Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Butternut Squash Lasagna: A Speakeasy Kitchen Original?

I suppose if you googled "butternut squash lasagna," you might come up with a couple hundred recipes for something like this. But I wouldn't know -- I didn't do any research to come up with this one. Nor have I ever eaten butternut squash lasagna nor seen it on any menu or blog I've ever read. It just showed up over the course of the day, as I puttered around from one activity to another.

A few do's and don'ts before I share the recipe:

1. DO roast the squash in advance. Roasting squash doesn't take a lot of time, but when you're going to make something like a lasagna, where there's also a sauce to compose, pasta to roll, and a giant pan of lasagna to bake, it helps to have a few steps, like roasting squash, squared away a day or two in advance.

2. DO use no-bake pasta from a box if that's what you're comfortable with. I'm no Sandra Lee so I'm not going to tell you to slop a can of squash on top of a box of pasta. But let's face it. Most of us grew up eating lasagna made from no-bake pasta from a box if we were lucky enough to have moms that made lasagna. And it didn't give us less appreciation for lasagna made from fresh pasta. So I say if you don't have the wherewithall to roll out fresh dough, then just go with what you know.

3. DO make sure you have more than enough ingredients before you start. The task of layering of a lasagna is such that you want to make sure there's as much of the good stuff for the top layers at the end as there was for the bottom layers in the beginning.

4. DO NOT substitute string cheese for mozzarella in the event that you didn't follow tip #3 and you ran out of mozzarella. They are not the same thing. Now that I've made the mistake, and knowing what I know about mozzarella because I make it from scratch at home, I can explain how they're different. Mozzarella, once the curds are separated from the whey, is stretched out a bit, but not too much so that it remains tender. String cheese is really dried out mozzarella and has been processed more, to pull out the proteins till it is no longer tender. They won't react the same way when cooked, string cheese being significantly drier and tougher to begin with. And when you put it on top of the lasagna, it will brown before it melts so it looks like this:

The flavor on this bad boy wasn't bad, but the texture of that "mozzarella" on top could hardly be described as creamy... it was more crispy and chewy than anything else.

That's about all the wisdom I have to impart on this experiment. Without further ado, the recipe:

Butternut Squash Lasagna
2 large butternut squash
2 tsp unsalted butter
4 tsp sugar
1 lb ground pork sausage, preferably sweet italian
1/2 large vidalia onion, diced
1/2 lb sliced button mushrooms
1/3 c minced fresh sage
2 c fresh ricotta
2-3 c fresh shredded mozzarella
enough sheets of lasagna pasta to lay down three layers in a 9"x13" pan (freshly rolled and boiled, or boxed no-bake)
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Split squash in half lengthwise and scoop out seeds. Set squash cut side up on a baking sheet. Cut butter up into small pieces and distribute evenly across the four halves. Sprinkle 1 tsp sugar over each squash half. Salt and pepper lightly to taste. Roast squash in oven for about 20-30 minutes, till lightly browned and flesh easily pulls apart with a fork. Remove from oven and let sit until squash is cool enough to handle. With a fork, loosen squash flesh from skin/rind, shred flesh with fork (or mash with potato masher) and set flesh aside in a bowl.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Heat oil in large heavy bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Saute onions till tender. Add mushrooms and saute till lightly browned. Add pork sausage, stirring occasionally to break up pieces of sausage, but not so much as to not let the sausage brown lightly, about 10-15 minutes. Add sage, stir, and let simmer for 2-3 minutes. Stir in squash flesh. Add salt and pepper to taste. Spread about 1 c of the squash and pork mixture into the bottom of a 9" x 13" pan. Layer noodles. Spread another cup of the squash and pork mixture over the noodles. Spread about 1/2 - 2/3 c of ricotta over the squash and pork mixture. Sprinkle 1/2 - 2/3 c of mozzarella over that. Layer noodles, repeat, ending with mozzarella (but not string cheese!). Pop in the oven and bake till the top cheese layer becomes golden and gooey (which won't happen if you use string cheese!), about 30 minutes.

Remove from oven, let set for at least 15 minutes, then serve and enjoy.


  1. I love it - and I love seeing you are back at it in the kitchen, pregnant and all :) Fun tips- no string cheese mozzarella but I'd say try to make the dough- it is really overrated to think pasta dough is hard. Once you have the babe, lasagna is on me- with fresh pasta, delivered to the door. XO

    1. Ahem. Please note that I am with babe and eagerly awaiting that lasagna.

  2. I definitely agree -- the fresh pasta is supremely superior and we don't eat pasta at home unless it's homemade! But one shouldn't not try this recipe for lack of fresh pasta. It turned out to be a tasty alternative to lasagna with tomato-based sauce.


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