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Ooey, Gooey, Warm, and Cheese-y

Cowgirl Creamery's Sue Conley's secret to cooking cheese lasagna.

It's cold out (by San Francisco standards). So tonight, we're making this Three Cheese Lasagna with Mushrooms and Spinach from Sue Conley and Peggy Smith's new cookbook Cowgirl Creamery Cooks (released tomorrow).

Conley tells us her secret is combining cheeses. "It’s something that we started to do more and more cooking at Sidekick, just mixing cheeses together. But when we started writing it down it became much more fun." And it's not just any three cheeses, it's strategic. The secret is "to find different combinations, for instance, a melting cheese with fromage blanc and something more tangy like parmesan. The [Gruyère] gives it a stretch and the fromage blanc makes it melt evenly and gives it a beautiful soft texture. I think that’s one of the greatest cooking tips that I could give." Straight from the Cowgirl's mouth.

 

Three Cheese Lasagna with Mushrooms and Spinach
Forget about over-stuffed layers and an overflowing casserole dish. You want to scatter just enough cheese and vegetables on the layers to flavor, but not overwhelm. If you use fresh pasta that’s rolled very thin, you can even form eight or ten layers. With dried or thicker pasta sheets, you’ll want fewer layers. 
Don’t worry about the size of your pan. Just make sure the pans you choose are deep enough to hold at least five layers.

2 tbsp dried porcini mushrooms
3 cups milk (whole or low fat)
3 tbsp plus 1 tsp unsalted butter
4 cups fresh spinach leaves
½ tsp sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 cups chopped yellow onion
4 chopped garlic cloves
6 cups sliced fresh mushrooms
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 lb fresh pasta sheets or fried lasagna noodles
8 oz Gruyère or Comté cheese, grated
6 oz fromage blanc
1 oz parmesan cheese, grated

Wrap the dried porcinis in cheesecloth tied with string. Heat the milk in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat until small bubbles form. Take off the heat and place the porcini in the milk. Let steep for 1 hour at room temperature.
Meanwhile, melt the 1 tsp butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the spinach, salt, and a few grinds of black pepper and decrease the heat to medium. Cook, tossing now and then, until the spinach has shrunk by half but is still green, about 3 minutes. Transfer the spinach to a bowl to cool. Wipe out the pan.
Heat the olive oil and 1 tbsp butter in the skillet over medium heat. When the butter is melted, add the onion and garlic to the pan. Sauté, stirring just until the onion softens. Add the fresh mushrooms. Cook until the mushrooms begin to brown, about 10 minutes over medium heat. Take the pan off the heat and set aside.
After 1 hour, squeeze as much milk out of the porcinis as you can into a bowl. Empty the mushrooms into another bowl and discard the cheesecloth.
Using the porcini-steeped milk, the remaining 2 tbsp butter, and the flour, make a béchamel.
Preheat the oven to 400°F/200°C/gas 6. Bring a large pot of water to a boil over medium-high heat for the pasta. Butter a lasagna pan or deep baking dish.
Cook the pasta and divide the mushrooms into three equal portions and the spinach into two equal portions, and have all the cheeses and béchamel ready for layering.
For the bottom layer, arrange the pasta starting at the pan’s center and let the bottom half of each pasta sheet drape over the pan’s sides. Sprinkle one-third of the mushrooms over the bottom pasta layer. Sprinkle lightly with one-third of the Gruyère.
Add another pasta layer. Add béchamel sauce, smoothing it over the pasta. Arrange half the spinach on the pasta and top with half the fromage blanc, dropping small spoonfuls on top of the spinach. Add another neat layer of pasta. Repeat with another mushroom and Gruyère layer, more pasta, and another béchamel, spinach, and fromage blanc layer. After the final mushroom layer, fold over the pasta edges that have hung over the pan sides all this time. Give the top a final light layer of béchamel, smoothing it evenly over the pasta, sprinkle with parmesan, and cover the top with aluminum foil.
Bake for 20 minutes, then remove the foil and decrease the oven temperature to 350°F/180°C/gas 4. Cook until the cheese on top is bubbly and starting to brown, another 15 to 20 minutes. Take the lasagna out of the oven and let it cool for at least 15 minutes before serving.

 

Reprinted with permission from Cowgirl Creamery Cooks

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