We are having unusually warm weather for November, not that I’m complaining. The warmth combined with colorful leaves makes me want lighter, summery food but with an abundance of winter squash in my kitchen, I gave a makeover to a classically decadent food that’s not so easy on the calories or figure. Really, who doesn’t love lasagna, right? I mean, just look at it!
The layers and layers of noodles, hot, gooey cheese, homemade chicken sausage (I promise, recipe to come!), fresh spinach (thank you, indian summer) mixed with sweet ricotta cheese, and creamy butternut squash folded into a bubbly béchamel sauce are baked to perfection. And vegetarians and meatless monday lovers take note, this recipe can easily be made meatless. Simply leave out the chicken sausage and you’re good to go.
Roasting fresh butternut squash gives the squash the consistency that gives the sauce body and texture. Don’t puree the roasted squash either–you want that texture. Just mash lightly with a fork and break it up a little bit more when you fold it into the béchamel.
The key to keeping the lasagna from becoming a soupy mess is in the sauce. The béchamel needs to be velvety and smooth, so it can handle the texture of the squash. Whisking the roux continuously guarantees buff arms and an amazing white sauce.
I like to,both alternate the direction of my noodles in each layer and overlap them so it holds together when you cut out pieces. So, if I lay the noodles lengthwise with the first layer, I lay them down widthwise the next and so forth, putting each noodle slightly over the preceding one. After a lot of failures, I have learned to undercook the noodles (and always salt the water well!) so they absorb the liquid from the sauce in the oven- cook them until they’re pliable, about 5-7 minutes. Trust me, you will not eat mushy noodles and sauce if you do it my way.
- 1 lb mild or spicy italian chicken sausage, casing removed
- 2 tbsp olive or vegetable oil
- 12 lasagna noodles, cooked al dente
- 3 cups shredded part-skim mozzarella
- for the sauce:
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- 5 tbsp all-purpose flour
- 2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp black pepper
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 2 cups roasted butternut squash (instructions below)
- 2 cups reduced fat milk
- 2 cups water
- for the spinach and ricotta mixture:
- 2 cups packed spinach, chopped
- 2 cups part-skim ricotta cheese
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- ¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ tsp black pepper
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
- Heat the oil in a saucepan on medium high heat. Add sausage and lightly mash the meat while browning to break it up, about 5-6 minutes. Remove from pan once lightly golden brown and set aside.
- To make the sauce: Heat 4 tbsp olive oil and add a pinch of the flour to test the temperature. If the flour starts sizzling add the remaining flour in, while whisking rigorously, so no lumps form. Use the whisk to scrape off the sausage bits. Cook for 1 minute. Slow add milk while continuing to whisk, preventing lump from forming. Whisk in water, 1 cup at a time. Continue whisking until the sauce starts to boil, about 2-3 minutes. Add salt and pepper. Reduce heat and simmer to thicken sauce, about 3 minutes. The sauce will slowly bubble. Remove from heat and gently whisk in the cooked butternut squash, until fully incorporated.
- To make the spinach and cheese mixture In a large bowl, lightly beat egg with a wire whisk. Add ricotta and salt and beat until incorporated. Stir in parmesan cheese and spinach. Set aside.
- Lightly grease a 9X13, oven-safe pan. Spread 1 cup of sauce at the bottom on the pan. Layer 4 lasagna noodles, slightly overlapping so all the noodles fit, lengthwise. Spread ⅓ of the spinach and ricotta cheese mixture onto the noodles. Add ⅓ of the cooked sausage. Sprinkle with 1 cup mozzerella cheese. Top with 1 cup sauce.
- Repeat layer, this time, layering the noodles widthwise, overlapping. Continue for 2 more layers.
- For the final layer, line with remaining noodles, add remaining sauce and top with remaining mozzarella cheese.
- Cover pan with aluminum foil and bake on the middle rack in the oven for 30-35 minutes.
- Remove foil and continue baking for 5-10 minutes.
- Move the pan to the top rack and turn oven to full broil. Carefully watch as the cheese browns on top, 3-4 minutes.
- Remove from oven and let stand 5-10 minutes before serving.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Cut the butternut squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds and remove 'guts' with an ice cream scoop. Coat the squash with cooking spray and lay on a cookie sheet, faced down. Spray with cooking spray over the skin as well.
Cook for 35-40 minutes, until tender and the flesh is easily pierced with a fork. Let cool.
When cool enough to handle, scoop out the flesh from the skin and discard skin. Lightly mash and break up with a fork.