Wednesday, November 7, 2012

I Heart Butternut Squash

I've had a long love affair with Butternut squash.  There's something about it's almost psychedelic orange hue that signifies the arrival of autumn.  I love it mashed.  I love it roasted with brown sugar and butter.  I love it in a creamy risotto.  I love it in a soup.  Yikes!  I'm starting to sound like Dr. Seuss. 

Only recently have I tried Butternut squash in a lasagna!  Lasagna is another of my great loves, but the typical meat-laden version can be a bit heavy.  What I love about this version is that it has an incredible lightness to it.  Not light in calories, mind you, but light and airy in texture.  The pureed squash marries perfectly with the tangy goat cheese and together they make four creamy layers cradled between five layers of delicate, fresh pasta.  
Fresh pasta is key!  I'm not suggesting you make your own.  Even I don't have the patience for that, but it can be bought.  I found these lasagna sheets at Whole Foods.  They were surprisingly inexpensive and they are a game changer.  This dish also freezes well, so if you're making one, you might as well make two and tuck the other one away for later.  If you're anything like me, you'll take comfort in knowing that your love affair with Butternut squash is never more than a quick thaw away.    

Roasted Butternut Squash Lasagna with Goat Cheese, 
Sage & Crispy Breadcrumbs
 (Adapted from Fine Cooking)

Serves 6 to 8

1 large butternut squash (about 3 pounds), halved lengthwise and seeded
4 medium cloves garlic, unpeeled
2 sprigs fresh thyme plus 2 teaspoons chopped leaves
Extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
2 sprigs fresh sage plus 1 teaspoon chopped leaves
¼ cup all-purpose flour
3 cups whole milk
8 ounces crumbled goat cheese
1 cup finely grated Parmesan-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
¼ cup coarse panko breadcrumbs
2 (11 ounce) packages fresh lasagna sheets

Heat the oven to 425°.

Place the squash cut side up on a large sheet pan. Place 2 garlic cloves and 1 sprig of thyme in each cavity. Drizzle squash with a bit of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast until the squash is browned in spots and very tender when pierced with a fork, about 1 hour. Remove from the oven and let cool completely. 

Discard the thyme sprigs. Peel the garlic and place in the bowl of a food processor. Scoop the flesh of the squash from the skins and add it to the garlic, process in batches until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Reduce the oven to 350°.

Melt 4 tablespoons of the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the sage sprigs and cook until the butter is fragrant. Add the flour and whisk until smooth and golden, about 2 minutes. Gradually whisk in the milk and cook, whisking constantly, until thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 10 minutes. Remove the sage sprigs and stir in the goat cheese, ½ cup of the Parmesan cheese, nutmeg, 1½ teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. Set aside 1½ cups of the cheese sauce and mix the rest into the mashed squash.

Melt the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter in a small skillet over medium heat. In a small bowl, mix the breadcrumbs, chopped sage, chopped thyme, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Add the melted butter and toss to combine. 

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, season generously with salt. Add the lasagna sheets and cook until al dente, about 2 minutes. Remember, fresh pasta cooks much faster than dried. Drain and rinse under cold water to cool; pat pasta dry.

Spread ½ cup of the reserved cheese sauce over the bottom of a 9x13x3-inch baking dish. Cover the sauce with a slightly overlapping layer of cooked pasta sheets, cutting them as needed to fill any gaps. Spread 1 cup of the squash mixture evenly over the pasta. Add another layer of pasta and repeat the layers as instructed above, to make a total of 4 squash layers and 5 pasta layers. Spread the remaining 1 cup cheese sauce evenly over the top. Sprinkle with the breadcrumb mixture and the remaining ½ cup Parmesan cheese.
Cover the baking dish with foil and bake for 40 minutes. Remove the foil and bake until the top is browned and bubbly, 15 to 20 minutes. Cool for at least 10 minutes before serving.

Make Ahead Tips:

You can make the roasted squash mixture up to 1 day ahead of assembling the lasagna.

You can assemble the lasagna up to 2 days ahead of baking it. Tightly wrap the baking dish in plastic and refrigerate it. Let the lasagna come to room temperature before baking.

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