Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Winter Lasagne...with Spinach, Butternut Squash & Mushrooms

Last July I published a recipe for Summer Lasagne.  "Summer" because the main ingredient was corn—made into a pesto and also folded into some beautiful market chard.  This unusual and tasty lasagne was the serendipitous result of the intersection of an impulse purchase at the grocery store (no-boil noodles) and the bountiful produce of the summer market. 

I haven't been to the farmers' market in a while (for a lot of reasons...but the main one is that the winter market is new and I'm not in the habit of it yet), but the unforeseen contents of my pantry—an extra pound of baby spinach (!), a chunk of winter squash...and an unusual and continuous supply of ricotta (I'm not sure why I keep buying it other than I love it and it is so versatile)—once again provided the inspiration for lasagne. This time I purchased the no-boil lasagne noodles...along with some mushrooms and Fontina cheese...with the definite purpose in mind of a Winter Lasagne—with spinach, butternut squash and mushrooms.  

Although it is not always the case, some of the most delicious meals are the ones I make without a specific "recipe" or a real plan....  the ones where I just walk into the kitchen with an idea and start cooking.  Such was the case with this lasagne.  I had a general idea in mind, but hadn't bothered to plan too much. When you consider that making lasagne is always a project, this probably wasn't the wisest course to take....but in retrospect, I'm glad I did it that way.

I am almost never in my kitchen anymore without a camera.  This makes it so I can write a post if I particularly like something I have made.  Or, it gives me a way of revisiting something I have made if I have forgotten details.  On this particular occasion, about the time I started to build my lasagne, I quit taking pictures.  I was tired.  It was getting dark(er).  And most significantly, I was not happy with the way my lasagne was going together:  the ricotta/spinach mixture seemed a bit stiff....   I felt like I had underestimated the amount of each of the components (especially the béchamel)....  In any case, I was pretty sure I would be going completely back to the drawing board if I ever wanted to make this particular lasagne again. 

Then, a couple of things happened.  First, I got a break from it.  A lasagne takes 40 minutes to an hour to bake and as I cleaned and righted the kitchen, I began to think less about the work and more about dinner.  Then, I cut into it...and it sliced beautifully and evenly.  Then....  I tasted it.  I was astonished by how delicious and flavorful it was.  I even commented about it out loud as I simultaneously felt a bit disgruntled that I had stopped taking pictures.  The next day at lunch, it tasted even better.   Of course, I had to make another...

The second time around was a much better experience.  I knew what to expect, so it went together much more easily.  I'm happy to share that if you organize the succession of your vegetable, cheese and sauce preparation in a thoughtful way, you will probably be sitting down to dinner within two hours of the time you start cooking.  (And since you will be able to use part of that time—while the lasagne bakes—to clean up, it really doesn't seem like an unreasonable amount of time for a lasagne.)

To make your lasagne preparation experience as stream-lined as possible, start by cutting and roasting your squash.  While the squash roasts, collapse/cook the spinach and spread it out too cool.  Slice the mushrooms and dice the shallots and sauté while the spinach cools.  Squeeze out the spinach and mince.  At this point your vegetables should be done.  You can start grating the cheeses while all of this is happening...or wait until the vegetables are all done and then move on to the cheeses.  (Since you will have your microplane grater/zester out to grate the Parmesan, use it to grate the clove of garlic directly into the bowl of ricotta too.)  Finally, since this lasagne uses no-boil noodles (really, a much better product than traditional dried lasagna), all that is left is to make the béchamel and build the lasagne.

Like the summer lasagne, this one is pretty rich and will serve four to six.  I'm certain it could be doubled to serve more.  If you want to make sure that you can serve six with just one, you can make a tossed salad—or a simple blanched green vegetable (like green beans or broccoli)—to serve with it.  I was perfectly content with just the lasagne—not only is it filling, but the flavor is very satisfying.  I found that I preferred to enjoy some fruit afterwards (the Mandarins have been incredible this year).  

