Ode to Autumn

Oh, Autumn, you beautiful season, you. Bearer of odd-shaped gourds and icky squashes.

OK, I’m not much of a poet, but I speak the truth. Squash are icky. Acorn, butternut, or otherwise—I’m just not a fan. But, I understand that I should eat these fruits of autumn… even if to set a good example for my son. (Although I probably don’t need to worry as he’s turning into a human vacuum of all things edible.) The only way that I have been able to consume squash is with copious amounts of cheese (not exactly beneficial in a lactose-intolerant world, but we suffer for our children).

My new found favorite recipe is no exception. It’s a complete mess of cheese and cream with a smattering of squash. Thanks to epicurious.com for this perfect of fall recipes: comfort food with seasonal vegetables. The recipe below is with my modifications (just in the way I cooked the squash and assembled the final product… I’m omitting the last layer of pasta as mine just got weird).

Butternut Squash and Hazelnut Lasagna

Serves 6

Squash filling

  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3 T unsalted butter
  • 3 lb butternut squash, seeded, cut in half lengthwise with the top chopped off
  • 1 t minced garlic
  • 1 t salt
  • ¼ t white pepper
  • 2 T chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 4 t chopped fresh sage
  • 1 C (4 oz) hazelnuts, toasted, loose skins rubbed off with a kitchen towel, and coarsely chopped (I pulsed in a mini food processor until I had big-ish chunks)

Sauce

  • 1 t minced garlic
  • 3 T unsalted butter
  • 5 T all-purpose flour
  • 5 C milk
  • 1 bay leaf (not California… ok, epicurious.com what do you have against California bay leaves? I’m apparently not an herb connoisseur, because I just used what was in my bay leaf jar on the old spice rack)
  • 1 t salt
  • ⅛ t white pepper

Assembling lasagna

  • ½ lb (2 C) fresh mozzarella, coarsely grated
  • 1 C finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 9-12 (7- by 3 1/2-inch) sheets no-boil lasagna

Filling and sauce can be made one day ahead and kept separately, covered and chilled. Bring to room temperature before assembling. I did this and it worked perfectly.)

Make filling

Roast squash, cut side up on a baking sheet in a 400°F oven for 30-60 minutes. (It will depend upon your oven, size of squash, etc. etc. You just want the stuff just this side of mushy.) Once done, scoop out the mush and set aside.

Cook onion in butter in a deep 12-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 10 minutes. Add squash, garlic, salt, and white pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until well blended, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in parsley, sage, and nuts. Cool filling.

Make sauce

Cook garlic in butter in a 3-quart heavy saucepan over moderately low heat, stirring, 1 minute. Whisk in flour and cook roux, whisking, 3 minutes. (Make sure the flour is well blended so there are no raw bits.) Add milk in a stream, whisking. Add bay leaf and bring to a boil, whisking constantly, then reduce heat and simmer, whisking occasionally, 10 minutes. Whisk in salt and white pepper and remove from heat. Discard bay leaf. (Cover surface of sauce with wax paper if not using immediately. If you don’t do this, you’ll get that gross milk skin… ewwww)

Assemble lasagna

Preheat oven to 425°F. Toss cheeses together.

Spread ½ C sauce in a buttered 13- by 9- by 2-inch glass baking dish (or other shallow 3-quart baking dish) and cover with three pasta sheets, leaving spaces between sheets. Spread with ⅔ C sauce and one-third of filling, then sprinkle with a heaping ½ C cheese. Repeat layering two more times, beginning with pasta sheets and ending with cheese. Top with remaining sauce and cheese.

Tightly cover baking dish with buttered foil and bake lasagna in middle of oven 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake until golden and bubbling, 10-15 minutes more. Let lasagna stand 15-20 minutes before serving.

Results

One word: Fantastic. Worth every heart attack-inducing calorie. I served it with a simple side salad that included chopped walnuts, cut apples and berries, and a raspberry vinaigrette dressing. For dessert, I made a chocolate espresso cake.

Slice of Squash Lasagna

The lasagna also reheats well so good for making coworkers jealous at the old microwave. Yes, this is a time-consuming recipe, but as my friend said, “When is lasagna ever NOT time-consuming?”

Do I love butternut squash now? No, I do not. But is this a pretty good way to get your seasonal veg on? Yes, please pass the cheesy, creamy goodness. (The nuts give it just enough crunch to avoid an overly gooey experience.)

Bonus: Take your squash seeds and rinse them. In a bowl, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and garlic powder. Spread on a baking sheet and roast for 45 minutes in a 350°F oven. Tasty treat for all!

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