Lasagna is one of the ultimate comfort foods our family enjoys. It's butternut squash season, so I've been cooking with it a lot lately, and I thought it would be fun to use it in a lasagna dish.
To start, I roasted butternut squash pieces in the oven with herbs and honey, then blended it into a smooth purée. I then stacked layers of pasta sheets in between creamy, cheesy white sauce and butternut squash purée. It’s a perfect combination of sweet and savory, and it really enhances the natural sweetness of the ricotta.
The lasagna dish can be prepared in advance (the day before) and kept it in the refrigerator overnight. It might not be the healthiest but it will definitely satisfy your appetite on cold days.
Servings: 8 servings
2 butternut squash, peeled and diced
1 (9-ounce) package lasagna sheets, pre-cooked
6 tablespoons caramelized onions
(click on the link for the recipe)
2 tablespoons canola oil (or any neutral oil)
1 tablespoon honey
4 sprigs thyme
2 teaspoons Tabasco
2 tablespoons tomato paste
¼ teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated
3 tablespoons ricotta cheese
1 cup sharp yellow Cheddar cheese
½ cup mozzarella cheese
2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
4-½ cups milk, warm
1 tablespoon salt
1-¼ teaspoons black pepper, freshly ground
2 tablespoons curly parsley leaves, for garnish
Making butternut squash purée:
Preheat the oven to 425°F. Cut the butternut squash in half, vertically. Remove the seeds and the strings in the center. Tuck a sprig of thyme inside each half. Place the halves, flesh side down, on a greased baking sheet and roast them at 425°F for about 1 hour and 10 minutes (depending on the size of the butternut squash, until soft). Let the butternut squash cool completely. Scoop out and gather the flesh. In a large colander, place the butternut squash flesh in a cheese cloth. Wrap it in the cloth by making a knot at the top and suspend it over the colander using chopsticks. The colander is not essential but is quite convenient in case the knot breaks, so you can gather the squash again in the cheese cloth without starting over. Place a larger bowl underneath the colander to collect the excess liquid (you could use it later to thin the béchamel sauce). Let it sit for a couple of hours. Drain as much liquid as possible. Transfer the butternut squash flesh to a food processor, add honey, tomato paste and a pinch of salt and pepper and pulse until smooth. Mix in 4 tablespoons of caramelized onions and add Tabasco sauce.
For the béchamel sauce: In a saucepan, melt the butter over medium-low heat; you don't want it to burn. Bring the heat back up to medium-high (the butter should be hot and golden) and add the flour. Keep stirring manually with a whisk for approximately 3 minutes. The flour should absorb the butter instantly and form a paste. Add the milk in 3 stages and stir well until fully incorporated. Increase the heat while constantly stirring for about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to low. Add the mozzarella cheese and nutmeg. Season with salt and pepper. Add the butternut squash liquid if the sauce is too thick (I did).
In a 14” x 10” x 3” high rectangular pan lined with aluminum foil and sprayed with oil (for easy clean up), spread a layer of caramelized onions first, then layer 4-½ sheets of the lasagna. Spread a layer of butternut squash mixture evenly. Sprinkle with ricotta cheese. Spread about 2-3 ladles of the béchamel sauce, then add another 4-½ sheets of lasagna. Repeat until all the ingredients are used up. Finish with the rest of the béchamel sauce. It should cover the whole tray; top with cheddar cheese.
Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and place in the oven for 30 minutes at 375°F (until golden brown).
When it's cooked, remove the pan from the oven and let it rest for at least 20 minutes. Cut into squares and garnish with parsley.
I am not a fresh-lasagna-sheet fan. I use Barilla brand lasagna. It's already pre-cooked. The heat and mioisture of the béchamel sauce will cook and soften the lasagna sheets. I think it's better to control the level of liquid and to produce a denser consistency. There's nothing worse than soggy lasagna. When you use dry pasta, you'll always get good results and you'll also save some time.
The secret to good lasagna is the balance of liquid in the dish. I use a slightly thinner béchamel sauce than the traditional one used in Mac n Cheese. The lasagna should come out firm when it's served. If the excess liquid from the squash is not removed beforehand, you'll have runny, soggy lasagna.
You could also replace the butternut squash with pumpkin.
The acidity from the tomato paste cuts the sweetness of the butternut squash.
To make béchamel sauce, always make sure all the ingredients are at the same temperature, so heat the milk in the microwave for about 2 minutes (or in a saucepan), so it's warm. If you get lumpy pieces in the sauce, don't hesitate to use a hand blender.
If you have béchamel sauce left-over, don't discard it. Just store it for later and use it as a sauce for a croque-monsieur sandwich (ham and cheese sandwich).
And if you're a pasta lover, check out my other pasta dishes.