Thursday, December 30, 2010

Butternut squash lasagne with bechamel sauce

I made these for a dinner party before the holidays and almost forgot to take a photo, thanks to our guests for reminding me!  In any case, this is the only one I took, hopefully you get the idea.  This lasagne has butternut squash with sage and walnuts, yummy cheeses and a bechamel (white) sauce inside, and is served over cooked Kale.  I really cannot say enough about how deliciously this turned out, the squash and nuts and cheese were a rich and well-matched flavor combination.  It took a while to prepare (partly because I was inefficient, and partly because it is just complicated), but it was well worth it.  This is a great dish to serve if you want a vegetarian-friendly main course for a nice dinner, or really anytime.  I served it with more homemade bread from artisan bread in 15 minutes a day (a half white half whole wheat ciabatta loaf), and with braised leeks. I will definitely be making this again.... Yum.

The recipe is adapted from Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Suppers.  I also have the companion book, Vegetable Soups and really like both of them.  I love her Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, and use it as a reference but often find it daunting when I am just trying to come up with an idea for dinner starting from a blank slate.  These two books are much more accessible, with longer descriptions, serving suggestions (including wine pairings in the suppers book), lots of color photos, and a more curated selection of ideas, it feels like.  I have found all the recipes from both books that I have made so far to be really delicious - she does a great job combining flavors and the cooking techniques are thoughtful and well-matched to each dish, not cookie-cutter.  The suppers book presents itself as an everyday cookbook, but I have found so far that the dishes are more elaborate than I would normally make for an everyday meal - but knowing that, it has been a great resource for times when I want to make something more interesting and complex.  I would definitely recommend either or both books!

Butternut squash lasagne with Bechamel Sauce
Adapted from Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Suppers

For the Bechamel:
  • 3 1/2 cups milk (1% worked fine for me)
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled and cut in half
  • 1 slice or section of onion
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1-2 parsley sprigs
  • 3 1/2 teaspoons butter
  • 3 1/2 teaspoons flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, pepper to taste
For the Lasagne Filling:
  • 1 large butternut squash (2 1/2 - 3 lbs)
  • 2-3 garlic cloves
  • 15-20 fresh sage leaves or 1 1/2 tablespoons dried
  • 1/3-1/2 cup parsley leaves
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 cup finely chopped lightly toasted walnuts (or hazelnuts)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • package no-boil lasagne noodles
  • 1 cup grated gruyere cheese
  • 1 cup freshly grated parmesan or romano cheese
For the Kale:
  • 2-3 bunches kale, washed
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, pressed/crushed or minced
  • pinch of red pepper flakes (I used Aleppo flakes but regular would be fine)
Start by heating the milk in a small pot with the garlic, onion, bay and parsley.  Slowly heat the milk until it is almost boiling, then turn off the heat and cover the pot and let stand.

While the milk is sitting, peel and chop the squash into a rough dice of about 1/2" cubes.  Chop the garlic together with the sage and parsley - it may be easier to chop the garlic and herbs separately first and then chop them together.  Heat olive oil in a wide skillet or dutch oven, then cook onion and squash over medium high heat for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.  You can preheat the oven to 375 F mid-way through cooking the squash.

While the squash is cooking, continue with the bechamel sauce - melt the butter in a saucepan and stir in the flour (it will be pretty dry); add the milk, pouring through a strainer and whisking as you add it.  Turn the heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally, until it thickens, then add salt and pepper.  I did this in a double-boiler and it took 25-30 minutes, but it may be quicker if you are cooking directly over the heat.

Meanwhile, after the 15 minutes, reduce the heat on the squash to medium-low and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the squash is pretty tender and starting to get brown in some places, another 5-10 minutes.  Add the garlic-herb mixture and the nuts and cook for another few minutes, then add salt and pepper and turn off heat.

To assemble the lasagne, butter or oil a 9"x12" baking dish, then spread 1/2 cup of the sauce in the bottom of the baking dish and then lay down 3 noodles (or however many will fit).  Cover with half the cooked squash mixture, then 1 cup of the sauce, half the gruyere and one third of the parmesan/romano (I used a mix of the two).  Add another 3 noodles and then repeat the other layers and cover with a final 3 noodles.  Spread the remaining sauce on top and then the remaining parmesan/romano and then cover loosely with aluminum foil.  Bake for 30 minutes, then remove the foil and keep baking for another 20 minutes.  It will be bubbly and lightly brown at the edges.  Remove from the oven and let cool slightly.

While the lasagne is cooking, prepare the kale.  Remove the stems and chop the kale into 1/2" strips/chunks.  Heat the oil in a skillet or pot and add the garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes, then add the pepper flakes and kale.  Add a pinch or two of salt and stir the kale to coat with oil, then add 2 cups of water.  Lower the heat and cook, covered, for 15-20 minutes, until the kale is tender.  Drain the kale or remove with tongs to serve - let drip so that it is not too soggy on the plates.  Serve each plate with kale topped with a square of lasagne (or the kale could be served on the side if you prefer).

Serves 6-8.

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