Lasagna with Mushrooms and Italian Sausage

Circle B Kitchen

Serves 8-10

This lasagna has been designed to create a nice sturdy, yet moist slice that will stand up when sliced. To achieve that structure, it's important not to overcook the noodles and to add each layer of ingredients sparingly. As with most baked dishes, this lasagna tastes better the longer it sits and reheats beautifully.

1 lb of lasagna noodles (not the no-boil or oven-ready kind)

1 lb of bulk spicy Italian sausage (I use turkey Italian sausage. You might have to buy this in links and remove the casings)

1 lb crimini mushrooms, cleaned and sliced

1 lb grated mozzarella cheese or an Italian cheese blend (or a mix of the two; I use Trader Joe's Quattro Formaggio)

1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

For the Sauce:

3 tablespoons of olive oil

2 large cans of whole or crushed tomatoes

1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil (about 4-5)

1 medium onion, chopped

1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (if not using spicy Italian sausage)

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 tsp dried basil

1 tsp dried marjoram

3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

1 tsp sugar

2 tsp salt and 1 tsp black pepper

For the Bechamel

2 cups whole milk, warmed in the microwave

1 1/2 tablespoons each flour and butter

1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

1 tsp salt

1 tsp white pepper

1/4 tsp grated nutmeg

12 ounces of ricotta cheese

To make the sauce, place the canned and sun-dried tomatoes in blender, food processor (or use a stick blender) to puree to a fairly smooth sauce. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan and add the onion. Saute for about 5-6 minutes until soft and add the garlic and dried herbs, sauteing for another 3 minutes or so. Add the blended tomatoes, salt, pepper, sugar and parsley, stir to combine and let simmer slowly while you assemble the rest of the lasagna ingredients.

Cook the noodles for 8 minutes in a large pot of boiling, salted water. Pull the noodles from the water and place in a large bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Drain the noodles on clean kitchen towels and cover until ready to assemble the lasagna. You can give the noodles a little squirt of cooking oil spray to keep them from sticking to the towels.

Heat a large saute pan, and if using turkey Italian sausage, lightly coat the bottom of the pan with olive oil. If using pork sausage, eliminate the olive oil. Brown the sausage, breaking it up into small pieces until it is cooked through. Remove to a bowl and set aside.

In the same pan, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil and add the sliced mushrooms. Saute until the mushroom are just beginning to give off their liquid, but are still fairly firm. Remove from the heat and season with salt and pepper.

For the Bechamel, melt the butter in a saucepan and add the flour, whisking until combined. Cook until bubbling and then slowly add the warmed milk, whisking until fully incorporated and smooth. Continue stirring until the mixture is thickened, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and season with salt, white pepper and a few gratings of nutmeg. When the bechamel has cooled somewhat, stir in the ricotta cheese and the grated parmesan cheese. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

To assemble: Be sure to add each layer sparingly.

Spray a deep 9x12-inch baking dish (mine was 9x11) with cooking spray and spoon enough of the sauce in to thinly cover the bottom and layer as follows: a layer of noodles over the sauce and then a thin layer of the bechamel, sprinkled with the grated cheeses; a sprinkling of the mushrooms; sauce; a layer of noodles, bechamel, grated cheeses, sausage, sauce, noodles, bechamel, grated cheeses, mushrooms, sauce, noodles, bechamel, sauce and topped with grated cheeses. Depending on how deep your baking dish is, you should end up with 4 layers of noodles, 2 layers of mushrooms and 2 layers of sausage.

Cover with foil that's been sprayed with Pam to keep it from sticking, and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and continue baking for another 15 to 20 minutes or until the lasagna is bubbling and browned on the top.

Let the lasagna sit for at least 20 minutes before slicing. Note: the lasagna can be assembled a day or two ahead and refrigerated until ready to bake. Just be sure to bring it to room temperature before baking, or cook for an extra 15 to 20 minutes before removing the foil.