A Culinary Ode to Spring. SPRING!

To celebrate Spring, I’d like to start out this blog with a recipe that highlights three harbingers of the season: morels, asparagus and leeks. I was poking around on Epicurious looking for promising seasonal vegetarian entrees for one of my clients, and I came upon this gem — Lasagna with Asparagus, Leeks and Morels. I had seen fresh morels at Whole Foods the week before, but I just knew that I wouldn’t have the time to make something wonderful with them, so I had to pass that day. When I was ready to make this recipe, I couldn’t find the morels, so I substituted with a mix of trumpets, shiitakes and criminis, which are also delicious. I’m still hoping it’s not too late to try it again with the morels.

a black morel

The original recipe is for individual lasagnas, but I’ve written it as one whole lasagna. Also, I wasn’t satisfied with how the recipe instructed its followers to make a béchamel sauce, so I’ve included instructions on how to make the sauce starting with a roux. Enjoy!

Lasagna with Asparagus, Leeks and Morels

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter, divided
  • 1 pound thick asparagus spears, trimmed, cut on diagonal into 1-inch pieces
  • 4 ounces fresh morel mushrooms, rinsed, coarsely chopped, or 5 ounces fresh shiitake mushrooms, stemmed, coarsely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
  • 2 medium leeks (white and pale green parts only), halved lengthwise, thinly sliced (about 2 cups)
  • 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
  • 3 1/2 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 9-ounce package no-cook lasagna noodles (12 noodles)
  • 1 1/4 cups (about) finely grated Parmesan cheese, divided

Equipment

9″ x 13″ lasagna pan

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350ºF.

Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a large, heavy sauté pan over medium heat. Add asparagus, mushrooms and thyme. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, and sauté, stirring often, until asparagus is slightly tender and bright green, about 5 minutes. Transfer the asparagus mixture to a bowl, and melt remaining 1 tablespoon of butter in the same sauté pan.  Add leeks; cook until wilted, stirring often, about 3 minutes.

Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom of the sauté pan to prevent burning, for one minute. Add broth, cream, bay leaf, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Raise the heat to high and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Then reduce the heat to maintain a brisk simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture has thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon, 6-8 minutes. Remove from heat and discard bay leaf. Taste the sauce and adjust seasoning if necessary.

Spread 1 cup of sauce on the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch lasagna pan. Place four lasagna noodles on top of the sauce. Scatter 1 cup of the vegetable mixture over, spreading in an even layer. Drizzle ½ cup sauce over. Sprinkle ¼ cup cheese evenly over the vegetables. Repeat layering two more times: noodles, vegetables, sauce, and cheese. Drizze the remaining sauce over the lasagna. Cover the dish tightly with aluminum foil and place on a rimmed baking sheet (to catch any spills). Bake until noodles are tender, about 40 minutes. Uncover and bake until sauce is bubbling and cheese begins to brown, about 6 minutes. Let stand at room temperature 5 minutes before serving.

Ingredient Tip: If fresh morel mushrooms are unavailable, pour 2 cups boiling water over 1 ounce of dried morel mushrooms and let stand until the mushrooms are soft, about 30 minutes. Drain the mushrooms and squeeze dry before chopping.

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