february 13, 2016
Sometimes the best lasagnas are made without pasta. Pick a season, choose something that can be sliced as thin as a noodle, and off you go. Summer brings eggplant and zucchini squash and fall/winter brings butternut squash. For me, lasagna was always about the cheese and sauce, so take out the pasta and I’m a happy diner.
This butternut squash and savoy cabbage lasagna is cheesy, and while there is no sauce, the onion- herb- savoy cabbage layer provides moisture and a nice depth in contrast to the fluffy ricotta.
The only special equipment you will need is a handy mandoline, simple and made of plastic or fancy and stainless steel, for slicing the squash. If you need to slice by hand, make slices as thin as possible, and save the prettiest ones for the top layer. Choose squash with a long neck so the yield is more evenly round slices and less from the pesky bowl with seeds. For the best flavor, add herbs and spice after cooking the savoy cabbage; these will cook with baking, so don’t worry about a raw garlic or sage taste. The first round of this recipe was made with part skim ricotta (what was I thinking?) and, as you can guess, the result was a watery, crumbly interior. Whole milk ricotta is heartily recommended. The salt may seem excessive, but the squash and cheese absorb the seasoning well. Slice the savoy cabbage roughly – it wilts with cooking. Fresh sage is preferred to dried, which has a grassy taste. Blasphemy, I know, but I usually use grated nutmeg and avoid grating the picturesque whole nutmegs; I go through a lot for my business and staleness is never a problem. If your grated nutmeg is old and no longer fragrant, buy fresh, because stale nutmeg tastes bitter. Lastly, use a heavy deep casserole dish. You will press down on the squash while layering (and know that the lasagna will cook down), but you want to avoid overflow initially.
There is make-ahead possibility with this recipe : slicing the cabbage, slicing the butternut squash (although to prevent curling, mash them down tightly and secure with plastic) and the entire lasagna itself. To reheat, let it sit at room temperature while the oven heats up, then bake uncovered at 350 degrees for about 30 to 40 minutes. This makes a nice vegetarian entree and will also serve nicely as a side dish. For a tasty vegetable lasagna, who needs pasta?
Butternut Squash and Savoy Cabbage Lasagna
serves 6-9 as an entree, and 10-12 as a side
one medium head savoy cabbage (about one pound), sliced roughly
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
one large sweet onion (about 12 ounces), chopped
1 large clove garlic, zested or minced fine
⅓ cup finely minced fresh sage (from about one small herb pack)
¼ teaspoon grated nutmeg
one long necked butternut squash (two pounds), peeled and seeded, sliced thinly on mandoline (or as thin as possible by hand)
32 ounces whole milk ricotta
1 ½ cup grated parmesan cheese, divided
1 cup heavy cream
1 large egg, room temperature
fine sea salt – I like La Baleine brand
finely ground white pepper
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
- Melt butter in heavy large sauté pan over medium heat with onion, ½ teaspoon salt and a pinch of white pepper.
- When mixture begins to sizzle, keep heat steady so onions soften and brown slightly, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Add savoy cabbage and another ½ teaspoon salt, stir well, cover and cook for 1 minute, stir again and cover, cooking another 5 minutes to wilt cabbage, checking occasionally to stir and adjust heat so that mixture browns very lightly. Add nutmeg, garlic and sage, then remove from heat and set aside to cool slightly.
- Spray large 9 X 13 deep casserole dish with cooking spray.
- Layer as follows: one third of the butternut squash, lightly sprinkled with salt, then half the savoy cabbage mixture, then half the ricotta, then ¾ cup parmesan cheese.
- Pat down the squash with your hands to make more compact.
- Add another third of the squash, sprinkled lightly with salt, then the rest of the cabbage mixture, the rest of the ricotta, then ½ cup parmesan cheese.
- Top with the remainder of the squash slices, and for the best presentation, these can be the most evenly round slices.
- In small mixing bowl whisk egg with cream, remaining ¼ cup parmesan cheese and ¼ teaspoon salt.
- Pour this atop the casserole, smoothing with spoon to evenly coat the surface.
- Bake for 45 minutes and allow cooling about 15 minutes before serving so lasagna sets.
- pat down the ricotta layers with moistened fingers for even spreading
- save the uneven squash slices (from the seed end) for the interior layer and use the rounded slices for bottom and top (prettiest for the top)