Lasagne alla zucca

Happy (almost) Thanksgiving, my fellow Americans! While the official day this year is November 23rd, or this Thursday, I'll be celebrating this Saturday, which leaves me a bit more time to cook and prep a sweet potato casserole, corn muffinsa pumpkin pie, and a pecan pie (!!!)

This will be my second year attending a Thanksgiving hosted by Emily O., one of my closest friends here in Rome who also happens to be one of my very favorite people to cook with (you may remember her from this post here). An invitation to Emily's for dinner is always a treat -- her greatest hits include a caramelized onion and goat cheese quiche, meatballs made with feta and dried apricots, pasta with a tomato, butter, and oregano sauce, and juicy all-American burgers with a side of ultra-addictive potato salad, not to mention dessert -- upside down plum cake, apple cheesecake bars, and a pear and red wine tart, to name just a few. Emily's culinary resume also includes tackling last year's turkey, a smashing, butter roasted, herb coated success big enough to serve 20+ people. With her, you can rest assured your taste buds are in good hands. 

Now! The invitation Emily sent out for Thanksgiving this year had a certain request on it, namely: let us know what you're bringing so we can plan the menu accordingly, but please, NO PASTA. While we have a lot of Italians coming to our Thanksgiving, and while its true pasta in Italy is an obvious choice, I see Emily's point; Thanksgiving is that one day a year where the table should be filled with traditional oddities like sweet potato marshmallow casserole, sweet and savory everything-but-the-kitchen-sink stuffing, a turkey of epic proportions, and a pie made with pumpkin. If you're organizing a Thanksgiving abroad, you will also want to give your non-American friends a chance to sample the Thanksgiving classics, all in the name of cultural exchange. Therefore, I repeat: NO PASTA ALLOWED.

But there's a but (isn't there always?)! But what if one were to contribute not just your typical, tomato sauce/ragù filled lasagna, but one with a distinctly Thanksgiving twist, one filled with butternut squash, an undeniably Thanksgiving-y ingredient?! What if one were to to cook this squash in white wine with garlic and sage, layer it with pasta, Parmesan, mozzarella, and a velvety béchamel sauce, with a bit of prosciutto sprinkled in for good measure? Wouldn't this amount to an arguably Thanksgiving appropriate pasta dish (don't forget that squash!) one that would be so delicious one could overlook those few Italian (Parmesan, mozzarella, prosciutto, wine...) ingredients thrown in?!

Yes, yes it would. This butternut squash lasagne (lasagne alla zucca) was spectacular, one of those recipes that come out so well, I run to whoever's nearest (usually my sister) to tell them all about it, then proceed to bombard my foodie friends with photos and messages of the resulting dish (you know who you are). This lasagne was intensely yet not overwhelmingly squash-y with hints of sage and white wine, superbly cheesy, as a good lasagne should be, with a surprise bite of prosciutto every so often to keep things interesting. As the photos show, it was also a fiercely and un-apologetically fiery orange, to remind just in case you forgot that this is a butternut squash lasagna, not your typical lasagna, and therefore is fit for your Thanksgiving buffet in all its autumnal splendor. 

A couple of notes: This recipe is pretty flexible -- you can use another kind of cheese here in place of the mozzarella; provolone, scamorza, or fontina would be nice too. You could add a little nutmeg to the béchamel if you'd like, or leave out the prosciutto if you're feeding vegetarians, or add mushrooms (sauteed porcini mushrooms would be nice) to the layers. I like to buy my squash already cut in to cubes (thanks, Carrefour) but if you're buying a full squash, be sure to remove all the stringy insides and seeds and peel before chopping up and measuring out your 900 grams. If you don't have an immersion blender to puree the pumpkin, a blender or a food processor would probably work just as well; just give it a few pulses until the mixture is fairly smooth but not super liquid-y. Finally, I didn't put exact quantities for how much cheese, prosciutto, béchamel, pumpkin go in between the layers, but just use your judgement and eyeball it as you go, figuring you need to have about four layers with the fifth layer covered in pumpkin, béchamel, and more Parmesan.

