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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

butternut squash lasagna

i generally prefer to use this space and the recipes featured to say either "this was great, go for it," or "that didn't work-- continuing search." what i really don't like to say is, "well, this was good, but it was tricky, because the recipe was poorly written, and i guess i muddled through it well enough to end up with a dish rob and i both liked." nope, i don't relish that kind of post at all, and for the most part i don't write them.  i'm bothering with this post because it really was good, but it's going to be up to the reader/cook to decide how to approach a recipe that is well conceived yet badly written, as i had to do. 

the recipe is a butternut squash lasagna from giada de laurentiis. it's essentially a white lasagna in which pureed butternut squash takes the place of ricotta. great idea, and great flavors. but the recipe has major-league trouble with the math. you can make a 3-layer lasagna using a third of the squash and cheese, or make it 4 layers using a quarter of the fillings each time. but, you can't use a third of the squash and "repeat layering 3 more times" as the recipe instructs. you just can't. (not to mention that 3 1/2 cups of sauce isn't used up after 3 *or* 4 layers asking for 1/2 cup each...) we made a 3-layer version, and that's the recipe (as best i remember) i've typed out below.

back to the good. this lasagna is super yum, and not very cheesy at all. the basil bechamel sauce is rich and wonderful (though i did not use all of it), but the lasagna itself remains rather light, at least compared to the other one i make full of sausage and about 4 1/2 pounds of cheese. be careful on the seasoning-- it can turn out rather bland if the butternut puree doesn't get plenty of salt and pepper. adding parmesean to each layer could accomplish this, too. oh, and i left out the amaretti cookies the recipe calls for-- i just couldn't bring myself to believe that cookies have a place in lasagna. 

butternut squash lasagna
adapted from giada de laurentiis at

1 Tbsp olive oil
1 2lb butternut squash
salt and pepper
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3 1/2 cups whole milk 
pinch of nutmeg
3/4 cup lightly packed basil leaves
12 no-boil lasagna noodles (the ones that go 4 across the length of the pan, not the long ones that go 3 across longways. make sense?)
2 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1/3 cup parmesean cheese

peel, seed, and cube the squash. i do this by chopping it into sections of about 4-5 inches, then cut off the tough peel with a sharp knife. remove any seeds, usually in the bottom half of the squash, and cut into 1-inch cubes.

heat oil in large skillet over medium heat and toss in squash cubes and salt and pepper. add water and cook, covered, until tender and gloppy, about 20 minutes. stir occasionally. process squash in food processor until a smooth puree. process with a tiny bit of water if it seems too thick. season to taste with salt and pepper-- IMPORTANT!

melt butter in a heavy bottom saucepan. add flour and whisk one minute. gradually add milk, whisking. bring to a boil over medium-high heat, reduce heat to medium, and simmer until thickened, whisking regularly. careful not to burn it. remove from heat, whisk in the nutmeg, and allow to cool slightly. move half of sauce to a blender and blend with the basil leaves until smooth. return basil sauce to sauce pan and stir to combine. season with salt and pepper. 

preheat oven to 375.

butter a 9x13" baking dish. spread 3/4 cup sauce in dish and top with 4 noodles, overlapping slightly. spread 1/3 of the squash puree over the noodles,  then 1/2 cup of the mozzarella, and 3/4 cup of the sauce. repeat layering 2 more times, ending with squash, cheese, and as much of the sauce as you want. i did not use all of the sauce, just topped the dish off with enough that when it ran down into the sides of the pan, it basically came to the top of the noodles. this amount worked well enough. 

cover tightly with foil and bake 40 minutes. remove foil, sprinkle with the parmesean cheese and the remaining mozzarella, and bake uncovered until browning and bubbly, about 15 minutes. let sit 15 minutes before serving.

butternut squash from alm hill gardens
the final, somewhat pitiful basil leaves from our herb patch

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