Sunday, November 8, 2009

Fontina, Mushroom & Pancetta Lasagne by Tom

Barbara asked me to enter this recipe into the "Feast Everyday" food blog because I was the one that made it for a former co-worker and friend, Doug and his wife Laura, who came over for dinner a week ago. It was a chance to catch up with each other since I retired a month or so ago, and to find out what was going on in my former organization. See if they were missing me or not (they were(!), but what else could he say). It was also a chance to further hone my culinary skills.

We decided to make this "not so usual" lasagne recipe, which turns out we have made off and on since 1992, because we can make it in the afternoon, and let it rest while having a drink before dinner. The resting phase is important to let the flavors come together and to make it much easier to cut into serving pieces.

Let me warn you ahead of time that this recipe takes time to prepare. I started on it at about 3:00 pm, and it went into the oven about 5:00 pm. I was preparing ingredients or stirring the entire time. This is not a last minute recipe. But the time involved is well worth the taste of this different lasagne recipe.

So here goes.

There are four main preparations to this dish prior to assembly, which is the fifth step:

  • The ricotta cheese filling
  • The mushroom filling, which gives this dish its distinctive flavor
  • The tomato and mushroom sauce
  • pasta noodles

    Assembly will require the following ingredients, so might as well list them here knowing you will need them later:

  • 12 - 16 lasagne noodles cooked al dente
  • 1 pound of grated fontina cheese (don't be afraid to grate even more, maybe a 1-1/4 pounds)
  • 3/4 - 1 cup of freshly grated Parmesan cheese

  • Red pepper flakes to taste, optional

    First step - the ricotta cheese filling


  • 2 - 15 ounce containers of ricotta cheese (you can use low fat if you want, but I did not)
  • 1 - 10 ounce package of frozen chopped spinach cooked, drained and squeezed dry
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 large eggs

    Combine the ricotta cheese and the Parmesan cheese in a medium size mixing bowl

    Follow the recipe on the frozen chopped spinach to cook. I microwaved the spinach for about 7 minutes and then patted dry with paper towels.

    Add the cooked and chopped and dried spinach to the cheeses mixture. Then add the eggs and mix well. I used a spatula to make sure that I had everything mixed from the sides of the bowl. Once all together, put it aside as it is now ready for the assembly step, which comes later. By the way, this is the quickest part of the recipe.

    The next step is to make the tomato sauce because this you have to cook down for 35 minutes or so. Here are the ingredients for the tomato sauce:

  • 1 - 7/8 to 1 ounce package of dried porcini mushrooms (see below - I used about 1 1/2 oz)
  • ~1 cup of hot water used to rehydrate the dried porcini mushrooms and a vital ingredient
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 ounces pancetta
  • 1 medium onion chopped
  • 2 teaspoons of fresh rosemary chopped, or 1 teaspoon dried
  • 1/8 teaspoon crushed red peppers
  • 1 - 28 ounce can of crushed tomatoes with the puree (in other words, the whole can!)

    The actual first step is start soaking the porcini mushrooms in the hot water. Good idea to rinse them first in cold water just to get rid of any grit and dirt. Then throw them into the hot water. As you can see, I just used a Pyrex measuring cup. (Recipe modification - I actually used two (2) smaller packages that gave me more like 1 1/2 dry ounces of these mushrooms. I would recommend doing this because this is a key part of the taste to this dish.)

    Once the mushrooms have soaked for about 30 minutes, pull them out and remove any hard stems. Save the reserved soaking water. You need it later in this part of the recipe.

    While the porcini mushroom are soaking, chop up the onion and get the pancetta ready.

    Next it's time to start the actual stove top work. Throw the olive oil into a medium pan and heat over medium heat. Add the pancetta and cook for about 2 minutes.
    Next add the onions and rosemary and cook until the onions have become translucent, stirring occasionally. This will take about another 8 - 9 minutes.

    Add the red pepper flakes and cook for just 20 seconds or so.

    Next add the can of crushed tomatoes along with the puree sauce from the can into the pancetta and onions mixture. Also add the soaked porcini mushrooms.

    Next step is critical! Slowly and carefully add the porcini mushrooms' soaking water to the pan. You don't want to add any grit from the bottom as it will make the final dish too gritty. Same reason you decant a red wine that has been sitting in your wine cellar for several years. Keep the grit out!

