I love my birthday. I feel so spoiled to celebrate my birthday every year to a the world's best decorations, a spectacular display of colored leaves everywhere. (Except my yard because I have no trees, only large bushes, and they aren't the same.) The air feels refreshing and the trees are really peaking right now, and perfectly in time for my birthday this coming week. Autumn is my favorite season. Not just because of my birthday or the leaves, but also for the food: Mutsu apples, fall greens and winter squash. I just want to take it all in and hold on for as long as possible because winter comes all too soon.
I was literally dreaming of this dish this week. I fell asleep thinking about creating a lasagna loaded with flavors of the season with all of the heartiness I love in lasagna but without any of the meat. This works beautifully. I only lament I was unable to procure any fresh sage leaves to fry and layer into the dish; but that is what happens when you don't plan ahead and the grocery store across the street isn't the farmer's market. Alas and next time.
However, you won't be thinking about that when you have this. You will be too busy taking in fall, eating every lovely layer of it. At least I did.
Butternut Squash Lasagna
2 medium butternut squashes
1 onion, chopped fine
1 1/2 cups apple cider
1/2 t. white pepper
3/4 t. ground sage
1 t. sea salt
1/4 t. grated nutmeg
3 cups ricotta cheese or cottage cheese*
1 1/2 cups grated Parmesano-Reggiano
8 oz. fresh mozzarella, break up with your hands or grate
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 package of no-boil lasagna noodles
1/2 cup hazelnuts, toasted and chopped
Preheat the oven to 400*. Slice your butternut squash in half, scoop out the seeds and place cut side down on a oiled baking sheet. Alternately you can cook the squash in the microwave if you short on time (just microwave cut side down until tender). Roast the squash for 1 hour. When cool enough to handle scoop out the flesh into a large bowl.
While the squash is cooking, heat a skillet and then add a drizzle of olive oil. Cook the onion until beginning to brown, when the onion softens add the minced garlic. Add the cider to the skillet and scrape up the browned bits in the pan. Add to bowl that the squash has an appointment with as well. Add the white pepper, sage and sea salt. Mash it all up with the squash (just like potatoes). It should have a easily-spreadable consistency- think really soft mashed potatoes. If you need additional liquid add a bit of water.
Get your 9x13 baking dish and place all of the noodles inside. Cover with hot tap water and let sit while you prepare the rest (at least 5 minutes). This guarantees only perfect, non-crunchy noodles.
In a separate bowl mix the ricotta cheese, egg, 1 cup of the Parmesan, and nutmeg.
Adjust the oven temperature to 375*. Spread a thin layer of the squash mix. Place four noodles down, slightly overlapping each other. Layer squash, cheese mix and then some fresh mozzarella, noodles and repeat. End the final layer: squash, noodles, cheese mix, mozzarella and the remaining Parmesan.
Bake until golden brown, about 30 minutes. Serve with toasted hazelnuts sprinkled over the top.
*If you are unable to procure ricotta cheese or just need to use up what is already in the fridge go for the cottage cheese; but (and this is important to fool the naysayers and get a better end product) pulse the cottage cheese with a hand blender, in a blender or a food processor until it looks just like ricotta. Ta-da.