Thursday, September 30, 2010

Butternut Squash Lasagna

Pumkins and SquashIt is autumn and the produce stands are filled with beautiful winter squashes--acorn, carnival, delicata, hubbard, turban. My favorite is the butternut squash. This is the beige-colored squash shaped like a bell. It's fine-textured deep-orange flesh has a sweet nutty flavor and reminds me of sweet potatoes.

Winter squash is always a comforting side dish--it goes wonderfully with chicken and pork. But today I wanted to make it the "star of the show".

Butternut Squash Lasagna
One 4-pound butternut squash
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
One package oven-ready lasagna noodles*
2 large yellow or sweet onions, thinly sliced
6 cloves garlic, finely diced
Fresh sage
One 15-oz container low-fat ricotta
1/2 cup low- or non-fat milk
3 egg yolks
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
3 cups shredded cheese, divided (see note below)
non-stick cooking spray

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Peel the butternut squash, scrape out the seeds, and cut into one-inch cubes. Place the squash in a large bowl and toss with 2 tablespoons olive oil, the salt, and pepper until evenly coated. Spread out in a single layer in a rimmed baking sheet (a jelly-roll pan works wells) and bake for 20-30 minutes or until the squash is soft and begins to brown. Remove from the pan and mash with a potato masher. Set aside.

While the squash is baking, saute the onions in a large pan in the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. (Use a large pan with a generous cooking surface so that the onions brown rather than steaming. You want a bit of caramelization to take place). After about 10 minutes toss in the garlic and continue to cook for about 3 minutes. Remove from heat. 

To prepare the fresh sage, remove 10-12 leaves from the stems; layer them one on top of the other and then roll into a tight bundle. (It will look a bit like a cigar.) Using a sharp kitchen knife slice crosswise through the sage, forming very thin strips. Stir the prepared sage into the onion mixture and set aside.

Prepare the cheese filling by stirring together the ricotta, milk, egg yolks, and nutmeg. (It is important to use just the yolks in this recipe--they help to thicken and stabilize the cheese filling).

Now it's time to assemble the lasagna. 

Spray a 9x13-inch baking dish with cooking spray. Spread a thin layer of the cheese filling on the bottom of the pan. Now, begin layering:

  • one layer of uncooked lasagna noodles

  • 1/2 of the squash

  • 1/2 of the onion mixture

  • one layer of uncooked lasagna noodles

  • 1/2 of the ricotta mixture

  • 2nd half of the squash

  • 2nd half of the onion mixture

  • one layer of lasagna noodles

  • 2nd half of the ricotta mixture

Top with the remaining 1 cup of shredded cheese.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes or until cheese is bubbling and top is lightly browned. (If desired you can prepare the lasagna ahead of time, cover, and refrigerate. Remove from the refrigerator and let sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes and then bake as usual. You might need to add 5 minutes or so to the baking time).

Makes 8 generous servings.
* oven-ready lasagna is the kind that requires no boiling. It costs a bit more, but is important to use in this recipe because the squash as very moist.
Note re. shredded cheese: You may use mozzarella, or a blend of Italian cheeses (mozzarella, Parmesan, asiago).

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