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Cooking with Stefano: Faita makes mushroom lasagna and favourite apple cake

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Here are two recipes from Stefano Faita.

Creamy Mixed Mushroom Lasagna

This lasagna made with creamy bechamel sauce is indulgent. "I love all kinds of mushrooms, so it's a nice lasagna with all the mushrooms and bechamel and cheese. It's pretty simple but really delicious," says Stefano Faita, adding it's a great entree to serve to friends at a dinner party.

Bechamel Sauce

75 ml (1/3 cup) butter

75 ml (1/3 cup) plus 15 ml (1 tbsp) flour

1.25 l (5 cups) milk

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

In a saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Add flour and stir to combine to make a roux. Continue to cook and stir, 2 to 3 minutes. Gradually whisk in milk, making sure to incorporate the roux into milk. Continue to whisk mixture and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, whisking frequently, until sauce is thickened, about 10 minutes.

Lasagna

60 g (2 oz) dried porcini mushrooms

Extra virgin olive oil

Butter

1 medium onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 kg (2 lb) fresh mixed mushrooms, such as cremini, shiitake and oyster

15 ml (1 tbsp) chopped fresh rosemary

30 ml (2 tbsp) chopped fresh thyme

30 ml (2 tbsp) chopped fresh sage

75 ml (1/3 cup) plus 15 ml (1 tbsp) white wine

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

10 fresh lasagna sheets (homemade or store bought)

250 ml (1 cup) grated Parmesan cheese (approx)

250 ml (1 cup) grated Asiago cheese (approx)

30 ml (2 tbsp) chopped fresh parsley

In a small bowl, soak dried mushrooms in warm water for 20 minutes. Drain. Chop and set aside.

Heat 2 large skillets over medium heat. Add 30 ml (2 tbsp) olive oil and 30 ml (2 tbsp) butter to each pan. Divide onion and garlic between 2 pans. Cook until they begin to soften, 2 to 3 minutes.

Increase heat to medium high and divide fresh mushrooms and chopped herbs between the 2 pans. Saute mushrooms until golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Add chopped dried mushrooms and continue to cook for 2 minutes. Deglaze pans with white wine and cook until most of the wine has evaporated. (Alternatively cook mushroom mixture in one skillet and cook mushrooms in batches.)

Heat oven to 190 C (375 F).

In a large saucepan of boiling salted water, cook sheets of lasagna in batches, 3 to 4 sheets at a time, until al dente. (Do not overcook lasagna sheets.) Immediately plunge them into cold water to stop the cooking process and transfer to a clean towel in a single layer to drain.

Butter an 20-by-30-cm (8-by-12-inch) baking dish.

To assemble lasagna: Add a few tablespoons of bechamel to lightly cover bottom of baking dish. Add, in layers, 2 lasagna sheets, about a quarter of the mushroom mixture, a quarter of the remaining bechamel sauce, 30 ml (2 tbsp) grated Asiago and 30 ml (2 tbsp) grated Parmesan cheese. Repeat 4 times, adding cheese every other layer. For the top layer, finish with just grated cheese, about 125 ml (1/2 cup) of Asiago and 125 ml (1/2 cup) of Parmesan cheese. Add more cheese if you like it extra cheesy.

Bake lasagna until filling is hot and bubbling and cheese is golden brown, 30 to 35 minutes. Let lasagna rest 10 minutes before cutting. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.

Makes 8 to 12 servings.

———

Grandma's Apple Cake

Faita's paternal grandmother Angela looked after him and his sister when they were growing up and he has fond memories of this cake.

"I love it. She used to make this apple cake every week. I would have it as a snack when I got home from school," he says. "I would serve it any time of the day. You can have it for breakfast, lunch, for dessert for dinner, whatever you like."

It's scented with cinnamon and sweet with raisins. Try Cortland or Fuji apples for this cake or use your favourite baking apple. If your raisins are dry, soak them in some orange juice to plump them up. Strain them before using.

15 ml (1 tbsp) butter, for greasing pan

30 ml (2 tbsp) plain breadcrumbs, for dusting pan

500 ml (2 cups) all-purpose flour

15 ml (1 tbsp) cinnamon

5 ml (1 tsp) baking powder

175 ml (3/4 cup) packed brown sugar

125 ml (1/2 cup) butter

2 eggs (extra large)

125 ml (1/2 cup) plain yogurt

Zest of 1/2 lemon

50 ml (1/4 cup) orange juice

2 large apples, peeled and diced

150 ml (2/3 cup) dried raisins

150 ml (2/3 cup) chopped almonds

Butterscotch or caramel sauce, for serving

Vanilla ice cream, for serving

Heat oven to 180 C (350 F).

Grease a 20-cm (8-inch) round cake pan with butter and then dust with breadcrumbs to coat bottom and sides of the pan. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, cinnamon and baking powder. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, beat brown sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time and continue to beat until incorporated and smooth. Add yogurt, lemon zest and orange juice. Continue to beat until batter is smooth.

Stir flour mixture into wet mixture a little at a time until batter is smooth. Do not overmix. Gently fold in apples, raisins and almonds.

Scrape cake batter into prepared pan. Bake until cake springs back when touched and cake tester comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes.

Serve cake with butterscotch sauce and vanilla ice cream, if desired. Alternatively, simply dust with icing sugar.

Makes 6 servings.

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