Thursday, January 3, 2013

Labor of love: roasted butternut squash lasagne

It all started with an innocuous instant message. "Ping - hey, W., do you have a good vegetarian entree idea I could make for the family? Nothing too spicy. Just good." 

"Oh, there is this great butternut squash lasagne I made a while ago - I remember it was really great."

A short while later, I'd looked up said recipe and the reviews to see how to modify it. Many said it was time-consuming but yummy. Okay, no worries. 

What was I thinking? On the plus side, everyone gave it a big thumbs-up. On the minus side, I spent about three hours making this thing. I had to restrain myself from polishing off a bottle of wine while cooking, just to cope with the number of pots and pans this lasagne generates and the waning daylight.

If you want to really impress both the herbivores and omnivores in your life, this is it. Just be patient. Really patient. 

Note: I modified the original recipe from Epicurious to make it fill a 10"x15" pan. The recipe is for a 9"x13" and uses 9 lasagna noodles, and doesn't include onions or spinach. All I changed to make it for a bigger pan was to use 12 noodles, and added spinach and onions.  
Weigh the butternut squash when purchasing

What you need:
  • 3 medium onions
  • An 11-oz. package of baby spinach (the big box, preferably organic)
  • 3 pounds butternut squash, quartered, seeded, peeled, and cut into 1/2-inch dice (about 9 1/2 cups)
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 4 cups milk
  • 2 tablespoons dried rosemary, crumbled
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
    1/2 stick (1/4 cup) plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 12 sheets dry no-boil lasagne pasta (7- by 3 1/2-inch)     
  • 1 1/3 cups freshly grated Parmesan (about 5 ounces)
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt plus more to taste
  • Fresh ground pepper 
  • Dash of nutmeg

To make:

Make rosemary infusion: put milk and rosemary in a medium pot, and simmer on very low for about an hour. More time, more flavor. Strain through a fine mesh sieve and set aside.

Caramelize onions: peel and halve the onions, slicing into 1/8" slices. Heat a medium size covered pot on medium-low; melt 2 tablespoons of butter and optionally a slosh of olive oil. Throw in the onions and let them cook for about 45 minutes until medium brown, stirring every few minutes so they don't burn. Add a dash of salt and pepper about halfway through cooking.

Make sure you fully caramelize the onions
Roast squash: toss cubed squash in large bowl with oil and a dash of salt and pepper. Spread onto two large sheet pans and roast in a 425°F oven for about 25 minutes, stirring a couple of times to ensure it doesn't over-brown.

Steam spinach: put enough water in a Dutch oven to cover the bottom and bring to boil. Empty the entire container of spinach into it, cover and let steam for about 3 minutes, stirring once, just to wilt it. Drain immediately in colander. Sprinkle with a dash of nutmeg.

Baby spinach is a must
Make roux and finish sauce: in a large heavy saucepan cook garlic in butter over moderately low heat, stirring, until softened. Stir in flour and cook roux, stirring, 3 minutes. Remove pan from heat and whisk in milk mixture in a stream until smooth. Return pan to heat and simmer sauce, whisking occasionally, about 10 minutes, or until thick. Stir in squash and salt and pepper to taste. Stir to break down the squash slightly. Sauce may be made 3 days ahead and chilled, its surface covered with plastic wrap.

The sauce with squash before assembly
Reduce temperature to 375°F. and butter a baking dish.

Put it together: pour 1 cup sauce into baking dish (sauce will not cover bottom completely) and cover with 4 lasagne sheets, making sure they do not touch each other (break up the 4th one to piece it into pan). Spread half of remaining sauce over pasta,  sprinkle with 1/2 cup Parmesan and layer on spinach.
Make 1 more layer in same manner, only this time with onions instead of spinach, beginning and ending with pasta.
Top it off with Bechamel: in a bowl with an electric mixer beat cream with salt until it holds soft peaks and spread evenly over top pasta layer, making sure pasta is completely covered. Sprinkle remaining 1/3 cup Parmesan over cream. 

Cover dish tightly with foil, tenting slightly to prevent foil from touching top layer, and bake in middle of oven 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake lasagne 10 minutes more, or until top is bubbling and golden. Let lasagne stand 5 minutes.

Garnish each serving with rosemary. Bask in the compliments. Drink some wine. Swear to never make it again. Make someone else do the dishwashing while you have more wine.

Ta-daa! Dee-lish

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