25 November 2011

How Giada saved my Thanksgiving lasagna

OK. So Giada de Laurentiis didn’t knock on my door and offer to help with the lasagna I was making for Thanksgiving. (I wish.) But I did pick up on a Twitter feed that indicated that she was making a butternut squash recipe on the Today Show. I watched it online and got an idea that made a big improvement in my recipe.

Here’s the back story.

This past summer, we redecorated our dining room. During a summer family event, I offered to have Thanksgiving at our house so that people could see the end result. We ended up having 27 people – 4 who came just for appetizers, 2 babies born in September, 2 toddlers in high chairs, and 19 people around the tables. That’s the biggest dinner party we’ve ever hosted at our house.

Among the guests were my son-in-law’s parents. They have a family tradition of having a lasagna on the menu for Thanksgiving. My son-in-law (kitchen manager and sous chef at Pairings) and I planned the menu, and we decided to include a lasagna. (Here’s a photo of us with the whole buffet.)IMG_5045

About two years ago, I posted a recipe for a lasagna made with roasted squash and other harvest vegetables. My comment was that the flavors were good, but it was a little dry. I had some butternut squash in my pantry (from my parents’ garden), so I decided to reprise the lasagna. But I wondered what to do about the dryness.

That’s when I picked up on the Twitter feed and checked Giada’s butternut squash lasagna recipe (also available on her web site). She included a béchamel sauce, and I realized that would add the moisture my recipe was missing. Besides that, I loved the technique of blending in some basil to give the béchamel a distinctive flavor. (I’ll be using that technique again in the future.)

Here’s the revised recipe with Giada’s béchamel included.

1 large (or 2 medium) onions, cut into 1-inch chunks
½ pound whole mushrooms, cut in half (small mushrooms) or quarters (large mushrooms)
2 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded, cut into 1-inch cubes slices (about 5½ cups)
olive oil
4 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary (or thyme), divided
4 tablespoons sliced fresh sage, divided
2 15-ounce containers whole-milk ricotta cheese
2 cups grated mozzarella cheese, divided
2 cups grated provolone cheese, divided
2 cups grated Parmesan cheese, divided
3 large eggs
2 roasted red peppers cut into strips (optional)
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup flour
3½ cups whole milk
3/4 cup basil
½ pound dried lasagna noodles

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl, toss squash cubes, onions, and mushrooms with olive oil to coat. Spread vegetables onto a rimmed cookie sheet. Sprinkle with half of the herbs and season with salt and pepper. Roast vegetables in oven for about 30 minutes, or until squash is tender and beginning to brown. Remove from oven and reduce temperature to 350 degrees.

Mix ricotta, 1 cup mozzarella cheese, 1 cup provolone, and 1½ cups Parmesan cheese, and remaining herbs in large bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper; mix in eggs.

Melt the butter in a heavy medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk for 1 minute. Gradually whisk in the milk. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer until the sauce thickens slightly, whisking often, about 5 minutes. Whisk in the nutmeg. Cool slightly. Transfer half of the sauce to a blender. Add the basil and blend until smooth. Return the basil sauce to the sauce in the pan and stir to blend. Season the sauce with salt and pepper.

Brush 13x9x2-inch glass or ceramic lasagna pan with oil. Ladle about 3/4 c. of the béchamel over bottom of the pan. Arrange 3 noodles on top. Spread 1/3 of the ricotta mixture over noodles. Ladle another 3/4 c. béchamel over the ricotta. Arrange ½ of the roasted vegetables over. Sprinkle with ½ of remaining mozzarella and provolone. Top with 3 noodles, then 1/3 of the ricotta mixture, more béchamel, remaining roasted vegetables, and remaining mozzarella and provolone. Top with 3 noodles. Spread remaining ricotta mixture over and remaining sauce; sprinkle with remaining Parmesan. Cover with oiled foil.

Bake lasagna, covered, 35 minutes. Uncover; bake until heated through, about 25 minutes longer. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

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