Driving back across the US to Chicago from Washington State, my kind mother-in-law Lorraine gave me two spectacular specimens of butternut squash, grown from her own garden. We used one right near Thanksgiving, in a soup that was phenomenally bad due entirely to my own errors. The second has been patiently waiting for me to regain my winter-squash confidence, alone on my pantry shelf.
I read a recipe for a butternut lasagna in the Chicago Times the other day, and decided to give it a go. The recipe writing was kinda lame (“Tumble in onions to brown,” that sort of thing), but as my wont, I changed it up quite a bit anyway.
What you’ll need:
1 lb. Italian sausage (or, if you want to do it the hard way, 1 lb. ground turkey, garlic powder, salt, pepper, paprika, olive oil, anise and fennel seeds, red pepper flakes)
1 c. ricotta (or, if you want to do it the hard way, 1 qt. milk, salt and white vinegar)
Quart of chicken broth
Parmesan rinds (optional)
Box of lasagna noodles
Garlic, 2 cloves peeled and pressed
Bag of baby spinach
The day before, take a pound of ground turkey and mix with about 1/2 tsp. each salt, pepper, garlic powder and paprika. Whiz about a quarter cup of olive oil in the blender with 1/2 tsp. each anise seeds, fennel seeds and red pepper flakes. Pour into meat, mix well, cover and refrigerate overnight.(Or… be smart and buy some hot Italian sausage before the big snowstorm.)
Split the squash long-ways, scoop the seeds, lay the halves cut-side down on a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper, bake at 400 degrees F for about half an hour (you want a fork to slide into the thickest part easily, but you don’t want the skin to burn to heck). When cool enough to handle, slip off the skin and put the flesh into a food processor. My squash was huge; I pulled out about two cups to save for later, leaving about four cups in the bowl.
Put a quart of milk and 1/2 tsp. salt into a nonreactive pot and slowly bring to 180 degrees F, turn off the heat and add 2 T white vinegar, stir for a minute, then scoop curds into a cheesecloth-(or really thin dishtowel)-lined strainer, let sit for 15 minutes. (Or… be smart and buy some ricotta cheese before the big snowstorm hits.)
Put about a quart of chicken broth into that non-reactive pan, with a few Parmesan rinds. Let simmer until reduced by about half. Remove rinds and give to the grateful dog.
Start a pot of boiling water for the lasagna noodles (unless you have the no-bake kind, which I didn’t figure out until I was about ready to dump ’em in. They were whole wheat, funny little postcard-sized sheets).
Run the food processor until the squash is nice and smooth. Throw in your ricotta (about a cup) and a couple of eggs, along with salt, pepper, nutmeg and cayenne to taste.
Brown the sausage in a drizzle of olive oil, along with a chopped onion, a couple cloves of pressed garlic, and add salt, pepper and thyme to taste.
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Pull down your glass 9×13 pan and figure out how many layers you’re going to have. This is determined by the noodles and your patience… e.g., 3 layers of noodles means 2 layers of filling each. I had enough for four layers of noodles, which meant I divided my fillings into thirds (and the broth into five parts).
Open a bag of baby spinach. Put a chunk of Parmesan into your cheese grater. Here comes the fun part!
It goes together like this: a scoop of broth to moisten the bottom, then (noodles, broth, squash, sausage, spinach), repeat until you end with the last layer of noodles, the last ladle of broth, and a generous grating of Parmesan. Spray some foil with nonstick spray and cover, pop into the oven for 1/2 hour (or, if you’re using the no-bake noodles, closer to 45 minutes). Remove the foil for the last ten minutes if you like a crispy top. Let sit so it can absorb all those yummy juices for another 20 minutes while you set the table and fix a nice green salad. (Yeah, you could have done that while it was cooking, but you’ll more likely have been on the Internet reading SlashFood, right?)