Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Vegetarian Lasagna

I’m still on an autumnal cooking kick. It went down to nine degrees last night, I had to put socks on and everything! But I was struck with another recipe inspiration on the weekend, I was thinking about what I could do with some of the squash I had leftover from the soup, and I decided to try to make a vegetarian lasagna with it.

This recipe is all about taking your time. It’s definitely a “Sunday” meal, or an “I work from home” meal, because all in all you’re in it for about two hours. To me, that is a delight, because I love cooking. But if you don’t find cooking as zen as I do, then just take a deep breath and try to enjoy the process.

This is what you’ll need:
  • Lasagna noodles
  • Half of a butternut squash (cubed)
  • About 4 cups of spinach
  • 1 onion
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • Asiago cheese
  • Ricotta cheese
  • Parmesan cheese
  • 4 tbsp butter
  • 4 tbsp flour
  • 2 ½ cups of milk
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil

The first thing you’ll want to do is preheat your oven to 400°. For extra flavour, we are going to roast the squash. On a baking sheet, spread out your squash cubes flavoured with olive oil, salt and pepper, and then roast until golden and soft (about 30 minutes). Now, if you were looking to cut corners here, you could microwave or steam your squash, which would shave some time off your prep. But roasting does add extra flavour, so that’s what I recommend.

Once your squash is roasting, the second step is to prepare the spinach layer. In a frying pan, add a little olive oil. Add your onions and garlic, and cook them slowly. In fact, we are going to caramelize these onions, so you want them on a low-med heat for a good 15-20 minutes. Once they are golden and soft (there is a theme here), add in your spinach. This will wilt down to about 2 cups with the onion. Set aside.

Let’s get the béchamel sauce ready now. You may also want to get that pasta to the boil. At least start the water. And for the love of God, salt your water. This flavours the pasta and there is no reason not to. Your pasta water should taste like the sea.

Back to the béchamel. Now, you already know how to make a roux, because you learned how to do that in chicken potpie. So in a saucepan, melt your butter and then add your flour. Stir that around to cook the flour a bit then add your milk. Whisk your little heart out! To flavour this sauce, add salt and pepper to taste, and since we are using fall flavours, I added nutmeg to my béchamel. I have whole nutmeg nuts, so I grated it freshly into the sauce (I know, what a show-off, right?) but you don’t have to do that if you don’t want to. If you are using fresh grated nutmeg, do go easy on it as it is much more flavourful than the pre-ground variety. Taste that sauce- delicious? Great. It will thicken when you leave it to gently simmer for five minutes. Just give it a whisk here and there. Now we’ll do the squash.

I realise this is a lot of steps, but it will come together for you, I promise. Keep in mind that once things are done, they can just sit to the side to wait. So, there’s no stress! In a mixing bowl, add your squash with about two heaping tablespoons of ricotta. You want this to be the texture of baby food. Mix well with fork and taste. The trick here is that if all your layers taste good, the whole thing will taste good. So, be like Gordon Ramsey and taste everything. This layer would benefit from a little more nutmeg, plus the salt and pepper. Turn down your oven to 375°.

We have all our fillings done now, so it’s time for the last step, which is cooking the pasta. Your pasta noodles only need 7-9 minutes in boiling water. Not unlike macaroni andcheese, if you cook your noodles completely before they bake in the lasagna, they’ll be nothing but pure mush by the time all is said and done. A little on the firm side is ideal.

All right, it’s time to assemble! I sprayed my pan with some PAM, which I hoped would help with clean up. That is yet to be determined, but I’m sure it can’t be a bad idea. First, coat the bottom of your dish with the béchamel sauce. Layer in the bottom noodles and then spread half the squash mixture evenly across it. Spread on some of the béchamel. Layer a few more noodles on, then half your spinach mixture, plus a good-sized handful of Asiago cheese. More béchamel. Repeat these steps until you run out of fillings. Top with another layer of noodles, the final bit of béchamel, Asiago and some Parmesan. Cover with tinfoil and bake at 375° for 25 minutes. Remove the tinfoil and bake for 25 more minutes. I would suggest throwing the broiler on for the last 5 minutes to get nice colour on the top. I didn’t do this and it’s looking a little pale in the photos.

Serve this up with a side salad and you’ve got yourself a meal! Enjoy! 

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