Monday, October 15, 2012

butternut squash lasagna.

I just want to take a moment to thank the lovely Mr. Christopher Columbus for inadvertently discovering America and getting a holiday named in his honor; if it wasn’t for that I would have spent last Monday in the confines of the office instead of happily standing over the stove preparing this lasagna.  Lasagna is the kind of dish that makes you warm inside and think of Sunday evening family dinner.  This particular one with its layers of butternut squash puree and basil white sauce reminds you that fall eating is utterly delicious.  It also reminds me of why I adore savory and sweet food pairings (I know I am like a broken record talking about sweet and savory, but I can’t help it). The creamy, salty mozzarella is the perfect counterpart to the sweet and smooth squash puree making this the kind of food I want to eat almost every day.  This is a rich dish but it isn’t heavy in the slightest making it the kind of thing you can make during the week (on your day off) without too much guilt.

Butternut Squash Lasagna
Recipe adapted from Giada De Laurentis

Ok! - Let us talk about my changes.  I halved the original recipe and cooked it in an 8x8 pan, since I couldn't eat lasagna for the next week (as much as I wanted to eat lasagna for the next week) .  You could make the full recipe and put it in two 8x8 pans and freeze one but we lacked freezer space for that option.  I added a decent amount of red pepper flakes to the dish since I felt it could veer on too sweet, I think it added the perfect amount of zing but you can omit it if you don't love heat or are feeding this to kids.  I also used fresh pasta but using no-boil noodles will make this a little easier.  I realize that lasagna may seem labor intensive or scary but I promise you this really isn’t difficult.  If you do halve this you will have leftover butternut squash puree, which will be perfect on ravioli (or plain!) but I love it on pizza and that recipe will be here later this week!

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 (1 ½ - 2 pound) butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1 inch cubes
Salt and fresh ground pepper
½ cup water
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 ¾ cups whole milk
Pinch of nutmeg
Generous ¼ cup (lightly packed) fresh basil leaves, sliced in thin strips. 
12 no-boil lasagna noodles (if they are the short lasagna no-bake sheets the ones I usually see cater more to an 8x8 pan) or about ½ pound fresh lasagna noodles
1 ½ cups shredded whole-milk mozzarella
½ cup grated parmesan
1 ½ teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes (optional or you can use less) 

Heat oil in a large pot or a large skillet over medium high-heat.  Add the squash and toss to coat in the oil.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Pour the water into the skillet/pot and the cover and simmer over medium heat until the squash is tender, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes.  Cool slightly and transfer the squash to a food processor.  Season the squash puree, to taste, with more salt and pepper. (Can be made a day or two ahead of time and stored in the fridge until you are ready to assemble.). 

Melt the butter in a heavy medium-size saucepan over medium heat.  Add the flour and whisk for 1 minute.  Gradually whisk in the milk.  Bring to a boil over medium-high heat.  Reduce the heat to medium and simmer until the sauce thickens slightly, whisking often about 5 minutes.   Whisk in the nutmeg.  Cool slightly.  Add the basil, taste, and season with salt and pepper. 

If using fresh pasta:  Bring a large pot of water to boil.  Season with salt.  Boil the noodles for about 4 minutes (they should be pretty al dente).  Remove the noodles from the pot and rinse in cold water to stop the cooking. 

Position the rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 375 degrees. 

Lightly butter or spray with a bit of non stick spray and 8x8 inch glass baking dish.  Spread a generous ¼ cup of the sauce over the prepared baking dish.  Arrange 3 lasagna noodles on the bottom of the pan.  Spread a generous 1/2 cup of the squash puree over the noodles (you may need a little bit more you just want to make sure all the noodles are covered with a thin layer of the puree), sprinkle with ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes (if using), 1/3 cup mozzarella cheese, and 2 tablespoons parmesan.  Drizzle a generous ¼ cup of the sauce over the noodles.  Repeat layering 3 more times.  Top the lasagna with the remaining ½ cup mozzarella, 2 tablespoons parmesan, and any white sauce you may have left.

Tightly cover the baking dish with foil and bake the lasagna for 40 minutes.  Continue baking uncovered until the sauce bubbles and the top is golden, 15 minutes longer.  Let the lasagna stand 15 minutes before serving. 

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