butternut squash and basil bechamel lasagna
File this under “best lasagna you almost never tried because there’s no meat in it, no ricotta, no tomato sauce, and the main veggie featured is … squash?!?!?” It sounds crazy, I know.
And I’m sure the meat lover in your life will balk just as fervently as Jay did … and Adam … and Joe (okay, Joe kept the balking internal, but eventually admitted to it). Heaven forbid you ever make lasagna without sausage or ground beef! Have you forgotten the most basic tenets of lasagna-making?!? Surely you’ve gone a little too far down foodie alley; you’re trying too hard to come up with innovative, blog-worthy recipes; you’re completely off your rocker.
But then said meat lover will scoop up a slab of cheesy, squashy, creamy, basily baked noodles. And his carnivorous, quick-to-hate vegetarian food mouth will chew and gulp and chomp and swallow as he devours his portion … and the remaining slabs you originally intended to enjoy for lunch throughout the week. But damn, it feels good to be a lasagna-makin’ gangsta.
If you’ve been struggling to find a Thanksgiving vegetarian dish that has a main dish feel, you can rest assured that this butternut squash lasagna will satisfy vegetarians and carnivores alike. Unlike traditional tomato-based vegetarian lasagnas, whose robust marinara sauce camouflages the flavors of most vegetables, the butternut squash in this lasagna brings the squash flavor front and center and complements the sweetness of the squash with a creamy, fresh-tasting basil bechamel sauce. Also, whereas traditional vegetarian lasagnas tend to require more cheese to taste hearty, butternut squash is hearty and rich tasting by itself, and can warm you up and keep you full without massive amounts of cheese. (In fact, I’ve halved the mozzarella in the recipe below on several occasions, and even the fussy meat lovers didn’t miss it.)
This lasagna is also a great use for roasted butternut squash puree leftover from gnocchi or pizza, or vice versa. But I’d recommend doubling or tripling your original roasted squash recipe and freezing extra puree for this later bout with lasagna.
Butternut Squash and Basil Bechamel Lasagna (adapted from Giada De Laurentiis)
Serves 6 to 8
To make this dish vegan, I’ve subbed olive oil for butter, almond milk for milk, sauteed greens or mushrooms in lieu of mozzarella, and used a ground almonds and caramelized onions topping instead of parmesan. Still delicious! And if you need it gluten-free, just layer rice instead of noodles!
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 (1½ to 2-pound) butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch cubes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 c. water
1/4 c. butter
1/4 c. all-purpose flour
3 1/2 c. milk (I used 2%; Giada used whole milk)
1 tsp. nutmeg
3/4 c. fresh basil leaves, lightly packed
8 oz. (approximately 12) no-boil lasagna noodles
2 1/2 c. shredded whole-milk mozzarella cheese
1/3 c. grated Parmesan
Preheat oven to 400F. Toss cubed squash with oil, 1 1/2 tsp. salt and 1 tsp. black pepper, and pour onto baking sheet. Roast until squash is tender, approximately 25 minutes. Remove from oven, and pour 1/2 c. water into pan. Scrape bottom of pan to remove all roasted bits of squash.
Transfer squash to food processor, and blend until smooth, adding another 1/2 c. water to help the blending process. Season roasted butternut squash puree to taste with additional salt and pepper, and set aside.
In medium pan over medium heat, melt butter. Meanwhile, heat milk in microwave (about 1 minute) or saucepan until hot. Once butter has melted, add flour, and whisk for 1 minute. Gradually whisk in hot milk. Increase heat to medium-high, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium. Simmer, whisking often, until bechamel sauce thickens slightly, about 5 minutes. Whisk in nutmeg. Transfer half of the sauce to a food processor (if using blender, allow to cool before blending; if using immersion blender, blending can be done directly in the pan). Add basil, and blend until smooth. Return basil sauce to remaining bechamel sauce in pan, and stir to blend. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Preheat oven to 375F, and place rack in center of oven.
Lightly butter 13 x 9 x 2-inch baking dish. Spread 3/4 c. basil bechamel sauce over bottom of prepared baking dish. Arrange 3 lasagna noodles on top of sauce. Spread 1/4 of the squash puree over the noodles. Sprinkle with 1/2 c. mozzarella. Drizzle 1/2 c. basil bechamel over the mozzarella. Repeat layering 3 more times. (Do not add Parmesan yet!)
Cover baking dish tightly with foil. Bake for 40 minutes. Remove foil cover, and sprinkle remaining mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses over top of lasagna. Continue baking uncovered until sauce bubbles and cheesy top is golden, 15 minutes longer. If top hasn’t browned enough, turn oven to broil, and broil for about 2 minutes. Allow to cool for 15 minutes before serving.