Looking for other cozy, layered recipes like this one? I've also got this lasagna alla Bolognese and this parmigiana di melanzane. For more pumpkin/squash recipes, I've got this pappardelle with squash and porcini mushrooms, and these savory squash pancakes with sage butter

LASAGNE ALLA ZUCCA

Ingredients for the butternut squash filling:
A little less than 2 pounds (900 grams) squash, weighed without the peel, cut in to small cubes
1 small yellow onion, chopped
1 garlic clove
A couple of sage leaves, torn up
3/4 teaspoon salt
Black pepper
3/4 cup (180ml) white wine
1 cup (236ml)  water

Ingredients for the béchamel:
2 cups (500ml) whole milk
5 tablespoons (50 grams) flour
4 tablespoons (50 grams) butter
A pinch of salt
Black pepper

Ingredients to assemble the lasagna:
15 sheets (about 300 grams) ready bake lasagna noodles
1 cup (100 grams) freshly grated Parmesan cheese 
1 1/4 cups (250 grams) mozzarella cheese, grated or cut into small pieces
1/2 cup (a couple of slices) prosciutto, torn in to small pieces

Directions:
Start with your squash. In a large deep skillet over medium heat, heat up some olive oil (enough to coat the pan generously) and add the onion, garlic, and sage. Stir around for a minute or two, or until the sage and garlic are fragrant, and then add the squash to the pan. Cook for about 10-12 minutes, or until the squash begins to soften.  Add 3/4 teaspoon salt and 

When the squash begins to soften, add the wine and the water. Let the squash mixture cook until the liquid is completely absorbed, adding a little more water if some of the pieces of squash are still on the undercooked side.
While your squash is cooking, get your béchamel started. In a medium pot over medium low heat, melt the butter, then sift in the flour, a little at a time (sifting isn't absolutely mandatory, but it helps lumps from forming in what should otherwise be a nice smooth béchamel sauce). Stir the flour and butter for a minute or two, then add in the milk a little at a time, whisking, until it is all incorporated.
Cook the milk mixture, whisking, until it becomes thick enough to coat the back of the spoon; you can test this by making a line with your finger on the back of the spoon, through the béchamel that should be coating it; if there is a visible path that remains, the béchamel is thick enough (see this photo here!)

When your béchamel is done, turn off the heat it and set it aside. Your pumpkin should be fully softened by now. Remove the garlic clove and discard. Put the pumpkin in to a large bowl and mash down as best you can with a potato masher, if you have one, just to get you started. Next, use an immersion blender and blend the pumpkin until smooth. Taste the pumpkin mixture for salt and pepper and season if needed. 
Time to assemble! Take a 7x11x2 inch (28x18x5 cm) baking pan and butter it lightly (not sure if this is necessary but I always do this to make sure the bottom layer doesn't stick). Stir about 1/3 cup (about 5 tablespoons) of béchamel in to the pumpkin and set aside. Ladle a thin layer of béchamel over the bottom of the pan, then place three lasagna noodles on top. Next, spoon some pumpkin over the noodles, then a generous sprinkling of Parmesan, some mozzarella, a bit of prosciutto, and then another ladleful of béchamel.
Repeat these layers with your next 9 noodles (to make 3 additional layers, with 3 noodles each), pressing down the noodles to compact everything with each layer. Top your fourth layer with three plain noodles.
 
Whisk the remaining béchamel into the remaining pumpkin and pour over the last three noodles. Top with whatever Parmesan is left, plus a little more if you'd like (a nice Parmesan crust on top will form in the oven).
Cover the lasagna with aluminum foil and bake in the middle rack of the oven for 30 minutes. When the 30 minutes are up, move the lasagna to the higher rack in the oven, and bake for an additional 10 minutes, or until the Parmesan browns on top. Remove from the oven, let cool slightly, and serve immediately with extra Parm on the side if you'd like. Serves 6. 



























Best Ever Roast Potatoes

What I'm about to write might shock and/or upset you, but here it goes: I'm an ardent non-fan of mashed potatoes. I know, I know! Saying you don't like mashed potatoes -- one of those foods-loved-by-all, up there with pizza and ice cream -- is like saying you don't like sunshine, or kittens, or a good night's sleep. While I don't hate mashed potatoes (that would be you, tripe) its not a side I'd ever seek out, or order, or crave. My allegiance lies instead with Roast Potatoes, because as far as I'm concerned, its a crime to boil and mash up potatoes if you can instead toss them with lots of olive oil and herbs and roast them until they're superbly crispy and golden brown and glorious. It is very possibly side dish heresy to say this, but -- I'd much rather see a pile of roast potatoes on the Thanksgiving table than a heap of mashed potatoes. Who's with me?! 

