The day after Thanksgiving is rapidly becoming one of my favorite foodie holidays. Each year we trek down to Monterey to visit our friends and their family, and participate in what proves to be an even more elaborate and decadent feast than the previous day. This year, for the first time, I went down for the whole extravaganza, which includes a nearly all-day mushroom hunt.
Back into the hills…deep into the hills…of Big Sur we went, turning somewhere off of Highway 1 and skidding down a dirt road for at least 5 miles. Once parked, we probably trekked a few miles into the ever-thickening forest. In fact, you would never have known what a glorious day it was for the thick canopy of trees shading us below.
At some point down the path we turned off, and started climbing up a rather steep hill, through heavy brush and downed trees, doing our best to avoid the poison oak (which, I found out later, I didn’t actually manage to avoid), all the while looking, searching, straining to see the delicate little fungi we were seeking. Finally, a cry of discovery and excitement (a cry that was quite distinguishable from the anguished cry earlier from my friend Tony who was attacked by yellow jackets, which sent another friend up a tree thinking it was a wild boar on the rampage). We all rushed over and found a patch of perfect, beautiful, delicious chanterelle mushrooms. Our bounty. We took what we could use, left the little ones to grow, and made our way back to prepare our feast.
Our feast that night consisted of tiny little mussels and barnacles we had harvested on the coast on the way home from the hunt, steamed in white wine. Our next course: homemade tagliolini with shredded quail, pancetta and chanterelle ragu. Our main course a slow-simmered pork stew with leeks and more chanterelles. And to top it off, a juicy pear galette.
The next day, each with a bag of mushrooms, we returned to the city… scheming how to use our chanterelle morsels. My friend Max ended up pickling his. I, on the other hand, decided upon decadence, and made a creamy white lasagna. It was heaven.
This recipe is adapted from a recipe by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, the owner of the River Cottage, author of numerous incredible cookbooks, and believer in living off the land.
For the Bechamel
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups whole milk, warmed
1/3 cup grated Parmesan
1/3 cup grated Fontina
About 3/4 to 1 cup chicken stock
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
About 300g fresh chanterelles, cleaned and sliced very thinly
About 6 large or 9 small very thin slices of good-quality prosciutto
About 1/2 cup Parmesan
About 1/2 cup Fontina
*Note: You can use either fresh or dried lasagna noodles. Fresh are always my first choice, and contrary to what some might tell you, you don’t need to pre-cook them, you can just layer them and bake them. There are also dried lasagna noodles that you don’t need to pre-cook either. They are thin enough that they bake when you bake the lasagna. The nice thing about these is that they tend to stay al dente when baked.
Preheat the oven to 375F. To make the bechamel, in a saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Whisk in the flour and cook, whisking, for about 2 minutes. Slowly add the milk, whisking constantly, to smooth out all the lumps. Turn down the heat to medium-low, and add the Parmesan and Fontina, whisking to incorporate. Whisk in enough chicken stock to make a fairly loose sauce. It should be pourable but not thin. If you are using the dried lasagna that is not pre-cooked it’s a good idea to make the sauce a bit thinner than you normally would. Season to taste with salt and plenty of freshly ground pepper.
To layer the lasagna, in a baking dish about 21-cm square, add about 1/4 cup of the Bechamel. Place a layer of lasagna noodles, then another 1/4 cup Bechamel, the 1/3 of the chanterelles. Top the chanterelles evenly with 1/3 of the prosciutto, shredding it into pieces to spread it evenly if necessary. Top the prosciutto with a thin layer of grated Parmesan and Fontina. Top with about 1/2 cup Bechamel, covering the filling evenly. Top with an even layer of lasagna noodles, then repeat the layering two more times. Add a final layer of lasagna noodles, then the rest of the Bechamel, and some grated Parmesan and Fontina.
Bake the lasagna until the noodles are tender, and the filling is bubbling, about 45 minutes if using the dried uncooked noodles (for fresh it might be about 25 minutes). Let sit for about 15 minutes before cutting and serving.