As we prepare to head back to Italy soon for six months to oversee our farmhouse rental Il Casale di Mele, we have been busy saying good-bye to good friends that we will not see until later this fall. I recently hosted our last dinner party to share some of my favorite Umbrian recipes with a few couples and created this lasagna as one of the courses.
I knew I wanted to create a “white” lasagna, since no tomato sauce would be used, and since fresh truffles are not available to me locally, I added a truffle flavor to this creamy baked pasta dish by folding a jar of truffle paste, known as Salsa Tartufata, into my sautéed mushrooms adding a wonderful earthy flavor. In Umbria, we use a lot of this sauce that is sold in a jar for pasta dishes, as a spread on grilled bread, or spooned over melted cheese.
Tartufata is actually a mix of chopped mushrooms and black truffles mixed with olive oil to which truffle aroma is added. Though not a true truffle ingredient, it does add the intoxicating aroma and earthy flavor of truffles and is much cheaper, and much more readily available than fresh truffles. I bring jars of tartufata back from Umbria with me each year, but they can be bought online, at specialty stores such as Whole Foods, or at many Italian grocery stores.
For the mushrooms in this dish, I use a mix of cremini, shitake, and portobello varieties that I coarsely chop and sauté together. The sauce is a basic béchamel sauce that is flavored with Marsala wine, and the dish also includes a blend of Fontina, Mozzarella, and Pecorino Romano cheeses.
I prefer to make my own fresh lasagna noodles which really does not take a lot of time and truly makes this dish memorable, but if you are really short on time, you can use store bought noodles if you prefer. I have never used them personally, but I know many who use no-boil lasagna noodles with good success.
For me, the silky tenderness fresh noodles add to this dish is worth the extra time it takes to make them. I often choose to make a baked pasta dish such as this one when I entertain because I can prepare the dish completely the day before, giving me extra time the day of my dinner party to concentrate on other courses.
Do not be overly concerned with the long list of ingredients and steps listed to create this recipe as it can all be completed in advance and comes together quickly. If you cannot find truffle paste, you can simply make this lasagna with the mushroom mixture although the flavor and amazing aroma will be different.
For The Mushroom Mixture:
- 2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
- 1/2 Medium Onion, Peeled & Finely Chopped
- 1 1/2 Pounds Mixed Mushrooms, Coarsely Chopped (See Notes Above)
- 1 1/2 Teaspoons Finely Chopped Fresh Thyme
- Salt & Pepper To Taste
- 1 (180 gm) Jar Truffle Paste - Tartufata
- 1 Stick (8 Tablespoons) Unsalted Butter
- 1/2 Cup All-purpose Flour
- 4 1/2 Cups Milk
- 1/2 Cup Dry Marsala Wine
- 4 Cups Unbleached Flour
- 5 Extra Large Eggs
- Pinch of Salt
To Assemble Lasagna:
- 1 1/2 Cups Grated Pecorino Romano Cheese, Divided
- 1 1/2 Cups Diced Mozzarella Cheese
- 1 1/2 Cups Grated Fontina Cheese
- 1 Tablespoon Fresh Thyme Leaves
- For the mushrooms, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat, then cook the onions until soft, about 4 to 5 minutes.
- Add the mushrooms, and continue to cook over medium heat stirring often until lightly browned, about 8 to 10 minutes.
- Add the thyme, salt and pepper, str to mix, then set aside.
- Once cool, add the jar of truffle paste to the mushrooms and stir to mix.
- For the béchamel Sauce, melt the butter in a heavy saucepan over low heat, and once it is completely melted and bubbling, add the flour and mix well with a wooden spoon.
- Cook for a minute or two until the flour just begins to take on some color.
- Slowly start adding the milk, whisking continuously to prevent lumps from forming.
- Continue to simmer until the sauce begins to thicken, stirring often.
- Add the Marsala wine, and season with salt and pepper.
- Set aside until you are ready to use, by pouring the sauce into a glass bowl and covering with a buttered sheet of plastic wrap.
- To make the pasta, mound your flour on a large pastry board, or the counter, and make a well in the center.
- Break the eggs into this well, and start to scramble each egg with a fork as it is being added, then start to incorporate the eggs and flour by slowly bringing more flour in from the inside edges of the well.
- Continue adding the flour to the eggs until they are no longer runny.
- Using your hands now, bring the outside edges in, forming a large mass on your board. (Use only the amount of flour needed to form a soft ball.)
- Begin to knead the ball of dough as you would bread, pushing it down with the heel of your hand.
- Continue kneading until the dough is smooth and satiny, for about 8 minutes.
- Wrap the prepared dough in plastic wrap, and let it sit for about 30 minutes.
- Use a pasta roller or roll by hand to make long sheets of pasta 1/8th to 1/4 inch thick. ( I use my Kitchen Aide table mixer with the pasta attachment and roll my past to the third last position.)
- After rolling, cut into 12 inch long strips.
- Precook in boiling water for 30 seconds, then place in an ice water bath.
- Dry and set aside on clean kitchen towels.
- Mix together 1 cup of the Pecorino, the Mozzarella, and Fontina cheese, reserving 1/2 cup Pecorino cheese to finish.
- Lightly grease an 8 x 11 inch oven-proof casserole dish and spoon 1 cup of sauce into the pan, spreading over the bottom.
- Cover the sauce with a layer of noodles, trimming to fit, then spoon a layer of 1/3 of the mushroom mixture on top.
- Cover with another layer of noodles, then sauce, and half the blended cheese mixture.
- Sprinkle some of the Pecorino on top.
- Continue to layer ingredients, finishing with a layer of noodles covered with sauce.
- Sprinkle the remaining Pecorino cheese on top, then sprinkle with the fresh Thyme Leaves
- Cover the lasagna with saran wrap and store in the refrigerator until needed. (Can be prepared the day before).
- Take the lasagna out of the refrigerator 1 1/2 hours before you need to bake it.
- While the lasagna is coming to room temperature, preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
- Remove the plastic wrap, and bake the lasagna until golden brown on top and bubbly, about 45 minutes.
- Allow the lasagna to rest for 15 to 20 minutes before cutting.