    Now cook it down for 35 - 40 minutes on lower heat to make it thicker. Season with salt and pepper to your taste. Stir the mixture every so often.

    While the tomato, porcini and pancetta sauce is cooking, grate the fontina cheese into a bowl. I used a hand-held grater to rough cut the fontina cheese as it is a soft cheese. This cheese adds a wonderful taste to the lasagne.

    Two of the four main steps are now completed or nearing completion (the tomato sauce is still cooking down), and it is now time to start the third main step - the mushroom filling.

    Here are the ingredients for the mushroom filling:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 ounces of pancetta
  • 2 teaspoons of minced fresh rosemary, or 1 teaspoon dried
  • 12 ounces of sliced button mushrooms (here use whatever packaged fresh mushrooms you like: white mushrooms, baby portabello, etc. I used baby portabello)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
    First step, heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat and saute the pancetta and the rosemary for about 3 minutes. Mainly you are rendering the fat from the pancetta at this stage. Next add the mushrooms and cook until all of the liquid is evaporated, which will take about 12 minutes or so. Add salt and pepper to taste.

    While all of the other action is going on (the tomato sauce is cooking down and the mushrooms are cooking), get a large pot of salted water going on the stove and start cooking the lasagne. Read the package directions for cooking time for the pasta noodles you are using, but more than likely it will be about 12 minutes. Remember you do not want to overcook the pasta. Keep it al dente.

    Helpful hint: Now I have a confession to make here. My pot was too small for the lasagne noodles and that caused some of them to break while cooking. It did not deter the final lasagne product, but I had to work with some strangely shaped lasagne noodles during assembly. Make sure your pot is big enough to hold the 12 - 16 noodles that you are cooking.

    Now it is time to start the assembly of your lasagne! Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

    First oil a 13"x9"x2" pan. I used Olive Oil PAM spray. As the picture below shows, we have a slightly larger version of this and that is the pan that I used. If you are using a larger pan, you will need to "scale up" your recipe amounts accordingly. I will let you do the math. I did!

  • Step one is to put about a cup of the tomato mushroom sauce in the bottom of the pan. Don't worry about completely covering the bottom with this sauce. Just make sure it is spread lightly along the bottom.

  • Now put 3-5 lasagne noodles over the tomato sauce. Trim them as necessary to make sure you have covered the entire pan.

  • Next add half of the ricotta cheese mixture and spread over the noodles. This is where that spatula that I used to make the ricotta cheese mixture came in handy.

    • Sprinkle 1 cup of the fontina cheese and approximately 1/4 cup of the Parmesan cheese over the mixture.
    • Next cover the mixture with 3 -5 lasagne noodles, again trimming as necessary to completely cover.
    • Spread the remaining ricotta cheese mixture over the noodles.
    • Spread 1 cup of the tomato mixture over the ricotta mixture.
    • Spread the entire cooked mushroom mixture over the ricotta cheese.

    • Spread 1 cup of the fontina and 1/4 cup of the Parmesan cheese.

    • Top this mixture with one more layer of lasagne noodles.
    • Use the remaining tomato mixture to cover the noodles.
    • Sprinkle the remaining fontina cheese mixture and another 1/4 to 1/2 cup of parmesan cheese over the top.
    • For a little extra zip, I sprinkled a few red pepper flakes over the top of the final cheese layer, but this is optional.

        Now it's time to bake the lasagne.

      • Cover the pan with aluminum foil and put into the middle of the oven which has been preheated to 350 degrees. Bake covered for at least 45 minutes. Because I used a larger pan, I let it go for an hour.
      • Take the aluminum foil off and cook for another 30 minutes. You know it is done when the cheeses are bubbling around the edges of the pan.
      • Remove from the oven and let stand another 15-30 minutes.

        When you are ready to serve, cut into pieces and plate. We served this with an arugula salad, and this was more than enough to eat.

        Enjoy this different, but very tasty, lasagne!


        1. I have been making this exact recipe for many, many years. It is the best. Excellent description of the work involved. But SO worth it. Finally getting around to giving credit to where I found it, but can't seem to find its source. Do you know?

          1. It's from Bon Appetit January 1992. So that means we've been making it for 25 years! Yikes! That's dating us. But it is a very good recipe for a lasagne.

        2. I too have been making this recipe since Jan 1992 and still have the magazine. I was very happy to find this recipe online as we are craving this delicious lasagna. Having recently moved, my magazine is packed away.