Saturday, December 6, 2008

The Ecstasy of St. Michael Chiarello

I know what you're thinking:

Why is she opening this blog posting with a photo of Bernini's "Ecstasy of St. Teresa"? Well, friends, because I found some lost images of a Butternut Squash lasagna on my camera this morning, and the memory of biting into the savory, melty, noodly deliciousness immediately conjured up this mental image.

Art historians claim St. Teresa was in the throes of an intimate encounter with the Holy Spirit, but I think she may have just snuck a bite of my Butternut Squash Lasagna...

My recipe was inspired by a recipe I found while browsing through one of Michael Chiarello's cookbooks. I did my best to commit the main ingredients to memory so I could create something similar at home.


For the squash filling:

1 large butternut squash
1-2 cups milk
some butter
olive oil
parmesan cheese
salt and pepper
cayenne pepper

For the bechamel sauce:

3-4 cups milk


1 package dry lasagna noodles
sliced fresh mozzarella

When I made this, I did it over the course of two days, not to complicate my life, but to simplify it.

I always tell everyone that lasagna isn't hard to make, it's just time consuming. So to avoid having dinner at 10 PM, I broke this process up into two nights, which I'd recommend unless you have a few hours in the kitchen to work before dinnertime.


Halve the squash lengthwise and remove the seeds. Place it on a baking pan and rub with a little olive oil and salt and pepper. Roast for about an hour and 15 minutes at 400 degrees, until the squash flesh is soft enough to be mashed with a fork. Let cool enough to handle easily.


Spoon out the flesh of the squash into a large mixing bowl. Add some milk (start with about a cup), throw in some salt and pepper, parmesan (about a cup), and a little nutmeg and cayenne pepper (a couple pinches of each). Add milk as needed until the consistency of the mixture is spreadable.

***This is where I took my 24 hour hiatus. At this point, either just continue making the rest, or cover and refrigerate the squash mixture.***


Boil salted water with a little olive oil in it and cook lasagna noodles until they're al dente. Drain them and pour cold water (maybe add some ice cubes) over the top so they're cool enough to handle.


Make the bechamel sauce by melting about a 1/3 stick of butter in a saucepan and whisking in about 3/4 c. of flour to make a roux. Cook that for about a minute, then whisk in about 3 cups of milk and some salt and pepper to taste and cook for about 5-6 minutes, whisking constantly, until it's thickened (coats the back of a spoon). Remove from heat or keep on a very low warming temp.


Rub a little olive oil in the bottom of a casserole dish (to prevent sticking). Drain each noodle as much as possible before putting it in the bottom of the dish, and create a layer of noodles three noodles across in the bottom of the dish.


Spread a layer of the squash mixture over the noodles (this is sort of difficult, as the noodles want to slide around and the mixture wants to glop up in clumps, but just use your hands and be patient until you get a semi-even layer over the noodles. It doesn't have to perfect.


Sprinkle about a handful of grated parmesan over the squash layer, then pour on about 1/3 of the bechamel sauce. Repeat the noodles, squash, parmesan, and bechamel layering two more times.


Put the final three noodles on top. Slice the ball of fresh mozzarella into 1/2 inch slices and layer on top of the noodles. Sprinkle with another handful of parmesan.


Bake at 375 for about 35-40 minutes, until the edges are bubbly and the cheese on top is melted and beginning to brown, like cheese on a pizza.

STEP 10:

I always try to let my lasagnas "rest" before I serve them. Otherwise, the layers won't meld properly, and each piece will just be a floppy, metly pile of gooey cheese and noodles - which is fine if you don't care how it looks, but I prefer to have it in pieces that are somewhat recognizable as squares. If you want, top the whole thing with a little fresh chopped sage, basil, or parsley.

Here's a photo of the finished thing (not mine, but a pic from the interwebs):

The great thing about this is that it makes a lot, and the leftovers just keep getting better and better the longer they sit.

Since I didn't do this meal with my judging format in mind, I don't have any pithy criticisms to share, but I can tell you that, in retrospect, there are things I would add for the next time I make this dish (and I can't WAIT to make it again): I would add fresh chopped sage to the squash mixture, and probably some element of crunch, such as toasted pine nuts. The dish was good, but there's just really nothing about it to bite into - octogenarians with denture issues would be just fine having this for dinner. If I were to make it a meat dish, I would use a little crumbled spicy Italian sausage in one of the layers.

I suggest serving this with a crisp green salad and an acidic vinaigrette to cut the richness of it, and it's great with a really dry white wine.

Thanks for reading!

Keep an eye out soon for Holiday Party Dips!

1 comment:

Kevin said...

This butternut squash lasagna sounds good!

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