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


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

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. 

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