Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Big dish of comfort: Butternut Squash Lasagna

Oh, butternut squash. Is there a single vegetable that tastes homier or more comforting? As much as I love the funny-looking things, I must admit I don't always love their application. In my experience, butternut squash lasagna is one of those dishes that's almost always pretty good, but rarely memorable. While we were home for the holidays, I wanted to make a butternut squash lasagna for my sister, who's on a strictly bland diet while she's nursing little indigestion-prone Lucas. Red sauces may be out for her, but denying her the creamy, comforting decadence of lasagna just wouldn't be fair, right? I set out to find a recipe that would wow us, and the result is the best butternut squash lasagna I've ever had, hands down.

I'll be frank: making this lasagna is kind of a pain in the ass. But in the spirit of the New Year, where I for one am hoping there are some big "worth the trouble and the wait" results in store for us, I'm spreading the love. Use pre-cut squash if you'd like, but please don't skimp on the spiced roasting, resulting puree, or the completely lovely (and better the slower you make it) bechamel. All are critical to how the dish comes together. (And to be honest, most of the "pain factor" the two times I made this came from having to use a blender rather than a food processor. But would you believe I was lucky enough to receive this whopper for Christmas from my parents? Woo hoo!) Just trust me already - this lasagna is absolutely, positively worth every bit of energy you'll put into it. Enjoy!

Butternut Squash Lasagna
 Recipe found here, attributed to Michael Chiarello

Ingredients

For the Squash Filling
3-5 pounds of butternut squash (typically 2 large squash)
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh sage
2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
15 oz ricotta cheese
1 cup grated Parmesan
2 large eggs
    For the Bechamel Sauce
    2 quarts whole milk
    6 tbsp unsalted butter
    1 tbsp sage, minced
    2 tsp garlic, minced
    1/2 cup flour
    2 tsp salt
    Freshly ground black pepper
    1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
      To Assemble Lasagna
      1 lb fresh pasta sheets (or no boil lasagna noodles)
      1 pound fresh mozzarella, sliced into cubes
      1 cup grated Parmesan

        Instructions

        1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Using a vegetable peeler, remove the tough skin of the butternut squashes. Cut off the top and bottom ends of each squash and then cut them lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds and cut up the squash into 1/2 inch chunks.

        2. Put the chunks into a mixing bowl and add the olive oil, sage, half the salt, nutmeg and ground pepper. Toss to evenly coat the squash chunks. Line two baking sheets with foil and then place the squash in single layers on each sheet. Roast for about 45 to 50 minutes, or until the squash is very soft and starting to brown. Make sure to stir the squash once or twice while it's roasting.

        3. Once finished roasting, remove the squash and allow to cool to room temperature. Turn the oven down to 375 degrees.

        4. Puree the squash in the food processor until smooth. Combine the squash with the ricotta, Parmesan cheese, eggs, the remaining salt, and the pepper. You may need to use a whisk to get all the ricotta incorporated into the rest of the mixture. Cover and refrigerate the mixture until ready to assemble the lasagna.

        5. To prepare the bechamel sauce, bring the milk to a slow simmer in a large saucepan over medium heat. In a large pot, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Add the sage and garlic to the butter, cook for 30 seconds, then gradually whisk in the flour. Slowly 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, 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 and allow to cool to room temperature.

        6. To assemble the lasagna: Butter a 9 by 13-inch baking dish. Pour one ladle full of the bechamel into the dish and spread to coat the bottom. Place a single layer of the pasta sheets on top of the sauce. Spread some of the squash mixture evenly over the pasta sheets and place 1/3 of the mozzarella chunks on top. Add 1 tablespoon of grated Parmesan over the mozzarella. Evenly pour 2 or 3 ladles full of the sauce over the mozzarella/Parmesan layer. Repeat the above steps until all ingredients are used (using the 2-3 ladles of sauce between each layer). Keep building the layers until the pan is full to about 1/4-inch from the top. Finish with the squash puree and mozzarella/Parmesan cheese on top of it.

        7. Cover with foil and bake in the middle of the oven for about 45 minutes. Remove the cover and continue to bake for another 15 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and bubbling. Allow lasagna to rest before slicing. Serve warm.
        (Assembled lasagna also freezes really well if you want to make it ahead. Plan for a little more oven time if it's been previously frozen.)

        7 comments:

        1. Delicious! I've been making butternut squash lasagne from this recipe for a few years now:

          http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Butternut-Squash-and-Hazelnut-Lasagne-105911

          Also a bit of a pain with all the steps required but so totally worth it!

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        2. WOW. This looks divine. It does look like a pain, but the results look worth it.

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        3. This recipe is the real deal, folks.

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        4. Yum! I have been using Giada's recipe for a few years now but just the thought of the addition of ricotta...I may have to kick the old recipe to the curb!

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        5. This sounds delicious! And your photos are epic! So proud!

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        6. This looks amazing. Seriously amazing.

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        C'mon, make my day...

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