Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Fall Lasagna Dream


Some people think the coming of winter means an end to fertility of the land. While the winter may not be the most fruitful season (literally), there are still some great vegetables that are enjoyed between late fall/early winter. One of these is squash. A lot of people think squash is really bland, only to be eaten if there's nothing else in the fridge or pantry. And when the only ideas you can conjure up when you think of squash are split + roasted or puree/soup, I don't blame them!

The other day I was driving, and all of a sudden this thought landed in my head: Butternut squash lasagna. Now, I've never eaten such a dish, and I wasn't sure if it was original (it's not), but for some reason, the idea planted itself in my head and continued to grow. All day I thought about how I would make my butternut squash lasagna. I had a couple of organic winter squashes in the pantry from our CSA, and also had some of the farm's curly kale in the fridge, but I wasn't sure about the logistics, so I did some research.

I consulted my trusted Alice Waters Vegetables cookbook and read her section on winter squash. She did not have a recipe for lasagna, so I continued to look, enriched with the knowledge of how to roast and mash squash, and make sure it isn't too watery. Gathering bits and pieces from many of my cookbooks, including inspiration from Deborah Madison (famous Greens chef), as well, I turned to the World Wide Web. It was here that I came upon the food network's website's recipe for butternut squash lasagna: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/giada-de-laurentiis/butternut-squash-lasagna-recipe/index.html , all The New York Times archives on butternut squash and, finally, coconut & lime, an excellent food blog. This website is great! Mad props to Rachel Rappaport. Check out her site here: http://coconutlime.blogspot.com/2008/11/butternut-squash-swiss-chard-white.html
I think my final creation was a mix between the cook deep down inside of me that takes over when I begin, Alice Waters, Deborah Madison, and maybe Rachel Rappaport, too. What wonderful women to be inspired by!

From all I read in an afternoon, I began my creation of fall lasagna. The recipe is below. I want to mention that in my family, there are two very picky eaters, who just happened to be home for Thanksgiving weekend. One of them rarely eats more than one serving, and the other (although he assures me I'm stuck in the past and his eating horizons have broadened) is just plain picky. Both picky eaters very much enjoyed this dish and we almost finished the entire casserole in one evening! I was very satisfied with my creation, to say the least. As always, I always try to use as many organic ingredients* as possible.

What you'll need:
One large-ish (I used a 9x13 pyrex) casserole dish
1 lb lasagna noodles (NOT the no-boil kind)
1 large *butternut squash (approx. 3+ lb), cut in half lengthwise, seeds discarded
1 bunch *curly kale (or any greens you like, really), washed, ribs discarded, and chopped into ~2" pieces
1 T *dried sage (fresh will do, too)
2 c ricotta cheese OR small curd cottage cheese (if you're on a diet or just like cottage cheese...)
salt and pepper to taste
1 c part-skim mozzarella cheese, shredded
2 c *milk
1 T *butter
1 T *flour (for a thickener; any flour will do)
1/8 t freshly ground nutmeg
3 *cloves garlic, chopped

Place squash, cut side down, on parchment paper on baking sheet. Roast squash in oven on 375 for 45 min to 1 hr. Don't worry about time so much; it's very hard to burn squash. When it's done, let cool. When you can touch it comfortably, peel off the skin (which should be easy if it's done) with fingers or a pairing knife for extra help. Put squash in a bowl and mash with a fork or masher. If the mashed squash looks watery, put it in a saucepan, turn to low, and cook, stirring occasionally, so the water evaporates and squash thickens. If you don't do this, the noodles will get very soggy (not to my liking).

Cook lasagna noodles according to box. Starches can be very sticky, so when the noodles are done, try to lay them flat in a single layer, or under ice cold water, so they remain independent.

In a pan on the stove, place WET, washed, and cut kale (or other greens). Cover pan--this is going to steam till almost tender, so you want some water in there. If it's not wet enough from being washed, add a bit; start with a 1/4 cup. When it's done, dump it into a medium bowl. Add ricotta (or cottage) cheese, sage, salt, and pepper, to taste, and mix.

The "sauce" of this dish is sort of a lighter bechamel, which is basically a butter-flour roux plus milk. This is a "light" bechamel, because there is not much butter in it (in my opinion the lasagna is rich enough w/ out the excess). In a small sauce pan, whisk, butter and flour on medium-low heat. When smooth, add your milk, garlic, and nutmeg. That's it!

Now, for the layering (read: the fun part). In your casserole or baking dish, place some noodles in a single layer. Now take your thickened mashed squash and spread over noodles in about a 1/2" layer. Next, in easy to handle globs (hands work well for this), spread on some cheese-kale mixture. NEXT LAYER OF NOODLES! Squash, cheese-kale. Noodles... you get it. When you've either filled the pan or exhausted your fillings, pour on your sauce. Depending on your liking, you can use all of it, or less. I used almost all of it. Sprinkle on shredded mozzarella.

Pop it in the oven for about 45 min on 375 (convection) oven; or 400 if you don't have a convection setting for your oven.

When it's done, let it sit a bit (5 min?) so that it's not incredibly liquidy when you serve it. Hopefully it will be wonderful and taste delicious. Enjoy!

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