Autumn Side Dish: Butternut Squash Lasagna

Friday, November 11, 2011

I love this recipe for a few reasons. First, It's really delicious. Second, it prepares easily and in advance, making it perfect for an upcoming busy weeknight dinner or even Thanksgiving. And thirdly, the colors and flavors and textures are very, very "fall."

Using sweet butternut squash and then roasting it along with garlic adds not only more caramelized sweetness, but an earthiness as well. To balance out the sweetness, I use sage and thyme, a pinch of nutmeg (or mace), then a combination of pecorino romano cheese and nutty gruyere. The creamy bechamel sauce brings it all together. The prep time can be a little daunting in the sense you have a multi-step process, but you can cut corners by using no-boil lasagna noodles and pre-cubed butternut squash. You can even find shredded gruyere cheese now in some stores. Enjoy.

Butternut Squash Lasagna
for the butternut squash filling:
1 (1 1/2 lb) butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1/2" thick cubes
3 Tbsp olive oil + more for puree
1 small white onion, chopped small
4 cloves roasted garlic*
about 3 sage leaves (more or less to taste)
about 3 stems fresh thyme, leaves picked off (more or less to taste), OR 1/2 tsp dried thyme leaves
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
pinch of nutmeg or ground mace (about 1/4 tsp or to taste)

for the bechamel sauce:
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3 cups half n half
1/2 cup finely grated pecorino romano cheese
1 cup shredded gruyere cheese

for the lasagna:
no-boil lasagna noodles -- or lasagna noodles par-boiled according to package instructions
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
2 Tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Prepare the butternut squash filling first. Take the butternut squash and place in a large bowl. Add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil on top, then season with some salt and pepper. Gently toss the squash until coated. Layer out on a large baking sheet (you may need to use two) and roast in oven about 20 minutes, or until fork-tender and bottom is starting to caramelize. Once done, remove and set aside.

While the butternut squash is roasting, heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil in a saute pan. Add the onion and season with some salt and pepper. Cook on medium heat about 10 minutes, until softened and just beginning to caramelize. Set aside.

Combine the butternut squash, sauteed onions, roasted garlic, herbs, nutmeg, and a little drizzle of olive oil in a food processor. Process until smooth. Add a little more olive oil if needed to get a smooth but still thick consistency. Taste and adjust with seasonings to taste. This can be done up to 3 days in advance.

To prepare the bechamel sauce, simply melt the butter in a saucepan. When completely melted, add the flour all at once and immediately begin whisking. Cook on medium-low heat about 4 minutes in order to cook the raw flour taste out, but be careful not to burn the flour! Add the half n half, a little at a time, whisking as you add until all is incorporated into the roux (the butter-flour mixture, which helps thicken the sauce). Switch to a wooden spoon, add some salt and pepper to your taste, and cook until sauce has thickened a little, about 5 minutes more. Remove from heat and add the romano and gruyere cheese. Stir until the cheeses are melted in (the heat from the sauce should be enough to melt them, but if you have stubborn cheese, return the pot back to the burner on low heat to help it melt faster). Set aside.

To assemble the lasagna, butter or spray the bottom of a lasagna or casserole dish. Ladle enough of the sauce to cover the bottom of the dish. Add a layer of the lasagna noodles, then drizzle a little more sauce on top. Spread out some of the butternut squash puree, then top with more sauce. Then another layer of noodles, then sauce, then butternut squash, etc. until you end with a final layer of noodles and enough sauce to completely cover this top noodle layer. How many layers you will do will depend on the dish you've chosen to cook it in; you can have two layers of butternut squash or up to four even, so you'll have to gage it with your eye when assembling. Top the lasagna with the shredded mozzarella, then take the butter and "dot" small pieces all over the top. Cover the lasagna with aluminum foil (or if your dish has a corresponding top to use) and bake in a 350 degree oven for about 40 minutes. Remove the cover and continue to cook for 10-15 minutes or until top has browned.

Note: if you're using par-boiled lasagna noodles you won't have to cook it as long; the above cooking time is based on using the no-boil lasagna sheets!

Let stand 5 minutes before cutting and serve.

Goes very well with turkey, roasted pork loin, roasted chicken, or by itself with a side of roasted brussels sprouts or roasted shallots.

*You can find already roasted garlic cloves at the supermarket now, usually in the salad kit section. If you can't find them or don't have time to go, simply take fresh garlic cloves and peel them, then toss them in the olive oil right along with the butternut squash. When you layer out the squash onto the baking sheet however, make sure you place the cloves on the top of the squash so they won't burn; they'll burn if they touch the base of the baking sheet!

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