Simply delicious food. That's all.
The title makes me sigh – perhaps I will change it. The tokenism that is vegetarianism depresses me. I am not, you understand, a vegetarian and, whilst I finally see the need to eat less meat, I don’t really see the need to bang the vegetarian drum. After all, vegetables are nothing new.
But standing here in my cave, my hair suitably matted, and adjusting my fur toga, I accept that I may not see a kill for at least another week, so vegetables are the order of the day today.
Mushrooms. Ugly buggers and more than a little inclined towards slime, I was actually never convinced by them until quite recently. My mother claims to hallucinate on porcini dinners during her regular eat-fests in Italy, and my husband happily trots back from dog walks with a squashed pocketful which he hacks with a knife in the palm of his hand into a pan with a slab of butter and a noisy grind of pepper, tipping out in a moment onto burnt sourdough toast, an accompanying puddle of what looks like bilgewater.
It was only when faced with producing interesting, glamorous vegetarian choices for an achingly-hip Ibicencan restaurant menu that I acknowledged that fungus was certainly one route. So, with a nod to kitsch, here’s a stunningly-lovely wild mushroom lasagne prettied up for the girls.
Lasagne of thyme, wild & porcini mushrooms
Makes 6 individual 6cm rings, or one large square dish
350g firm, strong-tasting fresh mushrooms (I used chestnut mushrooms and the exotic trumpets shown here)
30g dried wild mushrooms or funghi porcini, soaked
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
Finely chopped leaves from a small handful of fresh thyme
3 – 4 tablespoons olive oil
½ glass red wine
Sheets of fresh lasagna pasta, cut to size
350 ml béchamel sauce
Mushroom stock cube – see below
Preheat the oven to 190 degrees
Soak the dried mushrooms in a little just-boiled water (approx. 150ml) until soft – around 20 minutes. Keep the soaking water to add to the lasagne.
Finely chop the fresh mushrooms, thyme leaves and garlic and sauté them gently in the olive oil and butter. Add the soaked mushrooms with their strained cooking water and the red wine and cook this mixture very gently for 20 – 30 minutes, or as long as you have time for, to reduce the sauce. Season well. If it’s lacking a certain something, don’t hesitate to use one of those amazing funghi porcini Italian stock cubes by Star – I bought mine from Carluccio’s.
Make approx. 350ml of béchamel sauce and flavour it with grated nutmeg and mace, and 25g of grated parmesan.
If you are preparing the lasagne in cheffy little rings – I was bored, so I did both – then grease the rings and put a piece of lasagne under each ring before you start to layer; this prevents liquid leaking out all over the baking tray and the associated nervous breakdown. You remove this piece of pasta before serving.
Whichever format you’re going for, layer fresh lasagne sheets with the mushroom mixture and a spoonful of béchamel between each layer. Cover the top of the lasagne generously with the remaining béchamel and a quick grating of parmesan.
Cook in a hot oven for 10 – 12 minutes for individual ones (20 – 25 mins for larger) until the top is browned, and the lasagne sheets are soft.