Posts Tagged ‘fried sage leaves’

Italian Dinner Menu – Butternut Squash Lasagna

February 9, 2012 2 comments

Butternut Sage Lasagna was the main course for our dinner.  If I say so myself, it was good.  I think it was even better because we used butternut squash that we grew this summer!  It took me a few weeks to create the recipe.  After reading it, you might see why.  There are a lot of steps:  roasting the squash, mashing the cookies (yes, cookies!), making the filling, browning the sage butter, making the Béchamel sauce, assembling the lasagna, and frying the sage leaves.  But, please don’t let the number of steps keep you from trying the recipe.  It is worth it.

I would also highly recommend growing your own butternut squash if you can.  It makes a huge difference in flavor.  It also makes a difference in the texture of the squash filling.  After baking the home-grown butternut squash, I noticed that it was wetter than usual. I guess because it was so fresh?  Not really sure why, but the texture was different from when I roast store-bought butternut squash.  I knew I needed to do something because I didn’t want the filling too runny. So I removed some of the moisture by squeezing the cooled squash over a sieve. And I added more cookie crumbs. It worked.

We served this with oven roasted broccoli.  I used an Ina Garten recipe.  Here’s her recipe:

As I mentioned, this lasagna takes several steps, so figured I’d break the steps into separate recipes – butternut squash filling, sage brown butter, béchamel sauce, the assembly of the lasagna, and an optional garnish of fried sage leaves.

Butternut Squash Filling

2-3 medium butternut squash, about 6-7 pounds

⅓ cup loosely packed fresh sage leaves, coarsely chopped

7 or 8 ounce tub mascarpone (I’ve seen both sizes at the store, either will work)

7 ounce package of amaretti cookie, mashed into crumbs*

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon white pepper (black is fine too)

few grates of fresh nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 400º degrees F.  Cover a sheet pan with aluminum foil (roasting whole butternut squash can be drippy and messy).  Place the whole butternut squashes in the pan.  Roast for about 2 hours until soft.  You can test it by squeezing it to see if it gives (it will be hot, so I recommend a handy-dandy pot holder to keep your fingers healthy and burn-free!).  While the squash is roasting, you can prep the other layers ingredients.

When the squash is ready, remove from the oven.  Holding the squash with a tea towel, carefully split it open lengthwise.  Then, use a spoon to scoop out the seeds and fiber strings, and discard. Scoop the flesh into a bowl, if cooked properly, it should come away from the skin easily.  If it doesn’t come away from the skin easily, it might need more roasting (just pop it back in the oven).

Mash the squash with a fork or a potato masher.  Stir in the chopped sage and the mascarpone.  Mash until smooth and soft (you can use more mascarpone if needed). You want a soft, spreadable consistency. Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg.  Stir in the amaretti crumbs.  Cover and set aside while you prepare the other ingredients.  Or you can put the mixture in a re-sealable bag and set aside.  When you are ready to assemble the lasagna, you can snip off the corner and squeeze out the butternut squash filling.  Some might find it easier than spreading it on the layers with a spoon or a spatula.

If you have extra filling, you can use it for ravioli.  Or you can use it as a sauce for pasta (just add a little of the pasta water to thin it and make a sauce).

Sage Brown Butter

6 tablespoons butter

6 sage leaves

While the squash is cooking, heat the butter in a small saucepan over low-medium heat.  You want to heat it until the butter is foamy and is light brown. Watch carefully, so it doesn’t burn.  This can go from smelling nutty and delicious to burned in an instant!  Remove from the heat and stir in the sage.  Let the sage and butter infuse for about 10 minutes.  Then strain the mixture into a small bowl.  You can strain it with a metal strainer or use cheesecloth.  If the butter starts to solidify, microwave for a few seconds before using. You will use some to grease the baking dish and some for the white sauce.

