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The Ghost of Christmas Pasta

December 05, 1996|BETTY ROSBOTTOM | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

At this time of year, when holiday parties crowd the calendars, it's good to have a dinner dish that can be prepared in advance and brought out for a special last-minute meal. This wild mushroom lasagna can even be frozen and defrosted without trouble.

I use fresh pasta sheets, layering them with both a white sauce and a tomato and porcini mushroom sauce plus a sprinkling of imported Parmesan cheese. The lasagna can be completely assembled in advance and refrigerated or frozen (defrost overnight if freezing), then baked and served.

Serve it with a green salad in a balsamic dressing plus warm garlic bread. Chocolate brownies can also be made ahead and frozen.

Rosbottom is author of "American Favorites" (Chapters, 1996).

WILD MUSHROOM LASAGNA

MUSHROOM SAUCE

1 1/2 ounces dried porcini mushrooms

2 cups boiling water

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup chopped onions

1 pound white mushrooms, cleaned, dried and thinly sliced

1 tablespoon chopped garlic

1 tablespoon dried rosemary, crushed

1 1/2 teaspoons salt plus more if needed

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper plus more if needed

2/3 cup dry white wine

1 (28-ounce) can Italian-style tomatoes, drained well and coarsely chopped

WHITE SAUCE

1/2 cup unsalted butter

4 1/2 tablespoons flour

3 cups whole milk

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

ASSEMBLY

6 quarts water

1 1/2 tablespoons salt

8 sheets fresh pasta, each cut 3 1/2x10 inches, about 3/4 pound

1/2 tablespoon butter

1 1/2 cups grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

8 fresh rosemary sprigs for garnish, optional

MUSHROOM SAUCE

Rinse dried porcini mushrooms under running water to remove grit. Soak in 2 cups boiling water 30 minutes. Squeeze mushrooms by handfuls in clean kitchen towel over bowl of soaking liquid; strain soaking liquid through sieve lined with paper towel and reserve. Coarsely chop mushrooms and set aside.

Heat oil in large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add onions and cook 4 minutes. Add fresh mushrooms and cook, stirring, until golden and liquid has evaporated, about 10 minutes. Add chopped porcini, garlic and rosemary and cook 2 minutes more. Season with 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.

Add strained soaking liquid and wine to skillet and cook until liquid has almost evaporated, about 10 minutes. Scrape any brown particles on bottom and sides of pan into mixture. Add tomatoes and cook over medium heat 10 minutes, stirring often. Taste and season with more salt and pepper if needed. Remove and set aside.

WHITE SAUCE

Melt 6 tablespoons butter in heavy saucepan over medium heat. When hot, add flour and cook, stirring constantly, 2 minutes. Add milk and whisk constantly until mixture thickens, 2 to 3 minutes. Season sauce with nutmeg and salt and pepper to taste.

ASSEMBLY

Set large bowl of cold water on counter and place 3 clean kitchen towels on work surface. Bring water to boil in large, heavy pan over high heat. Add salt and pasta and cook until tender, 4 to 5 minutes. Remove pasta to bowl of water to stop cooking process, then spread on towels to drain.

Lightly butter 13x9-inch baking dish. Arrange 2 pasta sheets just slightly overlapping in pan. Spread 1/4 White Sauce over pasta, then spread 1/3 Mushroom Sauce over that. Sprinkle with 1/3 cup Parmigiano-Peggiano. Repeat to make 2 more layers.

Top final layer with 2 more pasta sheets and spread with remaining White Sauce and sprinkle with remaining Parmigiano-Reggiano. Dot top of lasagna with any remaining butter. If not baking immediately, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate up to 1 day. (Lasagna can also be frozen. To freeze, wrap additionally with aluminum foil and before baking defrost overnight in refrigerator.) Bring lasagna to room temperature 30 minutes before baking.

Bake lasagna, uncovered, at 350 degrees until hot and top is golden, 30 to 40 minutes. Remove lasagna from oven and cool 10 minutes. Cut into 8 portions and garnish each with 1 rosemary sprig.

Makes 8 servings.

Each serving contains about:

526 calories; 1,126 mg sodium; 52 mg cholesterol; 25 grams fat; 56 grams carbohydrates; 20 grams protein; 1.81 grams fiber.

Note: Fresh pasta is best for this dish, but dried can be substituted. Use 12 dried lasagna noodles, but cook longer, 10 to 15 minutes, and drain in same way. Use 3 rather than 2 noodles per layer.

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