Butternut Squash Lasagna (not for the traditionalist)

Ah, meat.

Does my enthusiasm translate? Or my sarcasm at least?

I love a bloody rare steak from time to time (and anytime if we’re talking about dining at Gaucho), but when it comes to day to day meat eating however, I would class myself as a vegetarian.

And although I love a good lasagna, most days I’m not in the mood. This is where this bad boy alternative version comes in.

This is the perfect winter lasagna, where sage and pine nuts are married with beautifully golden butternut squash, layered between perfectly cooked pasta, fresh spinach and finely grated halloumi cheese. It’s magical.

When I first told my beau about this recipe, he simply replied ‘no meat?’, raised eyebrow in tow. Of course, he’s a complete traditionalist. Having been born and raised on authentic Italian cuisine, he doesn’t adhere to my ‘wacky’ creations.

My older bro on the other hand, who is probably one of the most carnivorous people I know, loved this veggie version of mine.

High five’s all round.

Makes one 12X9″ lasagna.

Ingredients:

  • 500g butternut squash, diced
  • ½ red onion, finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 400g chopped tomatoes
  • 400ml boiling water
  • 20g bunch of fresh sage, stalks removed and finely chopped
  • 250g fresh spinach, large stalks removed if you like
  • 225g halloumi, finely grated
  • 1 handful pinenuts, roughly chopped
  • 400g lasagna sheets, I used De Cecco lasagna larga doppia riccia (large double curly lasagna)
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

Method:

Preheat oven to 200°c and place rack on the middle shelf.

Start by blanching the spinach. The easiest way that I like to do this (especially as we only want to blanch it very quickly) is by putting all the spinach in a colander, and pouring just boiled water from the kettle over it. Then immediately pour cold water over it. Leave to drain in the colander for a few minutes, then remove the excess water by squeezing the spinach and patting it with kitchen paper.

In a large skillet, add the butternut squash, red onion and olive oil and sautée on a medium heat for around 5 minutes. Add around a third of the sage and season. Continue to cook for a further 3 minutes before adding the tomato paste, making sure the butternut squash is evenly coated.

After a couple of minutes add the chopped tomatoes and enough water the cover. Bring the butternut squash ‘ragù’ to the boil, then reduce the heat to a gentle simmer, cover and leave undisturbed for 30 minutes. Add more water if needed.

Meanwhile par-boil the lasagna sheets. Bring a large pan of salted water to boil, and add a generous amount of olive oil to it (in order to prevent the sheets from sticking together). Cook 5 sheets of pasta at a time for around 4 minutes – you don’t want the pasta to be fully cooked as they will continue to cook once the lasagna goes into the oven. Set the sheets aside on clean dish cloths. This whole process should take you around 15 minutes.

After the butternut squash has been bubbling away for 30 minutes, check and add seasoning to taste, then simply remove from the heat and set aside until you are ready to assemble the lasagna.

To assemble the lasagna, first add a layer of the ragù to the bottom of an oven-proof dish, sprinkle with pine nuts, sage and halloumi, then cover with a layer of pasta. Next add a layer of the blanched spinach (it doesn’t have to cover every visible inch of the pasta!) and again sprinkle with pine nuts, sage and halloumi, followed by a layer of pasta. Continue to layer the lasagna like this, finishing with the ragù on top of the final layer of pasta. Sprinkle with all the sprinkling ingredients aforementioned.

Cover the lasagna with alluminium foil and bake in the oven for 10 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for a further 10 minutes.

Serve in huge slices (obviously) with freshly grated halloumi.

Note: I’m thankful for the feedback I receive on any recipe, and there were two comments made on this one in particular. Firstly, the amount of water you should use depends on the size of your pan and also by how you see fit. My general rule is cover all the ingredients in the pan, and add more water of you think it is drying out too quickly. On the other hand if you feel you’ve added too much water, bring the heat up a little and reduce the ‘ragù’ with the lid off the pan.
Secondly there were some problems with pre-cooking the pasta. Different brands and thickness naturally will distort the cooking time, the pasta I use generally takes 4 minutes, but again this is something you should manage by eye! On the other hand when cooking with wafer thin pasta sheets I wouldn’t pre-cook them at all as they cook so quickly (there was also a deep-frying incident which I’d rather not talk about…..)!

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