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Posted on Thu, Feb 24, 2011 : 7 a.m.

You say umami, I say mushroom lasagna

By Jessica Webster


This delicious mushroom lasagna pairs well with a glass of Pinot Noir.

Jessica Webster |

I have long been intrigued by the so-called "fifth flavor," umami. The concept of umami dates back to the late 19th century French chef Auguste Esoffier, who proclaimed that in addition to the widely recognized sweet, sour, salty and bitter flavors, there was a fifth flavor that our tongues could recognize; a savory flavor present in his veal stocks that didn't fit any of the other four flavor profiles.

But it wasn't until the early 20th century that a Japanese chemist discovered that the secret behind this fifth flavor was glutamic acid, which can be found in everything from aged cheeses, mushrooms, cured meats and fermented foods. He gave the fifth flavor the name "umami," which translates to "delicious" or "yummy" in Japanese.

Until the beginning of this century, the concept of umami was still somewhat controversial. Those naysayers should have tried this lasagna. With its mixture of meaty mushrooms, perfectly browned pancetta, aged Italian cheese and black truffle butter, it practically oozes umami.

This was my first time cooking with chestnuts, and I was quite pleased with the results. You can find jarred or frozen roasted chestnuts in many local grocery stores.

Black truffle butter, while not essential to this recipe, definitely adds a depth of flavor that I enjoyed. You can find it in specialty grocery stores, or in the cheese section at Whole Foods.

This recipe was originally printed in the New York Times "Pairings" column. Author Florence Fabricant suggests serving the mushroom lasagna with a glass of Pinot Noir.

Mushroom Lasagna
adapted from Florence Fabricant in the New York TImes

1/4 pound pancetta, sliced thin and slivered
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
4 large garlic cloves, slivered
1 pound mixed mushrooms, sliced (I used shiitake, porcini and cremini)
12 chestnuts, roasted, peeled and quartered (many grocery stores sell these jarred or frozen)
12 sage leaves, slivered
Salt and pepper
2 1/4 cups milk, heated to nearly boiling
6 tablespoons unsalted butter or black truffle butter
1/2 cup flour
1/2 pound pasta for lasagna, preferably fresh, parboiled if dry
3 ounces grana padano or Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated.

1. Cook the pancetta in a large skillet over medium-low heat, stirring, until the fat starts to render. Increase the heat and cook a few minutes more, until the pancetta begins to brown and crisp. Remove the pancetta from the pan and transfer it to a dish.

2. Add the oil to the pan. Add the onion and garlic and sauté until softened. Stir in the mushrooms and sauté over medium heat until they wilt. Stir in the chestnuts and sage. Season with salt and pepper.

3. In a medium saucepan, melt 6 tablespoons butter or truffle butter on low heat. Whisk the flour into the melted butter. Cook briefly, then gradually whisk in the warm milk. Continue whisking and cooking until the sauce is thick and smooth. Season with salt and pepper.

4. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8-inch square baking dish. Cover the bottom of the dish with a film of the sauce, then cover it with a layer of pasta. Spread with half the mushrooms, scatter half the pancetta on top and sprinkle with a third of the cheese. Spread a third of the sauce on the cheese. Repeat the layers. Cover with the remaining pasta, spread with the remaining sauce and scatter the rest of the cheese on top.

5. Bake 40 to 45 minutes, until the top is lightly browned.

Serves 6.

Jessica Webster leads the Food & Drink section for the community team. You can reach her at



Fri, Jun 15, 2012 : 2:26 p.m.

This looks absolutely delicious. Thanks for the tips on where to find the chestnuts. I will be trying this soon!

Kelly Fuligni

Mon, Feb 28, 2011 : 6:36 p.m.

Looks amazing.

Jessica Webster

Mon, Feb 28, 2011 : 6:08 p.m.

@ypsichick: I am so glad you enjoyed it. If you decide to make it again, Whole Foods carries jarred roasted chestnuts. I found them at the Washtenaw store in the baking aisle, across from the bulk foods. Trader Joes has boxes of shelf-stabilized steamed chestnuts shelved near the soups.


Mon, Feb 28, 2011 : 3:47 p.m.

Made it, ate was fabulous! I omitted the chestnuts, used mine bella and shiitake mushrooms and added black truffle infused olive oil to the butter when making the roux. Uses grana padano from Trader Joe's, which had great flavor and was way less expensive than other places. Also salted the sauce with black truffle salt. The flavor was superb. I also used lasagna noodles that do not require boiling. I suggest adding 5-10 minutes to the baking time if using this type of noodle, as mine were quite al dente with a 40-45 minute bake time.


Sun, Feb 27, 2011 : 9:56 p.m.

I just got home with all the ingredients (except the chestnuts, which are apparently seasonal...cannot find them anywhere) and will be going into the kitchen shortly to give this a try. Can't wait to see how it turns out!

Mary Bilyeu

Thu, Feb 24, 2011 : 4:12 p.m.

Sigh ... that looks luscious!!!

Sarah Rigg

Thu, Feb 24, 2011 : 2:31 p.m.

This sounds good, aside from the fact that I don't eat meat. I wonder if you could just leave out the pancetta or if there'd be a vegetarian substitute- not necessarily a "fake meat" but some ingredient with a similar texture, like sun-dried tomato or the like. Gives me some ideas to experiment with, though! Mushrooooooms. Mmmm...

Jojo B

Thu, Feb 24, 2011 : 1:26 p.m.

Great article, thank you! And boy does that look umami!