28 November, 2012

Butternut Squash Lasagna with Italian Sausage, Spinach, and Sage

 I asked The Boyfriend to describe this dish for me, and he said it was good.  I pressed him for more details, and he said 'I dunno.. it was cheesy?'

In his defense I'm asking him while he's half asleep on the couch.

I pressed him a bit further... he said it didn't feel like he 'rubbed it all over his face.' 

Yes, that's a direct quote.  
'It wasn't greasy and overly heavy, it was lighter and healthier than traditional lasagna. Therefore I did not feel like I rubbed it all over my face.' 

I get what he's saying.  It wasn't so loaded with cheese that I felt like I gained 110 lbs just by eating it.  The butternut squash and sage combination gave it a really delicate flavor, and sausage pairs beautifully with the squash, complementing it's sweetness.  
The white sauce made with mascarpone, parmigiana, mozzarella, and ricotta was not heavy or overbearing.  It really lets the flavors shine through. 

This recipe is a winner, and a really nice option for a make-ahead meal.  I made this for an upcoming ski weekend and froze it.  
Then I just took it out of the freezer, let it thaw all day while skiing, and popped it in the oven at night.  
Also a nice vegetarian option- simply skip the sausage and replace chicken stock with vegetable stock.  Don't skip the stock though, it thins out the cheese a bit so you don't feel like you 'rubbed it on your face.'

Butternut Squash Lasagna with Italian Sausage, Spinach, and Sage

Modified from Emeril's recipe

3 pounds butternut squash, peeled and diced
5 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
9 or 10 oz bag of fresh spinach, or about 1 lb fresh leaves 
(will equal about 1 to 1 1/2 cups cooked spinach)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 lbs sweet Italian sausage
1/2 cup fresh sage leaves, thinly sliced
3/4 lb whole-milk ricotta cheese
8 ounces mascarpone cheese
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 lb whole-milk mozzarella, grated 
(Please don't buy shredded unless really pressed for time, grating it yourself yields the best quality)
3/4 cup finely grated parmigiano-reggiano
1/2 cup chicken stock
12 sheets no-boil lasagna noodles (8 ounces)

1. Roast the squash.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  In a large bowl, toss the butternut cubes with the bay leaf in a little bit of extra-virgin olive oil.  Just a light coating.  Season with about a teaspoon each of salt and pepper,  lay out on a baking sheet in one row, and throw the whole thyme sprigs right on top.  Cover with aluminum foil, and bake until squash is tender, about 30 minutes.  Remove from oven and let cool. 

2. Prepare the spinach.  Heat a large stockpot over medium heat with about two tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil. Add the minced garlic, and saute one minute.  Add the spinach and stir to thoroughly combine.  If all the spinach doesn't fit, it's not a big deal.  Add what can comfortably fit, let it cook a minute, stir, and you'll have room to add more.  Add all spinach, and stir often until the spinach is wilted. Season with a bit of salt and pepper.  Remove from heat and let cool in a colander. Once cool enough to handle, squeeze as much juice out of the spinach as you can.  You don't want watery lasagna!

3. Prepare the sausage.  Heat a large saucepan over medium heat.  Add the sausage and cook, stirring occasionally.  After a couple minutes, add half of the chopped sage.  Continue cooking until cooked thorough and no longer pink.  Remove from heat. In a large bowl, gently toss together the sausage, roasted butternut squash, and spinach.

4. Make the cheese sauce.  Combine the ricotta, half of mozzarella, mascarpone, heavy cream, beaten eggs, and remaining sage in a large mixing bowl. Season with 1/2 tsp each of salt and pepper. Mix well. 

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. 

5. Assemble the lasagna.  Spread half of the squash and sausage mixture in the bottom of a glass baking dish.  Sprinkle with 1/4 cup of parmigiana and drizzle 1/4 cup of chicken stock over top.  Cover with 4 pasta sheets, leaving a bit of space in between.  Spread 3 cups of the ricotta mixture over the pasta noodles, and cover with 4 more sheets of pasta.  Top with the remaining squash and sausage mixture, followed by 1/4 cup parmigiana and 1/4 cup chicken stock. Place last 4 pasta sheets over top, spread with remaining ricotta mixture, and top with the rest of the mozzarella and 1/4 cup parmigiana.  

Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake for 40 minutes.  Remove foil, and bake for another 15 minutes, or until top is golden.  Let sit for 15-20 minutes to let the cheese settle.  


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