Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Butternut Squash & Hazelnut Lasagna

I love lasagna. I think it’s because it was the first dish that I made on my own. The first dish I can claim as mine. As a kid I was an expert at all the family cookie recipes: Snickerdoodles, peanut butter cookies from a cake mix, and ginger cookies. I also did a mighty fine job with those box pizza mixes from Chef Boyardee. But when I was in high school, living in Vancouver, Washington, I found a recipe for lasagna in The Columbian newspaper. It was a basic red meat sauce version. Nothing special about it. But it was mine.

Even though I haven’t made that recipe in years, I still love making lasagna. Especially since cooks get so creative with it nowadays. I’m always cutting out interesting varieties from Gourmet or Food & Wine. Last fall (or lasagna season, as I call it) I fell in love with Roasted Portobello Mushroom and Prosciutto Lasagna. Last week I discovered a new favorite: Butternut Squash and Hazelnut Lasagna.

My folks were in town for our family’s first Thanksgiving dinner at my sister and her husband’s new house on Mount Washington, and I wanted something to serve before the big day. That’s the great thing about lasagna. Add a salad, and it’s a great meal for groups. And if you’re cooking just for yourself, you can cut it into quarters, freeze each quarter separately, and then take one out whenever you don’t feel like cooking. I’ve never met a lasagna that didn’t reheat beautifully.

Butternut Squash and Hazelnut Lasagne
from Gourmet (with slight modifications), December 2001

Ingredients for the squash filling
- 1 large yellow onion, chopped
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 3 lb butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 2 good sized squash)
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon white pepper
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 4 teaspoons chopped fresh sage
- 1 cup hazelnuts (about 4 oz.), toasted, loose skins rubbed off with a kitchen towel, and coarsely chopped

Ingredients for the sauce
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 5 cups milk
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/8 teaspoon white pepper

Ingredients for assembling the lasagna
- 1/2 lb fresh mozzarella, coarsely grated (2 cups)
- 1 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (3 oz)
- 12 (7- by 3 1/2-inch) sheets no-boil lasagne (1/2 lb)

Directions for making the filling
This can be done a day ahead of time and kept in the fridge.

1) Cook onion in butter in a deep 12-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 10 minutes.

2) Add squash, garlic, salt, and white pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until squash is just tender, about 15 minutes.

3) Remove from heat and stir in parsley, sage, and nuts.

4) Cool filling.

Directions for making the sauce
This can be done while the squash cooks, and can also be made a day ahead of time and kept in the fridge.

1) Cook garlic in butter in a 3-quart heavy saucepan over moderately low heat, stirring, 1 minute.

2) Whisk in flour and cook roux, whisking, 3 minutes.

3) Add milk in a stream, whisking.

4) Add bay leaf and bring to a boil, whisking constantly, then reduce heat and simmer, whisking occasionally, 10 minutes.

5) Whisk in salt and white pepper and remove from heat. Discard bay leaf. (Cover surface of sauce with wax paper if not using immediately.)

Directions for assembling the lasagna

1) Preheat oven to 425°.

2) Toss cheeses together.

3) Spread 1/2 cup sauce in a buttered 13- by 9- by 2-inch baking dish and cover with 3 pasta sheets, leaving spaces between sheets.

4) Spread with 2/3 cup sauce and one third of filling, then sprinkle with a heaping 1/2 cup cheese.

5) Repeat layering 2 more times, beginning with pasta sheets and ending with cheese.

6) Top with remaining 3 pasta sheets, remaining sauce, and remaining cheese.

7) Tightly cover baking dish with buttered foil and bake lasagne in middle of oven 30 minutes.

8) Remove foil and bake until golden and bubbling, 10 to 15 minutes more.

9) Let lasagne stand 15 to 20 minutes before serving.

Note on the sauce:
I could not get this sauce to thicken. I cooked it for nearly 30 minutes, added an extra Tablespoon of flour, and finally gave up. Though it was runny when I turned the heat off, it thickened up while it sat there, and in the end, it worked perfectly. My point being, don’t get frustrated if the sauce doesn’t seem to be thickening. It will!

(photos by Julie Fay)