Monday, January 14, 2013

Butternut Squash Lasagna

I love butternut squash. I better. My winter CSA has already sent several butternut squashes in our bi-weekly boxes and I have butternut squash coming out of my ears. I had been recently toying with the notion of making butternut squash ravioli, but then when the slightly easier comfort of a butternut squash lasagna entered my mind, I knew this would be the direction I headed.

Long ago, I had seen Giada DeLaurentiis make this lasagna on her show. I kept it in the back of my mind, but remembered she had used some inferior products such as no-boil lasagna sheets and pre-shredded mozzarella cheese. I decided to go all out and make fresh pasta (I had plenty of extra yolks on hand that needed to be used) as well as using fresh mozzarella, which just has such a superior flavor and texture.
Using my mixer to both mix and roll out the pasta sheets is a huge time saver. I have made pasta by hand and rolled it out the almost-old-fashioned way in a hand cranked machine, but once you've utilized your stand mixer to its full potential, you won't want to go back. Trust me. It makes making your fresh pasta the easiest part of this entire process. Well, almost.

The fresh egg yolk-enriched pasta is layered with vibrant butternut squash puree, green-hued basil-bechamel sauce, chunks of melty and chewy fresh mozzarella, and topped with a final layer of tender pasta, mozzarella, and salty Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. The lasagna isn't nearly as rich as it sounds because the squash puree really lightens it up. The bechamel isn't overly rich as well, especially if you use a lighter milk as I did.

I served the lasagna with a light salad composed of baby spinach and pea greens (also from my CSA) tossed lightly with a homemade Dijon-balsamic vinaigrette. The acid from the vinaigrette and freshness of the greens were the perfect balance to complement this creamy layered pasta. Everyone had second helpings. Enough said.

Butternut Squash Lasagna
Makes 8 to 10 servings
(Adapted from Giada DeLaurentiis)

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 (1 1/2 to 2-pound) butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch cubes
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup (2 oz) unsalted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3 1/2 cups milk
Pinch nutmeg
3/4 cup (lightly packed) fresh basil leaves
1 lb fresh lasagna noodles, boiled to al dente (will only take a couple minutes)*
1 lb fresh mozzarella, chopped
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

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 15 to 20 minutes. Cool slightly and then transfer the squash to a blender  or food processor and puree. 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. 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 1/2 cup of the sauce over the prepared baking dish. Arrange a few lasagna noodles (depending on their size) on the bottom of the pan. Spread 1/4 of the squash puree over the noodles. Sprinkle with 1/5 of the mozzarella cheese cubes. Drizzle 1/2 cup of sauce over the noodles. Repeat layering until you have a total of 4 layers exactly like the first one. Top with a final (fifth) layer of noodles.

Tightly cover the baking dish with foil and bake the lasagna for 20 to 25 minutes until bubbly. Sprinkle the remaining mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses over the lasagna. Continue baking uncovered until the top is golden, 15 minutes longer. Let the lasagna stand for 15 minutes before serving.

*For the noodles, I adapted Thomas Keller's 7 Yolk Pasta recipe from The French Laundry Cookbook. I tweaked a few ingredients and made mine in my Kitchenaid mixer fitted with the dough hook and then rolled out the dough with my Kitchenaid pasta roller attachment to the #5 thickness setting. Then I cut my noodles into lengths just smaller than my pan, as they would expand when boiled. Once boiled, I laid them on lightly olive oiled sheet pans to keep them from sticking while I assembled my lasagna. For more details on mixing and rolling out the pasta dough (as well as an alternative pasta recipe that uses whole eggs as opposed to mainly yolks), feel free to check out my Zucchini Lasagna recipe.

**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.


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