I woke up the other night having dreamt of butternut squash lasagna. I often dream about what I’m cooking in real life, and sometimes have dreams about what I might want to be cooking when I wake up. Even while I sleep, my world often revolves around food. Some might find it odd, others – boring, but if nothing else, this dreaming peculiarity led me to gem of a recipe and for that I am forever grateful to that odd head of mine that not only conjures up food ideas, but also offers solutions to real-life pickles I face in the kitchen.
In my dream, I was sitting at my dinner table, thinking about what to make for supper. The previous night (the awake, real-life part), I had decided upon a braised chicken with Moroccan spices and dates for our Sunday supper, but at the last minute, changed my mind and promised Andrew his favorite soup, scrapping the planned-on lentil soup. That, of course, threw a wrench in the works because no one wants to eat chicken soup followed by a chicken main course. I thought that something vegetarian might be a good, sensible idea, but I couldn’t make up my mind on what that something would be. With my supper plans unresolved, I went to bed with next evening’s meal on my mind.
In my dream, I was making a list of possible main courses for dinner. I normally make lots of lists and they are strewn about all over the apartment. So it makes perfect sense that I’d be doing the same in my dream, but still, that consistency in my dream struck me as pretty funny.
As I was jotting down possible options, I thought perhaps a
vegetable, spinach butternut squash (eureka!) lasagna would be perfect: the autumn flavors of cooked squash, layered with béchamel, and fresh mozarella and Parmesan, sounded perfect.
In general, I prefer my lasagna sans meat, using vegetables instead to create layers of flavor. While lasagna Bolognese sounds heavenly in theory, immediately upon eating a piece, I am compelled to take a nap. For the rest of the night. Even though I adore pasta Bolognese, and could eat it by bowlfuls regularly, the lasagna Bolognese doesn’t quite do it for me. Apparently, I’m not the only one.
So how did this idea, conceived in the wee hours, come out? Let’s just say that I pray for all my dreams to have such delicious results. The lasagna turned out to be even better than I originally expected. It was delicate, autumnal and felt light as a feather. The combination of the melted burrata and Parmesan gave the butternut squash that unmistakable taste of October – the kind that is accompanied by mulled cider or fabulous red wine. Sage and pistachios, finely chopped and mixed with the squash, added a nice earthy dimension and some needed texture.
And best of all, no one at the table complained about the absence of meat. Everyone ate their portion and then immediately demanded seconds. A tiny piece was left over at the end of the night, lonely and abandoned in its baking dish. It became part of Andrew’s lunch the next day. Had I known the lasagna was going to be such a hit, I would’ve doubled the ingredients. Unfortunately, my dream never told me to do that. Tant pis. Clearly, there’s some room for improvement with the logistical portion of the dreams, but at least it gets the meals right.
Butternut Squash Lasagna
Adapted liberally from Gourmet
2 large onions, chopped
3 tbsp unsalted butter
2 lb butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup (maybe a few tbsp more) vegetable broth
2 tbsp chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
4 tbsp chopped fresh sage
1 cup pistachios, toasted and coarsely chopped
1 tsp minced garlic
3 tbsp unsalted butter
5 tbsp all-purpose flour
5 cups milk
1 bay leaf
1 tsp salt
1/8 tsp black pepper
For Assembling Lasagna:
1/2 lb fresh mozzarella, coarsely grated (2 cups)
1 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (3 oz)
12 (7- by 3 1/2-inch) sheets no-boil lasagne, or regular lasagne sheets, cooked according to instructions on the package, drained and cooled (1/2 lb)
Make Squash Filling:
In a deep 12-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat, cook the onions, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 10 minutes. Add squash, garlic, salt, pepper, and broth and cook, covered, stirring occasionally, until squash is just tender, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in parsley, sage, and nuts. Bring filling to room temperature.
Make Béchamel Sauce While Squash Cooks:
In a 3-quart heavy saucepan, cook garlic in butter over moderately low heat, stirring, for 1 minute. Whisk in flour and cook, whisking, 3 minutes – this will make your roux. Add milk in a thin constant stream, whisking all the while. Add bay leaf and bring to a boil, whisking constantly, then reduce heat and simmer, whisking occasionally, 10 minutes. Your béchamel will thicken. Whisk in salt and white pepper, discard bay leaf, and remove from heat. (Cover surface of sauce with wax paper if not using immediately.)
1. With the rack positioned in the middle, heat the oven to 425°F. Toss the cheeses together. Spread 1/2 cup of the sauce in a buttered (13x9x2-inch) baking dish (or another shallow (3-quart) baking dish) which is facing you lengthwise, and cover with 3 pasta sheets going the width of the dish, leaving spaces between sheets. Spread with 2/3 cup of the sauce and one third of filling (not 1/3 cup, 1/3 of the ENTIRE filling), then sprinkle with a heaping 1/2 cup of cheese.
Repeat layering 2 more times, beginning with pasta sheets and ending with cheese. Top with remaining 3 pasta sheets, remaining sauce, and remaining cheese.
Tightly cover baking dish with buttered foil and bake lasagna in middle of oven 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake until golden and bubbling, 10-15 minutes more (my oven did it in 15, yours might run hotter). Let lasagna stand 15-20 minutes before serving.
In the meantime, you can fry some leftover sage leaves in some olive oil. Over low heat, warm olive oil until it simmers and gently fried sage leaves (when dropped in oil). Sage leaves are done when the bubbling around them subsides. I, of course, was too hungry to do this. But no reason why you can’t make ahead. I am just bad at planning.