Butternut Squash Lasagna

It’s the time of year for squash. I never think to cook with it, which limits me. Squash are proudly displayed at eye level in the produce department in early fall, but by now, they’re relegated to bins at foot-level. When I remember, I will roast up an acorn squash with a little maple syrup and cinnamon. I really enjoy that, but then I forget about squash again for a while until I see it on a menu somewhere.

The last few years, however, butternut squash lasagna has been really popular, so I bought a butternut squash on sale a few weeks ago, with the idea of making lasagna. I just got around to it today. I have avoided making this lasagna because it’s an all-day process, but I’ve been thinking about this dish for too long. It had become like one of those songs that get stuck in your head. I had a lasagna stuck in my head, and the only way to get it out was to make it.

Now this dish is much more time-consuming that any that I’ve posted so far. Lasagnas always are. You have the noodles, sauce, any fillings, and layering them all takes time. But you can make the elements separately and refrigerate them for a day or two until you’re ready to put it together.

I’ve tried to make this lasagna fairly low-fat by baking the sausage (not frying), roasting the butternut squash with a spritz of olive oil spray, and using nonfat cottage cheese as well as ricotta in the sauce. You can use pork or chicken sausage, your choice – or you can omit it altogether for a vegetarian lasagna. If you go vegetarian, you may want to sprinkle a little parmesan on each layer to boost the overall flavor.

I use a refillable oil spray bottle that you prime by pumping before you spray, but you can also buy olive oil in a spray can. I love the idea of spraying olive oil – you get the same flavor, but cut down on the fat. I even spray olive oil on my popcorn and then toss it with freshly grated parmesan. Now that’s really good!

This was my first foray into no-cook lasagna noodles. Not cooking pasta is so counter-intuitive that it makes me nervous. But since they’re everywhere in the stores now, I decided to give them a try. I bought mine at Trader Joe’s and while I made up my own recipe, I followed the instructions on the box to wet them with the sauce before assembling the dish. If you use a different brand of no-cook pasta, check the directions on the box and adapt the recipe to suit your pasta. Or you could just use old-fashioned pasta and cook it first.

Butternut Squash and Spinach Lasagna

 
1 pound Italian sausage
If the sausage is in casings, remove the casing. Put the sausages in a pan and bake at 350 F for 30 minutes. Let cool, then cut into bite-sized pieces.

Oiled squash ready for the oven

Butternut Squash:

2 pounds butternut squash
Olive oil spray
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper
Wash and cut the butternut squash in half lengthwise. Remove  the seeds with a spoon; discard the seeds. Peel the squash, and slice the squash into 1/3” thick slices. Lay the slices out on your cutting board and spray lightly with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper. Spray a baking sheet with olive oil and lay the squash slices on the pan in a single layer. Roast the squash at 400 F for 20 minutes, then turn the slices over. Roast for an additional 10 minutes, until the squash is lightly browned on both sides. Let cool.

Spinach:

1 onion, minced 
2 shallots minced
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper
2 Tbs olive oil
2 6-oz bags fresh baby spinach
¼ C pesto
Sauté the onion, shallots and garlic in a Dutch oven until the onions are lightly browned, about 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add both bags of fresh spinach. They will fill up the pot. Cook over medium heat for about five minutes, turning the spinach over with a pair of tongs every 15 seconds. The spinach will wilt down to about 2 cups of cooked spinach. As soon as it’s wilted, remove the spinach and onions from the pot into a bowl to cool. You want the spinach just wilted, but not cooked to the point where it gives off a lot of water. When cooled, stir in the pesto. Taste for seasoning.

Sauce:
30 oz whole milk ricotta
16 oz nonfat cottage cheese 
¼ cup milk
1 egg
¾ C grated parmesan
1 tsp grated nutmeg
½ tsp pepper
Puree ricotta, cottage cheese, milk, egg, parmesan, nutmeg and pepper in a blender until it’s a liquid. Pour into a wide bowl.

1 pound no-cook lasagna noodles (I used 15 sheets)

Assembly:

Spray a 9×13 pan with olive oil and coat the bottom with ¾ cup sauce. Dip 5 sheets of lasagna noodles into the sauce and lay out in the bottom of the pan. In my pan, 4 sheets of pasta nearly covered the bottom and I broke up 1 sheet of pasta to fill in the holes.

Put half of the cooked squash onto the pasta in a single layer, and then spread out half of the cooked sausage pieces, then half of the spinach mixture. Ladle enough sauce on to cover the squash, sausage and spinach.

Putting the layers together

Repeat the layer of lasagna and squash, sausage and spinach. Cover with sauce. Finish with a layer of pasta and the rest of the sauce. Gently press down on the top sheet of pasta to smoosh the layers together and ensure that the pasta is covered with the sauce. Let the assembled dish sit on the counter for 30 minutes so that the pasta can absorb some of the sauce. You can press down the layers again about halfway through.

Get a piece of foil that’s big enough to cover the pan. Spray one side of the foil and carefully put the foil over the pan, oiled side down, holding the foil taut so that it doesn’t fall onto the lasagna. Bake, covered for 30 minutes at 350 F.

½ C grated parmesan
Uncover the lasagna and sprinkle the parmesan on top. Bake for another half hour at 350 F, until the top is golden and bubbly. Let the cooked lasagna rest on a rack for at least 20 minutes before cutting.

Serves 9-12.

This lasagna is lovely with a dry Riesling, Pinot Gris, or Chardonnay.

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