And if fruit isn't your favorite thing...or you would really prefer something a bit more decadent—then a little something chocolate would I think provide just the right note to round out your meal. 

Spinach Lasagne with Butternut Squash & Mushrooms

1 to 1 1/4 lb. Butternut squash, peeled, halved lengthwise, seeded and cut cross-wise into 1/4-inch thick slabs
2 T. olive oil, divided
Salt & freshly ground pepper, to taste
3 1/2 T. butter, divided
8 oz. crimini or white mushrooms, sliced 1/4-inch thick
1 medium shallot (about 1 1/2 oz.), peeled and minced
1/4 c. dry white wine
1 lb. baby spinach, washed
1 c. (240 g) whole milk ricotta
1 oz. (1/3 c) finely grated Parmesan
1 clove garlic, finely grated with a microplaner or smashed to a purée with a pinch of salt
Pinch nutmeg 
1 1/3 c. whole milk
2 T. flour 
6 oz. Fontina or Fontal, coarsely grated
8 "no-boil" lasagna (half of an 8 oz. box)

In a large bowl, toss the squash with a tablespoon or so of olive oil (enough to lightly coat all the squash) and season with salt and pepper.  Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet

and roast in a 450° oven until tender and caramelized—about 25 to 30 minutes.  (Flip the squash over about 2/3 of the way through for more even browning.)  Set aside when done.

While the squash roasts, place the spinach in a large stock pot with just the water clinging to the leaves from washing (or—if you have purchased a container of triple washed, add about a quarter inch of water to the pan before adding the spinach). Cover the pot and set over high heat.  When you hear the water begin to boil and steam, uncover and turn the spinach over and over in the pot (using tongs) until it has all collapsed.  This whole process should only take a minute or two.  Dump the contents of the pot into a strainer of colander to get rid of most of the water.  Spread the spinach on a sheet pan and let cool.  When cool, squeeze out the excess water a handful at a time. 

Chop the spinach medium fine.  

You should have 1 1/4 to 1 1/3 cups loosely packed chopped spinach.  Set aside.

While the squash roasts and the spinach cools, melt a tablespoon of butter with a tablespoon of olive oil in a wide sauté pan set over moderately high to high heat.  When the butter stops sputtering and the foam subsides a bit, add the mushrooms.  Sauté the mushrooms (tossing or stirring occasionally) until tender and golden and any liquid released has evaporated. (Season the mushrooms with salt when they have begun to take on some color.)  Reduce the heat under the mushrooms to medium/medium-low.  Push the mushrooms out towards the perimeter of the pan and add another tablespoon of butter to the center of the pan.  When the butter has melted, add the shallots and a pinch of salt and cook until tender and fragrant...this will just take a few minutes.  Add the wine to the pan, increase the heat slightly.  Allow the wine to reduce completely to a buttery glaze, scraping the bottom of the pan occasionally get all of the caramelized mushroom juices.  Taste and correct the seasoning.  Set aside.

Place the ricotta, parmesan, garlic, spinach and a pinch of nutmeg in a medium-sized bowl.  Mix until well combined, seasoning to taste with salt and pepper.

Prepare the béchamel: In a small saucepan, bring the milk to a simmer; keep hot.  (Alternatively, heat the milk in a microwave proof container of some kind.)  In another medium saucepan, melt 1 1/2 T. of butter over medium heat.  When the foam subsides, whisk in the flour.  Cook stirring constantly for a minute or so—the roux will be bubbly and straw yellow.  Remove from the heat and pour in half of the hot milk, whisking constantly until smooth—it will thicken immediately.  Add the remaining milk.  Return to the heat and stir constantly until the sauce returns to a simmer.  Taste and season as desired with salt and pepper.

When you are ready to build the lasagne, oil a square 2-quart baking dish (an 8 1/2- by 8 1/2-inch Pyrex is perfect) and bring a shallow pan of water just to the boil and remove from the heat.  Arrange these two items...along with all the other components—on your workspace so that you have easy access to everything.   

