I am not a fan of the concept of the celebrity chef…especially ones who have shows on the Food Network. I’ve already shared my venom for Bobby Flay and Emeril LaGasse on this blog, so now let’s all turn our attention to Michael Chiarello. I didn’t like him very much when he had his show Easy Entertaining on Food Network. He came across like a used car salesman: overly cheerful and fake. The few times I watched his show, I always felt like he was trying to sell me a Yugo (or worse yet, a Gremlin…the car, not the creature). And watching his ego and attitude on Top Chef: Masters solidly placed him on my list of chefs I’d like to punch in the face. If your attitude can actually make me root for Spike, something is definitely wrong. With all that in mind, I was surprised to come across a recipe credited to him that I actually wanted to make. But my love of food overrode my urge to whack him one and I decided to whip up his Lasagna of Roasted Butternut Squash.
And I hate to admit it, this was one of the best vegetarian lasagnas I’d ever had. Heck, it was one of the best lasagnas period. The slightly sweet flavor of the butternut squash complimented the sharp and pungent taste of sage. I used fresh pasta sheets from Severino Pasta, a new found gem discovered by The Boy at the Annapolis Whole Foods (sorry, they don’t have a shop within any of the DC area Whole Foods). We picked up the squash, eggs, ricotta and sage at the Bloomingdale Farmers Market and I used some garlic I had picked up earlier in the season at the Penn Quarter Farmers Market. In essence, this dish was a celebration of Fall at the DC farmers market. And I could get with that…even if I had to go through Michael Chiarello to get there.
Recipe: Roasted Butternut Squash Lasagna
- For the Squash Filling:
- 2 large butternut squash, about 3 to 5 pounds
- 3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tbsp finely chopped fresh sage
- 2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
- 15 oz ricotta cheese
- 1 cup grated Parmesan
- 2 large eggs
- For the Bechamel Sauce:
- 2 quarts whole milk
- 6 tbsp unsalted butter
- 1 tbsp sage, minced
- 2 tsp garlic, minced
- 1/2 cup flour
- 2 tsp salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
- To Assemble Lasagna:
- 1 lb fresh pasta sheets (or no boil lasagna noodles)
- 1 pound fresh mozzarella, sliced into cubes
- 1 cup grated Parmesan
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Using a vegetable peeler, remove the tough skin of the butternut squashes. Cut off the top and bottom ends of each squash and then cut them lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds and then lay them flat on a cutting board. Cut up the squash into 1/2 inch chunks.
- Put the chunks into a mixing bowl and add the olive oil, sage, half the salt, nutmeg and ground pepper. Toss to evenly coat the squash chunks. Line two baking sheets with foil and then place the squash in single layers on each sheet. Roast for about 45 to 50 minutes, or until the squash is very soft and starting to brown. Make sure to stir the squash once or twice while its roasting.
- Once finished roasting, remove the squash and allow to cool to room temperature. Turn the oven down to 375 degrees.
- Puree the squash in the food processor until smooth. Combine the squash with the ricotta, Parmesan cheese, eggs, the remaining salt, and the pepper. You may need to use a whisk to get all the ricotta incorporated into the rest of the mixture. Cover and refrigerate the mixture until ready to assemble the lasagna.
- To prepare the bechamel sauce, bring the milk to a slow simmer in a large saucepan over medium heat. In a large pot, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Add the sage and garlic to the butter, cook for 30 seconds, then whisk in the flour. Add about 3 cups of the milk, and whisk vigorously to prevent lumps. Bring to a boil, while whisking continuously. Add the remaining milk and whisk again. Add the salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Adjust the heat to low to maintain a slow simmer, and cook until the sauce coats the back of a spoon, about 5 minutes, whisking frequently. Remove the saucepan from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature.
- To assemble the lasagna: Butter a 9 by 13-inch baking dish. Pour one ladle full of the bechamel into the dish and spread to coat the bottom. Place a single layer of the pasta sheets on top of the sauce. Spread some of the squash mixture evenly over the pasta sheets and place 1/3 of the mozzarella chunks on top. Add 1 tablespoon of grated Parmesan over the mozzarella. Evenly pour 2 or 3 ladles full of the sauce over the mozzarella/Parmesan layer. Repeat the above steps until all ingredients are used (using the 2-3 ladles of sauce between each layer). Keep building the layers until the pan is full to about 1/4-inch from the top. Finish with the squash puree and mozzarella/Parmesan cheese on top of it.
- Cover with foil and bake in the middle of the oven for about 45 minutes. Remove the cover and continue to bake for another 15 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and bubbling. Allow lasagna to rest before slicing. Serve warm.
Number of servings (yield): 8
Meal type: dinner