The idea is simple. In place of meat ragù, use a chunky-ish sauce made of finely chopped mushrooms (champignons and dried/soaked porcini; cook for about ten minutes in olive oil; salt, pepper, chopped fresh parsley; a scoop or two of your béchamel). You can layer in extra slices of mushrooms here and there as you construct the lasagne. Bake at 160 °C / 320 °F for about 45 minutes or until very golden and bubbly. Let sit for at least 20 minutes before serving. Everything else is the same as with making a traditional pan of lasagne, nicely outlined here (in Italian).
I’ve been experimenting with pizza dough for a few years now, but only recently did I hit on what I consider a sure-thing recipe. Or method, I should say. Turns out you really must make your dough the night before, or at least 6 to 8 hours prior to forming your pizzas. That, and let it rise in the fridge! In honor of this epiphanic moment, I decided to top my finally perfect pizza dough with something worthy. Porcini mushrooms are common enough around here come September, but this year in particular their abundance and size are breaking records and turning heads (other species as well) after an atypically rainy summer. So I picked up a few lovelies at the town market and made this, if I may say so, masterpiece of a pie.
for the pizza dough (makes enough for four 10-inch pizzas)
3 & 1/2 to 4 cups flour
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 & 1/2 cups warm water
2 teaspoons salt
for the topping (2 pizzas)
4 or 5 large porcini mushrooms
1 handful fresh parsley
1 cup circa grated fresh mozzarella
3 or 4 Tablespoons grated parmigiano (optional)
2 teaspoons minced fresh red chili pepper (optional)
Make the pizza dough the night before. You will have enough dough to make two 10-inch pizzas per this recipe (or four pizzas if you increase the toppings amounts above accordingly).
Sprinkle the yeast over 1/2 cup of the warm water in a bowl. Wait a minute then stir briskly with a fork and stir in 1/2 cup of the flour until combined. Set aside at room temp for 30 minutes to let the mixture double in size.
Combine the yeast mixture, 3 cups of flour, and 1 cup of warm water in the mixer and mix on low with the dough hook until a dough forms and the mixer starts to struggle. Add the salt and mix a minute more. Transfer to a floured work surface and knead for about 5 minutes, until very smooth and elastic. Form a ball and place in a flour-dusted large bowl. Leave in the fridge overnight.
Remove the dough from the fridge and let rest at room temp an hour before you plan to cook the pizza. ‘Punch’ it down and cut the dough into four equal pieces. Put two back in the fridge if you don’t intend to make four pizzas at this time. Form the other two pieces into balls and set them aside on a flour-dusted surface to rest again. In the meantime, prepare the porcini for topping.
Clean the porcini if needed by gently brushing or wiping with a paper towel. Dampen the towel if needed but only slightly. Slice the caps and stems into thickish pieces (no more than 4 slices per cap) and cook them in about 2 tablepoons olive oil for about 3 or 4 minutes on each side. Turn the pieces carefully rather than stirring them all together. After turning them, add 3/4 of the chopped parsely and lightly salt and gently combine. As they brown a small amount of juice will form. Turn off the heat and leave the mixture in the pan.
Preheat the oven to 260° C / 500° F (probably as high as your oven will go). Prep the cheeses and set aside.
Flour a work surface and make your pizza rounds. You can use the hand method or a rolling pin. The hand method which involves flattening out the ball into a thick disk and, while rotating the disk continuing to flatten the dough using your fingertips, working from the center outwards. Pick up the disk and let gravity help by hanging it from the edge and turning (or try tossing it in the air if you’re brave!). Then place on your pizza stone or baking sheet and shape as needed. This method results in a more rustic-looking pizza. Or use a rolling pin if you prefer, arguably simpler, which results in a uniform look and consistency.
Cover your two pizzas with the grated mozzarella, then divide and arrange the porcini on each. A lot of flavor will be in the oil/juice in the pan, so drizzle that on top, too. Dust with finely grated parmesan cheese, and for a kick and some color, a teaspoon or so of minced fresh red chili (optional).
Bake for about 6 to 8 minutes, keeping an eye on them. The pizzas are ready when the edges are brownish or even slighly blackened in places, the bottom is golden and the cheese is bubbly. Garnish with the remaining parsley (optional).
Where Food Spy ate: Enoliteca Ombrone in Suvereto, a town in the Tuscan Maremma.
What Food Spy ordered: Mezze maniche with asparagus, porcini mushrooms, and fresh thyme.
Presentation notes: A large bowl, about 80 grams circa of mezze maniche pasta in an earthy-colored, aromatic sauce sprinkled with fresh thyme.
350 grams (about 4 cups dry) of pasta such as mezza maniche, tortiglioni, or penne (Food Spy used tortiglioni)
50 grams (about 1.5 ounces) of dried porcini mushrooms
1 bunch of asparagus
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
a few sprigs of fresh thyme
salt & pepper
Put a large pot of water on to boil.
Roughly chop the thyme and grate the cheese. Set both aside.
Rinse the asparagus. Cut off all of the tough ends, usually at least 2 inches, then slice the remaining stalks julienne style (see picture). Put the porcini in a bowl and cover with a ladle-full of pasta water. Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a large pan and sauté the asparagus in the oil about 4 to 5 minutes on medium heat.
The porcini should be softer now. Cut them up a bit before adding them to the asparagus. You can do this directly in their liquid with a pair of kitchen scissors, or by lifting them out with a fork and then roughly chopping them on a board. Add the chopped porcini to the asparagus with about half of the liquid (which will be very brown). Salt and pepper the mixture and cook for a few more minutes.
The pasta water should be boiling now. Start cooking the pasta.
At this point Food Spy noticed the sauce was too liquidy. Maybe it was a mistake to add the porcini liquid? Food Spy decided to make a roux to thicken the sauce: Dissolve 2 Tablespoons of flour in ½ cup tepid water. Turn off the heat on the sauce pan for a few minutes while the pasta cooks. When the pasta is about 2 minutes from done, put the sauce back on medium heat and add the roux. Mix into the sauce gently but thoroughly. Salt again to taste. When the sauce is thick, somewhat gravy-like, turn off the heat and quickly drain the pasta, making sure to save about ½ cup of the pasta water. Toss all the pasta into the sauce pan and mix well. Add spoonfuls of the hot pasta water as needed to make sure you have a smooth, creamy sauce. Now add in the grated Parmesan and some of the thyme. Toss well. Serve with the remaining thyme sprinkled on top.
Whose was better? Food Spy’s roux was a stroke of genius, as any mushroom-based sauce will always benefit from a bit of creaminess. Yet the chef at Ombrone had an edge on Food Spy: the asparagus. Whereas the store-bought asparagus Food Spy used was clearly cultivated (and likely harvested too early), the dish served by Ombrone was prepared with wild, very tender and delicate asparagus (which might account for the price Food Spy paid for this exquisite dish).