Butternut Squash and Hazelnut Lasagna

The epicurious website has a listing of their favorite lasagnas. We’ve already been through the Turkey Sausage Spinach Lasagna with Spicy Tomato Sauce, and have declared it amazing. But what about a vegetarian option? I am a huge fan of butternut squash and pasta, especially after having it served to me in a homemade ravioli version. So when I saw the listing for the “Butternut Squash and Hazelnut Lasagna“, I had to try it.

butternut-squash-and-hazelnut-lasagna.jpg

The recipe is fairly straightforward, but there are some things that get a little confusing while making it. Also, keep in mind this is a good lasagna so it will take a little bit of time to put together.

For squash filling
1 large onion, chopped
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 lb butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
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 (4 oz), toasted, loose skins rubbed off with a kitchen towel, and coarsely chopped

For sauce
1 teaspoon minced garlic
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
5 cups milk
1 bay leaf (not California)
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon white pepper

For assembling lasagne
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 )

I was surprised at the comments section where so many people complained that they enjoy spending time in the kitchen but this recipe was too much. It didn’t feel that way to me at all. Looking back, I think I spent maybe 45 minutes? Maybe 60? I really don’t know – there was a lot to do, but not to the point of being overwhelming. Everything that I had going on was a really fun process so I lost track of the time. Whatever it was, I am sure it wasn’t the 90 minutes that’s estimated on the epicurious website.

What people complained about taking the most time was the squash. Step one: Peel, seed, and cut your squash into 1/2-inch squares. I pulled a Rachel Ray and bought some pre-peeled, cleaned and cut squash at the store, and it saved me all the time and mess that commenters were complaining about. If you can go with this option, totally do it. The pre-packaged stuff is still too big, so take a few minutes and cut them down to 1/2-inch pieces.

A note about the toasted hazelnuts. I went to the store and found blanched hazelnuts in the bulk food section. When I got them home, I put a layer of foil on my toaster tray, and toasted them for a few minutes on 250-degrees F. After that, I was able to take a damp paper towel and easily get the rest of the skins off. To chop them, I gave them a few rounds in my food processor. Half of the mixture did get ground up finely, but that was fine for me because I think the crunchiness of the nuts threw me off. The taste in the dish was still there, and next time I will probably make the nuts a little finer. If you like the crunch of the nuts, then be careful.

Make filling:
Cook onion in butter in a deep 12-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 10 minutes. Add squash, garlic, salt, and white pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until squash is just tender, about 15 minutes. Don’t cook this thinking your squash will become mush. It will still be a little hard on the inside – remember, this is going to be baking in a cream sauce for about 45 minutes, and will get soft during the baking process, so don’t
cook the crap out of it on the stove. Remove from heat and stir in parsley, sage, and nuts. Cool filling.

Make sauce while squash cooks:
Cook garlic in butter in a 3-quart heavy saucepan over moderately low heat, stirring, 1 minute. Whisk in flour and cook roux, whisking, 3 minutes. Add milk in a stream, whisking. Add bay leaf and bring to a boil, whisking constantly, then reduce heat and simmer, whisking occasionally, 10 minutes. Whisk in salt and white pepper and remove from heat. Discard bay leaf. (Cover surface of sauce with wax paper if not using immediately.)

This step confused me, because for some reason I thought this was going to get really really thick. Mine didn’t, and that could be because I made a goof. After I made the roux, I didn’t let it cook for 3 minutes. Instead, I combined the roux, then started pouring my milk in right away. I turned the burner back up to medium and whisked constantly, but the sauce never thickened the way I thought it would. Taste and consistency-wise, after the dish came out of the oven, the sauce didn’t affect anything as the lasagna came out fine.

Assemble lasagne:
Preheat oven to 425°F.

Toss cheeses together. Spread 1/2 cup sauce in a buttered 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish (or other shallow 3-quart baking dish) and cover with 3 pasta sheets, leaving spaces between sheets. Spread with 2/3 cup sauce and one third of filling, then sprinkle with a heaping 1/2 cup cheese. Repeat layering 2 more times, beginning with pasta sheets and ending with cheese. Top with remaining 3 pasta sheets, remaining sauce, and remaining cheese.

Tightly cover baking dish with buttered foil and bake lasagne in middle of oven 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake until golden and bubbling, 10 to 15 minutes more. Let lasagne stand 15 to 20 minutes before serving.

After I removed the foil, I was a little worried because there was still a ton of liquid in the lasagna, but it ended up all right. After cooking it with the foil off, the consistency of the dish was what it needed to be. I served this with some bread and butter. Our site admin thought this was better than regular lasagna, and he hates everything.

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