So! Now that we've established that I'm on Team Roasted instead of Team Mashed, lets get to it -- today's recipe comes from one of my very favorite foodie sites, Serious Eats, more specifically their Food Lab, which aims to "unravel the mysteries of home cooking through science," or rather, develop the very best version of a dish taking into consideration the science behind the recipe. These are therefore not just any roast potatoes; these are top notch roast potatoes, A+ roast potatoes, roast potatoes living their Best Life. Here's the cliff notes version of what the Food Lab discovered (you can get the full story here): 

-Yukon Golds and Russets are the best for roasting (red skinned potatoes are to be avoided) and should be cut into larger pieces to allow for more surface area or rather maximum crispness;

-Cooking the potatoes in already boiling alkaline water (i.e water with some baking soda thrown in) before roasting helps the exteriors of the potatoes break down more, creating much more of the starchy slurry that leads to an extra-crisp exterior;

-Roasting the potatoes in a single layer at a high temperature (430 degrees Fahrenheit, 230 degrees Celsius) until nice and dark also results in maximum crispness, with a softer interior;

-Herb infused olive oil that the potatoes are roasted in, plus tossing the potatoes with extra herbs before serving makes these extra flavorful and rosemary-ish (rosemary + potatoes = soulmates).

The result? The very best potatoes I have ever made or eaten, with a crazy crisp exterior and creamy interior, extra herb-y and golden and glorious, perfect along side roast chicken or Thanksgiving turkey, yes, but just as marvelous eaten as are, from a cereal bowl, 
just you and a fork. I speak from experience. 

A couple of notes: I am not a huge fan of garlic, so I infused the oil with the cloves and then threw them away. If you like garlic, feel free to mince it finely and toss it with the potatoes at the end. Make sure all the potatoes roast in one even layer to ensure maximum crispiness. Lastly, my apologies for the slightly dark photos, but these were photographed on a rainy, cloudy day, which is actually just the sort of day one should be eating a big portion of super cozy comforting roast potatoes.

Looking for other Thanksgiving sides? I've got these green beans with shallots and pancetta, these mashed potatoes, this stuffing with sausage, apples, and apricots, these savory squash pancakes with sage brown butter, this butternut squash and caramelized onion galette, these cornbread muffins with maple butter, or these herb roasted carrots

BEST EVER ROAST POTATOES

Ingredients:
2 tablespoons (25 grams) salt
1/2 teaspoon (4g) baking soda
4 pounds (about 2kg) russet or Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into quarters (or sixths if very large)
6 tablespoons (about 85ml) extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons (a small handful) rosemary leaves, finely chopped
3 medium cloves garlic, minced (see notes above)
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons fresh parsley leaves, minced, plus more to taste
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:
Adjust oven rack to center position and preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit (230 degrees Celsius). Heat 3 quarts (12 cups) water in a large pot over high heat until boiling. Add 2 tablespoons salt and the baking soda, then and the potatoes and stir. Return the water to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook until a knife meets little resistance when inserted into a potato chunk, about 10 minutes after returning to a boil.
Meanwhile, combine the olive oil with the rosemary, garlic, and a few grinds of black pepper in a small saucepan. Heat the olive oil mixture over medium heat. Cook, stirring and shaking the pan constantly, until garlic just begins to turn golden, about 3 minutes. Immediately strain the oil through a fine-mesh strainer set in a large bowl. Set garlic/rosemary mixture aside and reserve separately.
When the potatoes are cooked, drain them carefully and let them rest in the pot  they were cooked in for about 30 seconds to allow excess moisture to evaporate. Transfer the potatoes to a bowl with the infused oil, season to taste with a little more salt and pepper, and toss to coat, shaking bowl roughly, until a thick layer of mashed potato–like paste has built up on the potato chunks.
Transfer the potatoes to a large lightly oiled baking sheet and separate them, spreading them out evenly. Transfer to the potatoes to the oven and roast, without moving, for 20 minutes. Using a spatula turn the potatoes over. Continue roasting until potatoes are deep brown and crisp all over, turning and shaking them a few times during cooking, 30 to 40 minutes longer.
 Transfer potatoes to a large bowl and add garlic/rosemary mixture and minced parsley. Toss to coat and season with more salt and pepper and serve immediately.