Add two of the noodles to the pan of hot water.  Spread a couple of tablespoons of béchamel in the bottom of the oiled dish.  Lift the noodles out of the pan. (They should not be soft or flexible at this point...you're just giving them a head start by soaking them briefly—less than a minute.)  Let the excess water drip back in to the pan and arrange them in a single layer in the prepared baking dish.  Add a couple more noodles to the pan of hot water (to soak while you build the first layer).  Scatter a third of the mushrooms and a third of the squash over the noodles.  

Daub a third of the ricotta mixture over the vegetables, spreading it out a bit using two forks.  

Drizzle a fourth of the remaining béchamel (about 1/3 cup) over the ricotta-spinach mixture (spreading if a big glob goes all in one place).  Scatter a quarter of the Fontina (1 1/2 oz.) over all.  Beginning with the noodles, repeat this layering two more times.  

Finish with two more (soaked) noodles, the remainder of the béchamel (spreading evenly) and a scattering of the remaining Fontina (1 1/2 oz.).

Cover the pan with a piece of aluminum foil that has been brushed on the underside with olive oil (or sprayed with pan spray), tenting the foil slightly if possible so that it isn't touching the top of the lasagne.  Bake in a 350° oven until the cheese on top has just melted—about 25 to 30 minutes.  Uncover and continue to bake until the lasagne is bubbling around the edges and the top is beginning to brown around the edges...another 10 to 15 minutes.  Let the lasagne rest for 5 to 10 minutes.  Cut with a sharp knife and serve.  Serves 4 to 6.

  • The amounts of mushrooms and squash will seem very skimpy as you are building the lasagne. This is as it should be. 
  • The ricotta-spinach mixture may seem very stiff (depending on the moisture in your ricotta). Don't worry if it won't spread into an even layer—it is in fact very likely that it will not. Just daub it evenly over the vegetables and flatten it a bit with a fork. It will spread out—or at least give the impression of having spread out—as it bakes. 
  • I have never made this with frozen spinach, but I imagine that frozen chopped spinach—thawed and squeezed dry and measured to make 1 to 1 1/3 cup would be fine. 
  • Substitute Low-moisture Mozzarella for the Fontina/Fontal if you like. 
  • This makes a tall lasagne...so if you double the lasagne, it would be best to go with a 15- by 11-inch pan rather than a 13- by 9-inch.


Sarah Currie, BC said...

Oh, this was most excellent. We prepared this for dinner tonight. Delicious tastes. Your directions are very easy to follow. Marvelous results. Will have an orange a little bit later. I am very full. Thank you for each post and for the inspiration/knowledge you give to home cooks.

Paige said...

You're welcome and.... Thank You! I'm so happy you enjoyed the lasagne...and so pleased that you took a minute to let me know.

Eric S said...

This recipe is pretty involved, and I added making my own pasta to the mix. This was the first time I made a béchamel, so that was fun. Overall it turned out amazing, and I'd make it again with some help, and probably double it. Love your blog! Thanks!

(a picture of my finished product)

Paige said...

Hi Eric, Your lasagne looks great! (Thanks for providing the link to a picture.) Yes...it is involved... I am super impressed that you made your own pasta! That's going above and beyond!

I'm so glad you enjoy my blog. I would love to hear about other things when you make them. Thanks for taking the time to let me know how your lasagne turned out.

curious said...

Hi Paige. I’m considering making this for a crowd. How far ahead can I build it? And how long should I expect to cook it if it comes out of the refrigerator? Thank you as always! Tracy

Paige said...

Hi Tracy,

I think you could build it a day ahead. Try and pull the lasagne out of the fridge a little ahead...at least while the oven is heating...and maybe up to an hour before baking. I would guess you would need to increase the amount of time the lasagne is covered by half...so maybe 45 minutes? Then uncover and cook the remaining 10 to 15.

Make sure you bake in a wider...not deeper...pan. If it's deeper, it will take even longer to get it hot through.

I hope this helps!