Béchamel Sauce (Basic White Sauce)

3 tablespoons butter

3 tablespoons flour

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon white pepper (black is fine too)

3 cups milk (I had trouble with Lactose-free low-fat milk, recommend 2% milk)

¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

4 tablespoons sage brown butter (see previous section)

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over low heat.  Whisk in the flour and continue whisking until smooth and incorporated. Cook over low heat, constantly stirring for 4 to 5 minutes (this minimizes the “raw flour” taste). Do not let it brown.  Whisk in the milk and continue cooking until smooth and thickened.  Whisk in all but about two tablespoons of the sage browned butter, reserve the rest.  Whisk in the nutmeg and salt.  Set aside.  This is slightly thinner than your typical Béchamel sauce.  That’s ok, that’s how you want it for this lasagna.

Assemble the Lasagna

16 ounce package oven-ready lasagna sheets

8 ounces Fontina cheese, grated**

To assemble the lasagna, pour about 1-2 tablespoon of the sage brown butter into the bottom of a 9x13x2 inch glass baking dish. Swirl to coat the bottom of the dish. This will prevent the noodles from sticking or drying out.  But don’t use too much or it will be greasy. Cover the bottom with a layer of noodles.  Spread ⅓ of the butternut squash mixture evenly over the noodles.  Add another layer of noodles.  Spread ⅓ of the white sauce.  Sprinkle with ⅓ of the grated Fontina cheese.  Continue to layer until you are out of ingredients (probably two more times). The top layer will be béchamel and a final sprinkle of Fontina. You can decorate with sage leaves or you can leave plain and then top with the fried sage leaves after baking.  The lasagna can sit for several hours in the fridge before baking.

Cover with foil. You might want to grease the foil just in case it touches the cheese.  Another option is to leave the last layer of cheese off and then top the lasagna when you remove the foil for the last 10 minutes.  Bake at 400º degrees F for 25-30 minutes or until it is bubbling.  Remove the foil and cook another 10 minutes.  Remove from heat and let it sit at least 10 minutes before slicing and serving.

Optional Fried Sage Garnish

6-9 fresh sage leaves

3 tablespoons butter (or clarified butter)

This step is similar to making the sage brown butter; however, you fry the sage on both sides until it is crispy. If you want it super-crispy, I would do this step while the lasagna is resting.

In a small frying pan, melt the butter over low-medium. Once the butter is golden brown and starts to bubble, add sage leaves. Fry sage leaves on both sides, until crispy.   Drain on paper towels.


*Note about cookies in lasagna:  It sounds weird to use cookies in lasagna, but it’s delicious! Trust me.  I use D. Lazzaroni and Company Amaretti Cookie Snaps.  I usually buy them at The Fresh Market.  You can also sometimes find them at TJ Maxx.  You’ll need almost an entire bag (I usually eat a few while I’m cooking).  It’s okay if some are missing!  The amount of cookies you need depends on the moisture-level of the butternut squash.  I’ve made this before and didn’t need as many as the recipe requires (more to nibble)!  The last time I made it the squash had a lot of moisture, so I used more crumbs (good thing I had two bags!).

You want the cookies crushed. You can either pulse them in a food processor or put them in a re-sealable bag and roll them with a rolling-pin or crush them by hand.  You want them crumbly, but a few chunks are fine. The final texture really depends on your preference (I prefer them finely ground).  You want about 1½ cups of crumbs.

If you can’t find amaretti cookies, you can use regular lady finger cookies (a little easier to find).  Pulse ¼ cup of almonds in a food processor until they are crumbly, add a package of lady fingers, and a ¼ teaspoon of almond extract.  Or, you can bake your own if you are feeling really ambitious!

**Note about Fontina cheese:  Fontina is a wonderful cow’s milk cheese. Fontina cheese has been made in the Aosta Valley in Italy.  If you can find Fontina in the US, it is often the Danish version. It can be distinguished from Italian Fontina by the red wax rind (Italian Fontina has a natural rind due to aging, which is usually tan to orange-brown).  The Danish Fontina is great in the recipe.  Fontina is not the easiest cheese to find, so substitutions might be necessary.  Emmentaler or Gruyère can be used.  However, they can also be difficult to find in some stores.  So you can use a blend of Parmesan, Mozzarella, and Provolone (or just use an Italian blend from our grocery store).  Not the same, but it will work.