It’s no secret that I’m mad for a harvested, vine vegetable. Whether roasting a whole squash and dressing it with buttery, spicy sausage or creating a velvet cream sauce for a pasta dish, the versatility of this divine vegetable continues to astound me. And not only is squash incredibly healthy (winter squash is high in fiber, beta-carotene and vitamin C), it’s delicious and very filling.
A few years ago, I made butternut squash lasagna, and I was immediately surprised with how easily I was willing to abandon my traditional meat and mozzarella mainstay. This dish is at turns delicate and hearty. The pesto béchamel is liquid satin and the saltiness from the pecorino adds a bite. I love pairing this dish with a peppery arugula salad.
And although this recipe appears tough at first glance, it isn’t. It’s just quite a few steps. But if you have any questions about technique or otherwise, drop me a note in the comments and I’ll reply either by video or by a comment.
INGREDIENTS: Recipe comes courtesy of the fabulous Giada de Laurentiis’ Everyday Pasta
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 (1 1/2 to 2-pound) butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch cubes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup water
3 amaretti cookies, crumbled (optional)
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3 1/2 cups whole, room temperature, milk
3/4 cup (lightly packed) fresh basil leaves
12 no-boil lasagna noodles
2 1/2 cups shredded part skim-milk mozzarella cheese (I’ve also used goat cheese instead, and it was EPIC!)
1/3 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
Heat the oil in a heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the squash and toss to coat. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Pour the water into the skillet and then cover and simmer over medium heat until the squash is tender, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes (or until you can easily cut through the squash). Cool slightly and then transfer the squash to a food processor. Add the amaretti cookies and blend until smooth. Season the squash puree, to taste, with more salt and pepper.
Melt the butter in a heavy medium-size saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk for 1 minute. You’ll need to whisk vigorously to cook the flour and remove all the lumps. Gradually whisk in the milk. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer until the sauce thickens slightly, whisking often, about 5 minutes. Whisk in the nutmeg. Cool slightly. Transfer half of the sauce to a blender*. Add the basil and blend until smooth. Return the basil sauce to the sauce in the pan and stir to blend. Season the sauce with salt and pepper, to taste.
Position the rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 375 degrees F.
Lightly butter a 13 by 9 by 2-inch glass baking dish. Spread 3/4 cup of the sauce over the prepared baking dish. Arrange 3 lasagna noodles on the bottom of the pan. Spread 1/3 of the squash puree over the noodles. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup of mozzarella cheese. Drizzle 1/2 cup of sauce over the noodles. Repeat layering 3 more times. Warning: Do not over-layer your noodles. You may be able to build the Tower of Pisa when making a traditional lasagna, however, since this is a lighter layered dish, adding more than three layers will take away the delicate flavors of the dish, and all you’ll taste is a pound of pasta.
Tightly cover the baking dish with foil and bake the lasagna for 40 minutes. Sprinkle the remaining mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses over the lasagna. Continue baking uncovered until the sauce bubbles and the top is golden, 15 minutes longer. Let the lasagna stand for 15 minutes before serving.
RECIPE NOTES: For the love of god, do not use skim milk to make a béchamel. Although you can use parts skim and whole to create a thick sauce, you won’t get the same lusciousness and consistency of a proper cream sauce using skim milk. This is a healthy dish, splurge a little. Also, you can use fresh lasagna noodles or whole wheat noodles. I’ve fixed the recipe with endless variations and all are divine.
Note that you don’t have to actually boil the noodles to cook them. You can opt to buy the pre-made noodles, or use dry for the dish. You’ll actually garner a crisper texture against the cream, which works well for this particular dish.
*When blending hot liquids: Remove liquid from the heat and allow to cool for at least 5 minutes. Transfer liquid to a blender or food processor and fill it no more than halfway. If using a blender, release one corner of the lid. This prevents the vacuum effect that creates heat explosions. Place a towel over the top of the machine, pulse a few times then process on high speed until smooth.