I’m not sure what it is about baked pasta dishes, but I can’t think of one that isn’t comfort food. Rich, creamy dishes like macaroni & cheese and pastitsio readily pop into my head. Another common craving: lasagna. I didn’t feel like putting in the time to make a good bolognese sauce to make that lasagna happen, so instead I opted for a lasagna with a bit of an autumny twist. The usual pasta, Bechamel, and cheese remain, but in place of a meaty, tomatoey sauce, I cooked up a butternut squash-centric sauce with a bit of Italian sausage.
The sauce reminded me a bit of a hearty squash soup I had made last season. It had sweet, smoky, spicy notes that warm you from the inside in the way that you just crave during the autumn months with touches of thyme and anisey flavors. The lasagna treatment for this sauce worked wonderfully and didn’t let me down in the comfort food department. The gooey, cheesy elements have a good range of flavor–bechamel for richness, mozzarella for creamy tang, and asiago for a sharper, saltier note. Plus, its lasagna–what’s not to love?
- 1 lb lasagna noodles
- Butternut Squash Sauce
- 2-3 butternut squash
- 1 head garlic
- olive oil
- 1 leek
- 1 shallot
- 1 red bell
- 1 carrot
- 1/4 cup white wine
- ~3-4 cups chicken stock
- ~4-5 hotter chilis
- ground chipotle
- dried oregano
- ~1.5 lbs meat (I used a mix of parmesan & parsely sausage + ground beef. italian sausage is a good fit here, too)
- 8 oz mozarella
- Béchamel Sauce
- 2/3 stick of butter
- 2/3 cup of all-purpose flour
- 6 cups of whole milk (warm)
- 4 eggs (room temperature)
- 2/3 cup grated Asiago/Romano/Parmesan
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
- Asiago/Romano/Parmesan for topping
Start with the butternut squash sauce. Cut the squash in half, spoon out any fibrous bits and the seeds. Rub all over with a bit of olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and roast (cut side up) in a 400°F oven for 45 minutes (give or take 20 minutes–you want them to be fork tender). Also roast a whole head garlic alongside the squash for 40 minutes (cut off a bit of the top, rub with oil).
When the squash is done, dice up the shallot, leek, pepper, and carrot. Sauté these in a big pot with a bit of olive oil for roughly 10 minutes. Deglaze the pot with white wine and chicken stock. Squeeze the garlic flesh into the pot (out of the paper) and spoon in the roasted squash. Add the remaining spices and simmer this mixture for 15 minutes.
Once things have softened up a bit, you’ll want to puree this mixture. These are the sorts of occasions where I love my immersion blender. Once fairly smooth, set the sauce aside to cool down.
In a hot pan with a bit of oil, brown the meat until cooked through and crumble it up. Drain the meat and toss it with a bit of the squash sauce. Set this aside.
Now for the Bechamel. In a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Once melted down, add the flour to make a roux, stirring regularly for about 3-5 minutes.
Whisk in the milk taking care to break up any lumps. Heat this up to a boil and stir regularly. Keep cooking until thick.
Remove the pan from the heat. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs along with the salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Slowly pour the eggs into the Bechamel and whisk constantly. Add the grated cheese and whisk that until incorporated. Set this aside.
Cook the pasta per whatever the directions say to do. Do this last since the noodles will stick to one another if you give them the time to do so.
Rip the mozzarella up into smaller pieces.
Finally, its time to put this bad boy together. In a large pan, start layering everything. I wound up with roughly four pasta layers, so try to divide your components appropriately so you don’t run out before you finish assembling everything. I started with a layer of noodles, squash sauce, some meat, mozzarella, and then bechamel. Repeat until you run out or fill the pan (whichever comes first–I had a bit more than my pan could hold).
Finish the top of the assembly with a layer of pasta covered with some bechamel (if it were just the noodle, it would burn and shrivel).
Sprinkle your remaining grated asiago over the top and transfer this to a 375° oven. With dishes like this, I’d advise having a baking tray underneath this in your oven in case of any drippage. Cook for 45-60 minutes and give it some time to cool down.
Finally, cut out a square and enjoy!