Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Not Your Typical Pilgrim's Thanksgiving

For many, Thanksgiving means pulling out the traditional all-American food favorites.  In my house though, meals often have a little Italian spice to them (not unlike the person who prepares them.)  Before the traditional turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing and other sides, I love to offer my guests a "taste of the pasta."  A primi piatti sets the tone for what's truly American: taking the cultures we came from and meshing them with this wonderful and rich melting pot we live in.  And so, I offer you my recipe for Butternut Squash Lasagna.  This recipe was adapted from a recipe from Giada De Laurentiis so don't confuse it with an authentic recipe from Grandma.  I lightened up Giada's version and substituted whole wheat lasagna to make it a bit healthier.  It may be labor intensive, but I promise this dish won't disappoint you or your guests.  And, leftover lasagna will make the day after Thanksgiving a little bit easier.  

1 tablespoon olive oil 
1 (1 1/2 to 2-pound) butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch cubes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper 
1/2 cup water

3 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3 1/2 cups lowfat milk
Pinch nutmeg
3/4 cup (lightly packed) fresh basil leaves
12 cooked whole wheat lasagna noodles
2 1/2 cups shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
1/3 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano

Heat the oil in a heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the squash and toss to coat. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Pour the water into the skillet and then cover and simmer over medium heat until the squash is tender, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes. Cool slightly and then transfer the squash to a food processor. Season the squash puree, to taste, with more salt and pepper.  Set aside.

Melt the butter in a heavy medium-size saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk for 1 minute. Gradually whisk in the milk. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer until the sauce thickens slightly, whisking often, about 5 minutes. Whisk in the nutmeg. Cool slightly. Transfer half of the sauce to a blender*. Add the basil and blend until smooth. Return the basil sauce to the sauce in the pan and stir to blend. Season the sauce with salt and pepper, to taste.

Position the rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 375 degrees F.
Lightly butter a 13 by 9 by 2-inch glass baking dish. Spread 3/4 cup of the sauce over the prepared baking dish. Arrange 3 lasagna noodles on the bottom of the pan. Spread 1/3 of the squash puree over the noodles. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup of mozzarella cheese. Drizzle 1/2 cup of sauce over the noodles. Repeat layering 3 more times.

Tightly cover the baking dish with foil and bake the lasagna for 40 minutes. Sprinkle the remaining mozzarella and Parmigiano Reggiano cheeses over the lasagna. Continue baking uncovered until the sauce bubbles and the top is golden, 15 minutes longer. Let the lasagna stand for 15 minutes before serving.

*When blending hot liquids: Remove liquid from the heat and allow it to cool for at least 5 minutes. Transfer liquid to a blender or food processor and fill it no more than halfway. If using a blender, release one corner of the lid. This prevents the vacuum effect that creates heat explosions. Place a towel over the top of the machine, pulse a few times then process on high speed until smooth.

Buon appetito!
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