Thursday, April 12, 2007

Butternut Squash Lasagna

I was apprehensive to give this a try, but it looked so good! And the Chow household is glad that I did, as it is now on the repeat list.

We love butternut squash. However, I am not a fan of most lasagnas - too much cheese (yes, there is such a thing), and acidic tomato sauces. So, I decided to combine and tweak two recipes from the Food Network, one by Giada De Laurentiis, and the other by Michael Chiarello.

I was pleasantly surprised at how the flavors melded; not one thing stood out more than anything else. There are a few key things to remember when you make this. First, season the major components as you go along, or you could easily end up with an unpalatable mass. Second, use herbs and spices that you like. Third, think twice about using no-boil noodles; a reviewer of one of the aforementioned recipes warned that the starch overwhelmed the delicate flavor of the squash. Finally, you can cook the squash in advance and freeze it for a couple of weeks, before thawing and using it in the recipe.

The lasagna freezes very well, so you can put it together in advance, freeze it, and pop it in the oven on the day you plan to use it. If you do that, I recommend pulling it out of the freezer at least 4 to 5 hours before you plan to eat. Let the lasagna sit at room temperature for about two hours. Preheat the oven to 350 F and bake at that temperature for two hours, covered with foil. Why so long at this temperature? So that the center warms up - I can't tell you how many times I've made a frozen lasagna, and the middle is still stone cold!

Turn the oven temperature up to 375 F and remove the foil. Cook for another 45 minutes, or until cheese is golden, melted, and bubbly. Another thing I don't like about most lasagnas is burned mozzarella cheese on top. Blech. Cooking it this way avoids that problem, as well.

Now, on to the recipe!

Butternut Squash Lasagna
Roasting the Squash
  • 2 large butternut squash, about 4 to 5 pounds (I actually used a combination of kabocha and butternut)
  • 1/4 cup water (more, if needed)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Cut the squash in half lengthwise, and scoop the seeds out with a spoon. Place the squash face down on a rimmed baking sheet (you may need more than one). Place the baking sheet in the oven, and pour about 1/4 cup water in the pan to prevent burning. Roast the squash in the oven until very soft and beginning to brown, 40 to 50 minutes, stirring once or twice.

Remove squash from oven and let cool until you can handle it comfortably. Scoop out the flesh into a large bowl and allow to cool. At this point, you can continue, or freeze the squash for later use.

Preparing the Squash Mixture

  • 14 fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
  • 1 Tablespoon finely chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 to 2 inch sprig of fresh rosemary, leaves removed and finely chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese (low fat is OK)
  • 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (Parmigiano Reggiano is best)
  • 1 large egg

Have a large mixing bowl standing by. Puree the squash in a food processor (you may have to do that in batches), and put it in the mixing bowl. When you puree the first bit of squash, add the sage, thyme, rosemary, almond extract, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. After you have combined all the pureed squash, taste the mixture and adjust the seasonings. After you have done this, mix in the egg, and the ricotta and Parmesan cheeses. Set aside.

Making the Bechamel (white sauce)

  • 6 cups whole milk (2% is fine, but do not use nonfat, or sauce will not thicken properly)
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon allspice
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

In a large saucepan, bring the milk to a slow simmer over medium heat. In a large pot, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Add the flour and stir. Add about 3 cups of the milk, and whisk vigorously to prevent lumps. Bring to a boil, while whisking continuously. Add the remaining milk and whisk again. Add the salt, pepper, allspice, and nutmeg. Adjust the heat to low to maintain a slow simmer, and cook until the sauce coats the back of a spoon, about 5 minutes, whisking frequently. Remove the saucepan from the heat. Makes about 8 cups.

Preparing the Lasagna Noodles

  • 12-15 lasagna noodles, each 6 1/2 by 3 inches
  • 1 Tablespoon kosher salt (important, or your lasagna will suffer in the flavor department)
  • extra-virgin olive oil

In a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook the lasagna sheets until they are slightly undercooked. In my case, the package said to cook for 10 minutes, so I cooked them for 7 to 8 minutes. Drain the sheets and spread them on a baking sheet. Drizzle them lightly with olive oil and set aside.

Putting Together the Lasagna

  • 2-3 cups of mozzarella, grated (if you put it in the freezer for 30 minutes, it will be easier to grate) Use 3 cups if you like lasagna really cheesy.
  • 1 cup of grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Butter a 9 by 13-inch baking dish. Spoon a ladle of bechamel into the dish and spread to coat the bottom. Place a single layer of lasagna sheets on top of the bechamel. Spread some of the squash mixture evenly over the lasagna sheets and sprinkle about 2 tablespoons of mozzarella cheese and 1 tablespoon of grated Parmesan on top. Repeat this step until all ingredients are used, using 1 to 2 ladles of bechamel for each layer. You should end up with 3 to 4 layers, depending on how you divide your ingredients per layer. Keep building the layers until the pan is full, to about 1/4-inch from the top. Finish with sauce, and cheeses directly over the last layer of noodles.

Cover lasagna with foil. Place pan on a rimmed baking sheet, and bake in the middle of the oven for about 1 hour. Remove the cover, and continue cooking for another 15 minutes until golden brown and bubbling. Allow lasagna to rest before slicing. Serve warm.


Anonymous rowena said...

Sage? Thyme? Rosemary?! I can imagine all those herbs with butternut squash and the aroma that I'm imagining in my head is simply... heavenly.

My condolences regarding your uncle. He sounded like a wonderful person with his view on eating and life in general.

April 13, 2007 8:43 AM  
Blogger Kathy said...

oh man, that looks amazing! I never once thought of that combo, but I'll definitely making it for sure when I come home in the summer! :)

April 19, 2007 5:49 PM  

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