Squashing the Standard

“Lasagna (\lə-ˈzän-yə\): a baked dish consisting of layers of thin pasta, cheese, tomato sauce, and usually meat.” …Oh, really? I beg to differ.

Gone are the days of lasagna being categorized as strictly a cheesy, greasy, oozy pile of noodles, stringy cheese, boring tomato sauce and bland ground beef. Today, lasagna is a proverbial blank slate for combining complimentary ingredients with long, flat pasta and cheese to form a delicious casserole dish. From Mexican lasagna with pinto beans, spicy jalapeños and queso fresco to mushroom lasagna with meaty Portobellos, smoked Gouda and fresh basil pesto, lasagna provides a number of ways to combine your favorite ingredients.

At last week’s farmers market, I was sure to grab a few acorn squash and butternut squash from David of Dickey Farms. I was in no hurry to use them, because squash store very well in cool, dark environments – up to a month, to be more precise. I’d been eyeing a box of lasagna noodles sitting in my cupboard and a head of garlic in the storage bin – and on Sunday afternoon, the wheels began to turn. Because of the day’s dreary weather (what is with this season, anyway?!), I decided comfort food was a must on the dinner menu – squash lasagna with three cheeses. I pulled my squash out of the storage bin and got to work…

I started by halving, seeding and peeling the squash. This takes some patience and a bit of elbow grease, as the skins on the squash are tough and contrary. I cubed the squash into one inch pieces, and tossed them with some olive oil and salt and pepper. I also tossed in ten whole, unpeeled garlic cloves to roast alongside the squash. Once the squash and garlic were in the oven, I boiled the lasagna noodles in salted water, drained them and put them aside for later. After about 40 minutes, the squash were tender and lightly browned, and the garlic cloves were perfectly roasted. I peeled the garlic and mashed it with the squash, adding two tablespoons of butter, a few shavings of fresh ground nutmeg and some dried rubbed sage. Setting the squash filling aside, I got to work on the cheeses.

I combined a tub of whole milk ricotta with some grated parmesan, and added a few pinches of kosher salt and ground pepper to the mixture. (Food Snob Rant: For the love of all that is holy, please, please, please do not use that weird powdered parmesan-in-a-can. Invest a few extra bucks in a wedge of the real deal – yes, from Italy, not Wisconsin – and you will wonder how you ever shook that powdered stuff on top of your spaghetti, I promise.) I then grated some mozzarella to add to the layers. Once the cheeses were ready, it was time to assemble the dish.

Working layer by layer, I started with the noodles, laying them in a row in the bottom of a casserole dish, then spreading the squash mixture over them, then the ricotta-parmesan mixture, then the grated mozzarella. After three layers, the lasagna was ready to go into the oven. An hour later, we sat down to a delicious, warming and satisfying meal. The squash were buttery and garlicky, and the combination of the cheeses was decadent and filling. With a side salad and some crusty bread, this meal was the ultimate in comfort food. Enjoy!

Squash Lasagna with Three Cheeses

4 cups acorn squash and butternut squash, cubed
10 garlic cloves, whole and unpeeled
1/2 tsp. dried rubbed sage
1/4 tsp. grated nutmeg (fresh, if available)
2 Tbs. butter
1 tub (15 oz.) whole milk ricotta
1 cup grated parmesan
2 cups grated mozzarella
1 box of lasagna noodles
Olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Boil lasagna noodles according to package directions and drain; set aside. Toss cubed squash and garlic cloves in olive oil, salt and pepper and roast for approximately 40 minutes, or until softened and lightly browned.

Meanwhile, mix ricotta and parmesan with salt and pepper to taste. When squash and garlic are done, peel the garlic cloves and mash them with the squash, butter, nutmeg and sage.

Lightly oil a medium sized casserole dish. Starting with the lasagna noodles, layer the noodles, squash mixture, ricotta-parmesan mixture and grated mozzarella in the casserole dish. Sprinkle top layer with remaining grated mozzarella.

Cover the dish with foil and place on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake at 400 degrees for 45 minutes, remove the foil, and bake for 25 minutes more.

If for some reason the slideshow doesn’t load, visit the entire set at Flickr.