed. Transfer the mixture to a bowl.
Wash the kale thoroughly, leaving the water clinging to the leaves. Return the skillet to medium-high heat and add the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter. When it stops sizzling, add the red pepper flakes and cook, stirring, until fragrant, 30 seconds. Add the kale and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook, tossing frequently, until the kale is wilted and very tender, about 10 minutes. You may need to add a few splashes of water along the way if the pan gets dry. Taste and season with more salt if needed.
In a small bowl, whisk the ricotta, lemon zest and egg, if using, until combined.
To assemble the lasagna, spread half the flour-milk mixture (veloute) in an even layer on the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Arrange the noodles in an even layer, breaking the noodles to fit as needed. Spread the mushrooms evenly over the noodles and then top with the kale, distributing it evenly. Top with half the smoked mozzarella.
Arrange a second layer of noodles, then top with evenly spaced dollops of the ricotta. Gently spread the ricotta, without disturbing the noodles, to make an even layer. Add one more layer of noodles, pour over the remaining veloute and finish with the remaining smoked mozzarella. Sprinkle the Parmesan over the top.
Bake 40 to 50 minutes, until the cheese is golden brown and the juices are bubbling around the edges. Let the lasagna cool for at least 20 minutes before cutting and serving.
Yield: 8 servings
Note: You could use a mix of cooking greens instead of all kale; just be sure you wilt them until quite tender so the texture harmonizes with the other layers.
Make ahead: The assembled lasagna can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 3 months. Thaw a frozen lasagna overnight in the refrigerator before baking.
Storage notes: The baked lasagna can be refrigerated for up to 5 days.
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