Lasagna with Mushrooms and Ham
2 1/4 pounds fresh, firm, white and/or Crimini mushrooms
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons butter plus more butter for greasing and dotting a 9- by 12-inch lasagne pan, no less than 2½ inches high
1/2 cup onion chopped very fine
2 ounces dried porcini mushrooms, reconstituted
Filtered water from the mushroom soak
1/2 cup canned imported Italian plum tomatoes, drained and chopped
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
Fresh lasagna noodles
1 pound unsmoked boiled ham
Béchamel Sauce, using 3 cups milk, 6 tablespoons butter, 5 tablespoons flour, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and some fresh grated nutmeg
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus additional cheese at the table
1. Cut fresh mushrooms very thin in lengthwise slices, leaving the stems attached to the caps - if large, cut in half before slicing.
2. Choose a sauté pan that can subsequently accommodate all the fresh mushrooms without crowding. Put in the oil, the 3 tablespoons of butter, and the chopped onion, and turn the heat on to medium.
3. Cook, stirring, until the onion becomes translucent. Put in the reconstituted dried porcini, the filtered water from their soak, the chopped tomatoes, and the parsley. Stir thoroughly to coat all ingredients, set the cover on the pan slightly ajar, and turn the heat down to medium low.
4. When the liquid in the pan has completely evaporated, put in the sliced fresh mushrooms, salt, and a few grindings of pepper, and turn the heat up to medium-high. Cook, uncovered, until all the liquid thrown off by the fresh mushrooms has evaporated. This takes a while - check every few minutes. Taste and correct for salt and pepper, stir, turn off the heat, and set aside.
5. Parboil lasagna noodles, plunge into ice water to stop cooking, and spread them out to dry on cloth towels.
6. Preheat oven to 400°.
7. Cut the ham into very thin, julienne strips ~ 1/2 inch long.
8. Make the béchamel sauce (easy instructions here, but keep the flour/butter/milk quantities listed above, not those at the link), cover to keep it warm. If a film should form on top, just stir it when you are ready to use it.
9. Thickly smear the bottom of the lasagne pan with butter and then a little bit of béchamel. Line the bottom with a single layer of pasta strips, cutting them to fit the pan, edge to edge, allowing no more than ¼ inch for overlapping.
10. Spread a thinly distributed layer of the mushroom mixture over the pasta, followed by a thinly distributed layer of the béchamel. Scatter a few strips of ham over the béchamel, then sprinkle with a little grated Parmesan. Cover with another pasta layer, cutting it to fit as you did before; use the trimmings of pasta dough to fill in gaps, if necessary. Repeat the sequence of béchamel, mushroom mixture, ham, and grated cheese. Continue building up layers of pasta and filling up to a maximum of 6 layers of pasta. Over the topmost layer spread only the remaining béchamel, sprinkle on the rest of the Parmesan, and dot with about 2 tablespoons of butter.
11. Bake in a preheated oven until a light, golden crust forms on top. It should take between 10 and 15 minutes. If after the first few minutes you don’t see any sign of a crust beginning to form, turn up the thermostat another 50° to 75°. Do not bake longer than 15 minutes altogether.
12. Remove from the oven and allow to settle for about 10 minutes, then serve at table directly from the pan, with grated Parmesan on the side.