Butternut Squash & Swiss Chard Lasagne

Although ours has not involved the freakish amounts of snow dumped on so many of our friends, this Houston winter has been unusually cold and long. I’ve been feverishly cooking winter food before we hit the time of the year when the raw diet makes sense just to eliminate the need to turn on the oven.

World's lumpiest lasagne

I used the Epicurious Butternut Squash and Hazelnut Lasagne recipe from Gourmet’s December, 2001 issue as a starting point. As hazelnuts bring on certain death for me, I left them out, and didn’t bother subbing in pecans or pine nuts as many reviewers had. I did, however, include a big ol’ head of swiss chard to up the vitamin content a bit.

Filling
Butternut squash (about 3 pounds)
3 TBS butter
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 bunch Swiss chard, washed, stemmed, torn into pieces

I first quartered and roasted the squash (scooped out seeds, brushed with olive oil, baked at 425 degrees for 45 minutes, stored overnight because who starts cooking at 10 p.m. on a Sunday?), then cubed it.

I sauteed the onion in the butter for a few minutes, then added the squash and cooked for about 10 minutes, mashing it periodically to break it down.

Next, after spinning it a few times, but not drying it fanatically, I mixed in the chard and let it cook for another 10 minutes or so with the squash.

It cooked way down, as you might expect.

Then, I let that sit while I prepared the sauce.

Sauce
3 TBS butter
1 clove garlic, minced
5 TBS flour
5 cups milk (I used soy milk)
1 bay leaf

You may be asking yourself at this point why the first and only spice I’ve used is a bay leaf. Well, in fact, I forgot to add the other spices and herbs completely. Once you’ve cooked the squash, you can add a few TBS of chopped flat-leaf parsley and a TBS or 2 of chopped, fresh sage, if you wish. You can also add salt and pepper.

So, back to the sauce, which is technically béchamel. Béchamel is the French word for fattening white sauce.

Melt the butter with the garlic, cook it for about a minute, then whisk in the flour. Mine immediately clumped up, but I kept whisking it around the pan, not worried in the slightest. I’d rather have lumpy but cooked flour/butter mixture, because raw flour doesn’t taste good at all.

After about 5 minutes, I added the (soy) milk in a slow stream, whisking as I went. I eventually un-lumped the sauce, except, of course, for the garlic lumps, and brought the sauce slowly to a boil, whisking the whole time. At this point I remembered, for the only time in this whole game, to add seasoning—one bay leaf.

I turned down the heat a bit so the sauce could simmer 10 minutes while I still whisked fairly frequently, although not so vigorously that it will count as an upper arm work-out. I took it off the heat & discarded the bay leaf. This smelled like vanilla pudding.

Assemble
1 box whole wheat lasagne noodles
1 c. shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 c. grated parmesan cheese

You know, right, that you don’t have to boil lasagne noodles, and you don’t need to buy the no-boil ones? Well, you don’t. As long as you have a saucy-enough sauce (and the béchamel is plenty saucy), you are golden.

Coated the bottom of a 13×9 Pyrex with sauce, then layered on 3.5 noodles (3 the long way, 1/2 to cover the end), then coated them again with sauce. I spread out 1/2 the squash mixture, then sprinkled on about 1/3rd of the cheeses, a bit more sauce, then repeated the noodle-sauce-squash-cheese-sauce sequence. One final layer of noodles, more sauce, whatever was left of the cheese, and then poured on the rest of the sauce.

I covered it with foil and baked at 425 degrees for 30 minutes, then uncovered it and cooked for another 15.

It was at this point I realized that a sole bay leaf was the exclusive seasoning ingredient. I decided to fry a few sage leaves in a mixture of butter and olive oil, then crumble them on top, which worked very well. I didn’t notice the lack of salt and pepper, but then again, parmesan is salty, and I chronically under-season, so I wouldn’t be the one to miss the pepper.

While lasagne always serves better if you let it set up first, I ate some of this after only about 10 minutes out of the oven, and it was divine. Very, very rich. I suspect meat-eaters could have this as a main course and not actually miss the meat. I also saw a reviewer on Epicurious who crumbled in some maple sausage, which sounded about as over the top as I can even imagine.

By the way, blogging about this finally prompted me to look up the proper spelling for lasagne. You may also use lasagna and be in the right. I’m using the -e because that’s what the originally recipe used, but I kind of like the -a better.

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