Besciamella and Pistachio Pesto Lasagna

PLasagna

This is a lasagna recipe that I came up with.  It’s not your typical lasagna with tomato sauce.  It’s a creamy white lasagna made with a béchamel sauce (besciamella in Italian) and a pistachio pesto.  The pesto adds subtle flavor to the otherwise bland white sauce.  Mushrooms and pancetta add a little meatiness to the dish.  The inspiration came from a favorite pasta recipe with pistachio pesto that is paired with cream.

Lately, I’ve fallen in love with fresh no-boil lasagna noodles.  You can find them in the supermarket, in the refrigerated section with all the fresh pastas.  They’re thinner, lighter, and cook faster than traditional boxed lasagna noodles.  The combination of these delicate noodles and creamy white sauce is sublime.

Besciamella and Pistachio Pesto Lasagna
(Lasagna con Besciamella è Pesto di Pistacchio)

Difficulty Rating: Easy
Makes 8 servings.

Ingredients:

For the Lasagna:
16 ounces sliced white mushrooms
5 tablespoons butter, divided
2 tablespoons dry marsala or brandy (optional)
10 (7 by 3-inch) fresh oven-ready no-boil lasagna sheets
1 1/2 cups diced pancetta, ham, or prosciutto (about 8 ounces)
1 cup grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese

For the Pistachio Pesto:
1 cup shelled, unsalted, raw pistachios
3/4 cup torn fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup pine nuts or chopped walnuts
1 small clove garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 peppercorns

For the Besciamella (White) Sauce:
12 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
6 cups milk
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Fresh ground black pepper

Directions:

MAKE THE PESTO:  Place all the ingredients for the pesto in a food processor or blender and process until paste-like in consistency, about 5 minutes.

COOK THE MUSHROOMS:  Melt 4 tablespoons of butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the mushrooms and cook 3 minutes stirring often.  Add the marsala and cook until the liquid in the pan is almost evaporated, about 4 minutes.  Transfer to a bowl and set aside.

*COOK THE PANCETTA (OPTIONAL):  If using pancetta, you can briefly cook it before adding to the lasagna to render some of the fat.  Using the same skillet you cooked the mushrooms in, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat.  Add the pancetta and cook for 3 to 4 minutes.  Remove with a slotted spoon and transfer to a dish lined with a paper towel.

MAKE THE BESCIAMELLA (WHITE) SAUCE:  Heat the milk in a large sauce pan over medium-high heat until small bubbles appear along the sides of the pan.  Do not let it boil.  Turn the heat off.

Melt the butter in a separate large heavy-bottom saucepan over medium-high heat until it begins to foam.  Stir in the flour and cook for about 3 minutes, until the mixture begins to color.  Do not let the mixture brown.

Whisk the hot milk in gradually until smooth.  Add nutmeg and season with salt and pepper.

Simmer, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens to medium consistency and coats the back of a wooden spoon, about 10 to 15 minutes.

ASSEMBLE THE LASAGNA:  Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Place a thin layer of white sauce on the bottom of a 9 by 13-inch baking dish.

Place a two of lasagna noodles on top.  Trim the noodles to fit if necessary.  Spread a thin layer of pesto on top of the lasagna noodles.

Cover with a layer of white sauce and sprinkle with cheese.

Scatter 1/4 of the mushrooms and pancetta on top.  Repeat with the next three layers of noodles, pesto, white sauce, cheese, mushrooms and pancetta.

Place the final layer of noodles on top, cover with white sauce, remaining cheese, and dot with remaining butter.  Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until lightly browned on top.

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