Well, the deck I was tanning on just a mere four days ago now has a layer of ice and snow on it. Weather is a cruel mistress. The return of winter weather means I needed a hearty meal to warm me back up. One food I always associate with winter is lasagna. Probably just because my mom always makes lasagna for Christmas Eve dinner. My mom’s lasagna is more traditional: tomato sauce, ricotta, etc. And, while I do enjoy her lasagna, I’m not actually that crazy about tomato sauce (one reason being acidic foods give me indigestion…)
This version of lasagna replaces the tomato sauce with a butternut squash puree, and is quite a bit healthier than a normal lasagna, as it omits cream and ricotta, while adding the nutritional benefits of butternut squash and spinach, plus, whole wheat noodles! So I didn’t feel to bad about eating two servings of it at 4:00 in the afternoon yesterday. And while this is definitely not a single girl size dish, the beautiful thing about lasagna is that you can freeze it in individual servings, and then just pop one in the oven to reheat it. I love having leftovers in the freezer for those nights I just don’t want to get any dishes dirty.
I think the other thing that I really loved about this recipe was that it brought me back to a favorite dish I used to eat in Buenos Aires. I would walk around the block to a cafe near my apartment and get a tarta de calabaza for lunch. Pretty soon, the waitress knew me, and as soon as I sat down she would say “la tarta?” and I’d say “claro.” It was such a simple dish: a pie crust, filled with a butternut squash filling, and topped with plenty of cheese, but man, was it good. This lasagna hints at that combination of butternut squash and cheese. And of course, you know me, I added just a few handfuls of extra mozzarella on top…
You could also add meat to the dish, if you wanted. I just stuck with spinach, onions and mushrooms, because they are my favorites.
For some reason, I was also wondering how this would taste with corn in it…maybe I’ll try that this summer, or maybe I’m just a crazy person.
Healthy Butternut Squash Lasagna
serves 6 to 8
1 pound (about 16) whole wheat lasagna noodles
2 to 2 1/2 pound butternut squash (or 2 pounds chopped squash)
Salt and pepper to taste
4-5 ounces baby spinach
1 pound cremini mushrooms, washed and sliced
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
1/4 cup water or white wine
1 cup milk, plus additional if needed
1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 tbsp lemon zest
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves
1 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan and mozzarella cheese mix
Heat the oven to 375°F. Peel and seed the squash. Cut into 1-inch cubes and toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil and a generous amount of salt and pepper. Spread on a baking sheet and roast for 40 minutes or until extremely soft.
While squash roasts, bring a large pot of water to boil over high heat. Add the lasagna noodles and cook as directed on the package. When cooked, drain and lay out on clean kitchen towels to dry.
Heat a thin drizzle of oil oil in a large sauté pan. Turn the heat to medium-high, add onions and cook until tender, then add mushrooms and 1/4 cup water or white wine. When mushrooms and onions are tender, and most of the liquid absorbed, push the onions and mushrooms off to the sides of the pan, turn the heat down to medium, and add the garlic and spinach to the center of the pan. Cook until the spinach is wilted, just a few minutes. Turn off the heat and season the vegetables lightly with salt and pepper.
At this point the butternut squash should be out of the oven and cooled slightly. Scrape all the squash into a food processor or blender and add 1/2 cup milk, the nutmeg, lemon zest and thyme. Puree, adding the remaining milk as you go, until smooth and creamy, but not too thin. (Think thin fruit smoothie.) Add salt and pepper to taste.
Lightly grease a 9×13-inch baking dish with olive oil. To assemble the lasagna, spoon about 1/4 of the butternut sauce into the bottom of the prepared baking pan and spread to thinly coat the bottom. Place 1/4 of the noodles on top (four noodles) and then spread 1/3 of remaining sauce on noodles. Top with 1/2 of the cooked vegetables, and 1/2 cup of cheese. Add another layer of noodles, then sauce, then the rest of the vegetables, and 1/2 cup of cheese. Place the final layer of noodles over the vegetables and spread the last 1/3 of the sauce over top. Sprinkle evenly with the remaining 1/2 cup of cheese and a pinch of thyme leaves.
Cover the lasagna with foil and bake at 375°F for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and continue to bake for 10 to 15 minutes or until the top is golden and the cheese is gooey. Remove from the oven and let stand uncovered for 5 to 10 minutes before slicing.
For leftovers, wrap slices in tin foil, and place individual servings together in a large freezer bag. Then you can just pop it in the oven in the foil straight from the freezer, and you don’t get a single dish dirty!