In honor of Hurricane Irene I was committed to making a casserole dish. Something flavorful, cheesy, body warming: essentially I wanted to make some good ol’ fashion comfort food. I had this fabulous idea to make an eggplant Parmesan casserole. It was going to be perfect, I had fresh Parmesan and mozzarella cheese, homemade tomato sauce that I had waiting for me in the freezer, a couple of red peppers I was going to roast, all I needed to do was pick up a couple of eggplants from the grocery store. I got there and found out the store was out of eggplant. How can a grocery store be out of eggplant??? I realize that we had just had a hurricane burrow its way through DC and people were running to the store all weekend to stock up on food and supplies, but eggplant? really? Were people all thinking “oh my goodness, hurricane Irene is coming, I better grab a few eggplants just in case I can’t get to the store for a few days” This could not have possibly been the case, I just won’t believe it. So with no eggplant in tow, I had to change my strategy. I had watched Barefoot Contessa make a mushroom lasagna with a cream sauce last week and figured I could do my own twist on the recipe.
I made a lot of changes to the basic recipe that Ina had put together. The key to my Lasagna happened to be adding more vegetables. They really popped next to the cream sauce. I have to say this Lasagna looks pretty darn gorgeous and tastes like a slice of heaven. Is your mouth watering yet? I know mine is.
Maybe there was a higher power out there that knew eggplant was not going to wet my taste buds on this particular evening, either way it was great to try something new. This dish is so special for so many reasons but there were two that stood out for me. First the bechamel sauce.
It is so flavorful and the secret is using nutmeg. Nutmeg really brings a depth to the sauce. Most people can’t put their finger on where the flavor is coming from but I can guarantee you everyone will recognize the “homey” component to the sauce. The other reason this dish came out so good has so much to do with the fresh ingredients.
The homemade roasted red peppers, freshly grated Parmesan cheese, fresh spinach and two different types of mushrooms achieve a special touch to the Lasagna. These extra touches truly shine through when you cook, turning a good dish into an exceptional one.
Now if you almost had a heart attack from hearing me say homemade roasted red peppers don’t. It is one of the simplest things you can do in your kitchen and is guaranteed to impress your guests. All you do is put the oven broiler on high, put the oven rack on the top shelving option to it is close to the broiler, lay down whatever bell peppers you like atop a sheet of aluminum and place in the oven. Wait for the skin to get a good blackened char to it and then rotate, several minutes per side. Now don’t worry, you will not eat nor see this blackened bit. Once you peel the skin off the pepper, all that will remain is the bright color of the pepper.
Continue the process of charring and rotating the pepper until the entire pepper is charred. Take the pepper out of the oven and drop it in a brown paper bag. Roll up the brown bag opening so it is sealed tight and let it sit for 15 minutes or so. The steam from the hot pepper will allow the skin to easily separate from the meat of the pepper. After about 15-20 minutes the pepper should be cool enough to handle. Take it out of the bag and the skin should easily pull away from the meat of the pepper. You can even use your fingers to pull off the stem and take out the seeds from the middle of the pepper, the flesh is super tender.
Voila! you just made your own roasted red peppers with only an oven, bell pepper and brown paper bag. Now how easy was that?
3 cups 1% milk
6 Tbsp unsalted butter
1/3 cup flour
3/4 Tbsp salt
2/3 tsp pepper
1 tsp nutmeg
oven-ready lasagna noodles (takes a step out of the baking process)
1 lb thinly sliced mushrooms (I used half white button and half crimini)
3 cups fresh spinach
2 red bell peppers
2 Tbsp butter
1/4 cup olive oil
1 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
1/3 cup white wine
Turn the oven broiler on high and roast the red peppers (explanation in text above). Meanwhile in a small sauce pan heat milk to a simmer. In a larger pot melt 6 Tbsp of butter. Once butter is fully melted, add flour and mix. Let the flour and butter mixture cook for a minute or two then add milk. Mix together then switch to using a whisk. Add salt, pepper and nutmeg and whisk mixture until it gets thick but not gloppy. The sauce should coat the back of a wooden spoon. Remember this is supposed to be the sauce that holds the lasagna together, not cement. Take off the heat and set aside when you’ve reached optimal consistency.
Your red peppers are probably roasted on all sides by this time. Take the peppers out of the oven and drop them in a brown paper bag. Tightly close bag and set aside. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
In a skillet under medium heat add Tbsp butter and half the olive oil. Once the butter has melted and pan is hot add half the mushrooms. Let them cook down a bit. Add half the spinach mixture about a minute or two before taking off the heat. Do this process again for the second half of the mushroom mixture. Set aside mushroom and spinach mixture.
Go back to red peppers. Open up brown paper bag and peel skin off of peppers. Slice open and remove seeds and stem. Chop and add to mushroom and spinach mixture.
Grate Parmesan cheese and get all pieces of lasagna out to assemble. Get out a lasagna pan. Add a little bechamel sauce to the bottom of the pan.
Place lasagna noodles down horizontally next to each other but don’t layer them on top of one another for the length of the pan. You can break a noodle in half to fill the space if you need. Next layer on more bechamel sauce.
Next add a layer of vegetable mix. Then layer on a handful or two of cheese.
Repeat process: noodles, bechamel, veggies, cheese three more times. On the third time I added more fresh spinach. You will top the lasagna with the noodles, the last of the bechamel sauce and Parmesan cheese. Place Lasagna in the oven for about 45 minutes.
About 25 minutes into cooking check up on the lasagna, make sure the top is not too browned. Now if your lasagna looks a little dry, like mine add the white wine to the sides and corners of the pan. As soon as the lasagna is sufficiently browned on the top take out of the oven. let cool for a few minutes and enjoy that little slice of heaven with friends and family.