Thursday, January 14, 2010

Butternut & Spinach Lasagna

So I had some leftover Ricotta cheese from a recipe I made for new years, and since I am being a better me and cooking - I decided that I needed to make something that used it before it went bad in the refrigerator. So I plugged the word ricotta into a couple of recipe websites to see if I could find something that looked good. There were recipes for ricotta bread, ricotta cookies, ricotta cakes, ricotta cheesecakes. Not that these sounded bad, but seeing that I am back on track at WW and I am one of those people with a massive sweet tooth, I decided something savory would be better. Finally found some inspiration though. Someon had posted a recipe for a pumpkin & spinach lasagna (posting that recipe just in case anyone wants to reference it).

My mouth started to water as I read through the ingredient list, but it stopped until 2/3rds the way through. All of a sudden a tomato meat sauce had invaded the imaginary lasagna I had started to assemble in my mind - and my mind wasn't sure if it was going to like it. Too many flavors. I still continued reading through, and sure enough the only review posted commented that when they had made it - the combination of flavors had confused their tastebuds and it wasn't a pleasant experience. That was enough to convince me that this wasn't exactly the recipe I wanted - but that I could build something from here. Since I made pumpkin soup the week, I decided that I would make a lasgna using butternut squash instead.

Emily's Butternut & Spinach Lasagna

This lasgna has 4 main parts: 1)Butternut Squash (or anykind of squash) mash 2)Spinach Ricotta Mixture 3)Bechamel Sauce and 4)Lasagna noodles. I'll go through the recipe by parts. Also - since I am cooking for one - I made half the amount of lasagna compared to most traditional recipes (I actually fit it into a bread pan). Works fantastic for me - but if you are making this for more than 2 people, I would probably suggest doubling the recipe.

Part 1- Butternut Squash mash
- 1 pound butternut squash
- 1 Tbsp. butter
- 1 tsp. cinnamon
- 1 tsp. nutmeg
- salt and pepper to taste (sea salt or kosher salt works)

Get 1 pound of butternut squash, either by buying a whole butternut squash (should actually weigh a little more than 1 pound) or by buying those precut chunks of butternut squash. You apparently can also buy mashed butternut squash in the freezer aisle - but I'm currently on a fresh ingredients kick. Heat oven to 400. If you have the whole squash, put a little olive oil on a paper towel and then rub it over the squash. Take a cooling rack (if you have one) and place it over a cake pan and put it in the oven. Place the squash on rack and then cook for about 1 hour - or until you can slice through the skin of the squash and the insides give no resistance to your knife. That means the squash has roasted and the insides are now mushy (in a good way considering you are mashing them anyways. [Since I bought the whole squash, I'm not sure how long you would need to roast butternut chunks. The recipe I based this on actually steamed their squashthem on top of the stove.] Remove squash from oven. Using a knife, split the butternut squash in half - becareful of steam. Scoop out the fleshy insides from the outside skin and put in a bowl - removing any seeds and strings when you find them. Using your favorite tool for mashing (food processor, potato masher, wooden spoon), start mashing the squash. Then add butter, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Mix together. Add some salt and pepper to season it. Everybody likes a different level of saltiness - so start with a tsp., then taste - and if you don't like it - put in a little more. Just remember though that you will also be seasoning the spinach and the bechamel sauce - so don't go hog wild - because then you will end up with a super salty loaf that not even the dog will eat (yes, this has happened to a meatloaf I made once in high school - consider lesson learned). Put squash mixture to the side.

Part 2 - Spinach & Ricotta mixture
- 1 bag (6 - 10 oz.) of spinach
- 1 medium onion sliced thin'
- 1 container (16 oz.) of Ricotta cheese (reduced fat or fat free works if you want it)
- 4 cloves garlic, minced (pre-minced garlic is awesome in my book)
- 1 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1 tsp ground sage
- 1 tsp. nutmeg
- 1 tsp. thyme
- salt and pepper to taste

Put your ricotta cheese in a bowl and mix in the sage and nutmeg. Put ricotta to the side. In a lare pan - heat the olive oil over medium heat. Then add in the onions and garlic. Cook the onions until soft - and mix in the thyme. Turn down the heat a bit and then pour in the bag of spinach. We want the spinach to wilt but the onions not to burn. Every 2-3 minutes check the pan and stir the spinach so that the spinach on top goes to the bottom and vice versa. In about 8-10 minutes, spinach should be wilted (dark green, but not black). Bring the spinach over to your ricotta, and pour it in. Then mix. The ricotta will begin to melt, but it won't get sticky. Put this to the side.

Part 3) Bechamel Sauce.
- Butter
- Flour
- Milk
- 1 tsp nutmeg
- 1 tsp thyme
- 3 Bay leaves
- Salt & Pepper to taste

The original recipe had its own bechamel sauce (second group of ingredients if you read that recipe), but I wanted to do something lighter because of Weight Watchers. Thankfully my mom bought me for Christmas last year what is the equivalent to the Joy of Cooking for Weight Watchers. It has a Bechamel recipe that is only 3 points per serving (The lasgna calls for 2 servings altogether). I used that recipe. But because it is a WW recipe - I'm not sure I can post the exact ratio of Butter, Flour, & Milk because I don't want someone from the program to see that I posted the WW recipe and then sue me and get me kicked out of the program. So my recommendation is that you find a basic Bechamel recipe and use that as a base. I made 1 cup of sauce. In addition to your base Bechamel sauce, add in the nutmeg, thyme, and bayleaves as soon as you have poured in all the milk. Stir on low constantly until it gets thick and starts to boil. Your sauce is done then. Pour it into a liquid measureing cup - and you can choose to run the sauce through a small strainer at this point so that you remove any spice leaves, but I was lazy and left everything in. If you have issues finding a Bechamel recipe, let me know and I can help you find one.

Part 4- Lasagna Noodles
- 6 regular lasagna noodles
- 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
- butternut squash mash
- spinach ricotta mixture
- bechamel sauce

I don't trust the no pre-cook lasgna noodles. I think that its hard to get find the right amount of sauce that will bake the no-cook lasagna and not overwhelm your dish. Often times the lasagnas end drier than you want. So boil water and then cook noodles according to directions. It is ok for them to be a little al dente because they will cook a little more in the lasagna.

Time for assembly. Preheat your oven to 350. Take a large bread pan and spray it with cooking spray so the pasta won't later stick. Lay two noodles side by side lengthwise. Then spoon in the butternut squash mixture. Even it out over the noodles. Then evenly pour 1/3 cup Bechamel sauce. Layer on two more noodles. Spoon out and spread evenly half the spinach ricotta mixture. Sprinkle evenly 1 cup mozzarella cheese. Evenly pour over that 1/3 cup Bechamel sauce. Spoon out and spread evenly the other half of the spinach ricotta mixture. Lay down the last two lasagna noodles. Evenly pour the remaining Becahmel sauce over the noodles. Then sprinkle the remaining cup of mozzarella cheese. Stick that sucka in the oven for about 30 minutes. When the timer is up, turn off the oven but keep the lasagna in there for another 30 mintues. Remove and serve. Either immediately - or the next day for lunch in my case. It's very DELISH!

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