The only thing better than a birthday party is a surprise birthday party … with really good food.
When one of my best friends, Devon Aragona, called to ask me if I would create an Italian menu for her mom, Tracy’s 50th birthday celebration, I immediately created three, four-course options for her to choose from.
There are many great lasagna recipes out there, but this Mushroom Ragu variation, adapted from Food Network, is the one we went with for the main course.
On the day of the event, Devon and I were busy in the kitchen all afternoon (she is a wonderful kitchen assistant and photographer — she gets all the credit for this post’s photos!). This Mushroom Ragu Lasagna involves a lot of prep time, but if you’re willing and have the time, I promise it is worth the hard work.
For all you meat lovers out there, I realize this is somewhat of a vegetarian dish. But I found that it was just as tasty, if not better than the traditional ground beef lasagna, which often leaves me feeling overly-stuffed and bloated anyways.
The surprise dinner would not have been complete without a birthday cake. We celebrated with a raspberry-filled vanilla cake from Adams Cake Shop — always delicious! Unfortunately, Tracy and I both had a bit of an issue picking the cake up off of the table.
We might as well have picked up the cake and shoved it in our faces like children — our fingers were covered in icing from our failed attempts. Luckily, Devon was able to pick it up and cut it just fine.
Make sure you give yourself enough time for this recipe. I was able to complete it with a total cook time of 2 1/2 hours, but that’s because I had a great assistant. You might even want to allow yourself 3 1/2 or 4 hours … just in case!
To read more about the surprise birthday party and the importance of family, visit my best friend’s website here.
Mushroom Ragu Lasagna
Author: Adapted from Food Network | Serves: 12
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large carrot, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
3 tbsp. tomato paste
2 portobello mushroom caps, chopped
1 pound shiitake mushrooms, stems removed, chopped (or white button mushrooms)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 1/2 cans (21 oz.) whole tomatoes, crushed by hand
2 bay leaves
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
3 oz. Parmesan cheese, grated
1 1/2 lbs. part-skim mozzarella cheese, shredded
8 oz. four cheese Italian blend
2 lbs. ricotta cheese
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 lb. spinach leaves, chopped
1/4 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
9 lasagna noodles
1. Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onions and carrots and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and tomato paste and cook, stirring, about 2 more minutes. Add the portobello and shiitake (or white button) mushrooms, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper; cook, stirring, until the mushrooms are soft, 5 more minutes.
3. Add the tomatoes and their juice, 1 cup water, and the bay leaves; bring to a boil and stir. Reduce the heat to medium low, add the parsley and 1 teaspoon salt and simmer while occasionally stirring until thick, about 1 hour. Take the bay leaves out. (You can make the ragu up to 1 day ahead; let cool, then cover and chill. Reheat before using.)
4. For the lasagna filling, mix the parmesan, mozzarella, and four cheese blend, setting 1 1/2 cups of the cheese mixture aside. Combine the remaining cheese mixture in a large bowl with the ricotta, eggs, spinach, and nutmeg.
5. Preheat the oven to 375˚F. In a pot, cook the lasagna noodles according to package directions. Drain, rinse, and pat dry.
6. Spread 1 cup of the ragu in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Add a layer of noodles, then half of the spinach mixture, and 2 cups ragu. Repeat with another layer of noodles, spinach mixture, and ragu. Top with the remaining noodles and ragu and sprinkle with the reserved cheese. Cover with foil, place on a baking sheet and bake 45 minutes. Uncover and bake until golden, about 20 more minutes.