from “What is Left” [note: not mine, just enjoyed the concept]
Pumpkin Lasagna, a sketch more than a recipe.
I Twittered last night that I had made some pumpkin lasagna and I was overwhelmed by how many of you asked for the recipe. I have few secrets from all of you, but I still hesitated. Why? Because, when I cook, I don’t really use recipes. I am inspired by ingredients and then improvise from there. (My mom definitely taught me this.) So, here is a rough outline of how I pulled off my pumpkin lasagna.
Stuff that goes in there:
Pumpkin (An actual pumpkin and not the puree stuff. That’s half the fun!)
Butternut squash (A good complement to the coarseness of the pumpkin)
A couple big bunches of fresh whole leaf spinach
Fresh shiitake mushrooms
Garlic (Fresh cloves)
Milk (I used 1%) and/or some heavy cream
Fresh apple juice
Fresh pasta sheets
Pumpkins fear you!
Cut up the pumpkin (and butternut squash if you choose to include it) into chunks about 2-3 inches by 1-2 inches, removing all the skin. Save the pumpkin seeds to be toasted for a snack.
Toss the pumpkin chunks in olive oil and apple juice until lightly coated then season with salt and pepper.
Dump the chunks into a glass pan and spread them evenly.
Roast for 30-35 minutes at 400 degrees. By the way, I cook at 6,700 ft elevation, so my times and temperatures are always in flux. Basically you are looking for the pieces to be crisping and blackening on some edges, while all the pieces should be softened and edible.
Meanwhile, back at the stove…
Fire up a pan with some olive oil and butter and toss in some chopped onion and shallots, and some diced garlic. Toss that under high heat until everything is soft and some are starting to crisp. (I often use non-stick pans to ensure some charring.) Remove into a bowl.
Using the same pan, drop in a bunch of stemmed shiitakes, tossing them in a bit of olive oil. The goal is to get them softened up and slightly wilted. Pull them off and into a bowl as well.
With the pan still hot, drop in big handfuls of the fresh spinach (I remove the stems first, but not everyone does). Spinach always cooks down much smaller than you expect, so use a ton. You can accelerate its cooking by adding a bit of water to the pan. I sometimes will add a dash of the beer or apple juice I am drinking at the time too. The goal here is not to obliterate the spinach though. Just trying to soften it up. Pull it and toss it in a bowl as well.
It will blend!
Pour 2/3 of the roasted pumpkin chunks into your blender or food processor. Give them a few blasts creating a consistent soft texture. Not going for liquid here. Something more like a pudding. (The charred edges will look cool now and bring some amazing color to your base.)
Into the same blender, drop 2/3 of your onion/shallot/garlic mix and fire up the blades again.
Now drop 1/3 of your mushrooms and 1/3 of your spinach and same drill.
This is also a good time to add nutmeg to taste. (Your paste will be tasting amazing by now anyway.) I don’t have any better guide for it than that. Just pinch some in there if you are getting that vibe.
Add a bit of apple juice. “A bit” meaning, as much as you can get away with without really changing the texture to sloppy liquid.
Scoop everything out into a big mixing bowl.
Take the remaining pumpkin pieces and cut them into smaller pieces while also smashing some of them with the broad side of the knife. These firmer pieces will be a nice treat to your happy diners. Chuck them into the mixing bowl.
Same thing with the remaining onions and shallots. Give them a few more passes with the knife and then throw them all into the big bowl.
Put the remainder of your mushrooms into the bowl. Probably no need to dice them. The whole ‘shrooms are likely much smaller after light cooking.
Bust out your old school wooden spoon and get to work on stirring all of this up. If you don’t feel like eating huge spoonfuls at this point, you have done something wrong.
A traditional red sauce would overpower the subtlety of the pumpkin. So, we need to stay white. Thus, fire up the pan and start with some olive oil, healthy amounts of butter, some minced garlic, and some diced shallots. Toss all of that around until the garlic and shallots are soft and just starting to crisp.
Pour some milk into the pan stirring vigorously. At this point you can also or, instead, add cream. The goal is to get the water to steam off condensing the milk into a creamy sauce base.
Some folks add flour to thicken sauces. I am not very good at this. So, I tend to add very little, merely sprinkling it in as I go. I also know people who add an egg at this point. Haven’t tried enough to recommend doing so.
While the sauce is simmering, add some diced chives and some chopped sage. You can also pinch in some more nutmeg if you haven’t added enough already. Also a great time to hit with some salt and some fresh ground pepper again. Sneak in some cinnamon? Your call.
Simmer until it has a consistency you like, keeping in mind the purpose of this sauce is really just to keep everything inside the lasagna moist and delicious. The sauce does not have to look pretty.
Where all become one…
Grease up a glass cooking pan. The size is up to you as long as it feels lasagna-appropriate.
Before laying down the first pasta sheets, pour some of the sauce into the bottom of the pan, spreading evenly. Sprinkle some of the mozzarella and asiago cheeses on top of the sauce. This creates a nice moist base for the pasta.
Lay down the pasta sheets to create a first uniform layer. Press the sheets to ensure the surface below them is flat and even.
Using a spoon, a spatula, and your fingers, install the first layer of pumpkin mixture goodness distributing evenly to all four corners.
Layer on another pasta level, being sure to cover it, in turn, with another helping of the white sauce.
Take your remaining spinach and place it evenly across the dish providing a nice foundation for the forthcoming cheese.
Go wild with the multiple cheeses. Ricotta is what makes lasagna taste like lasagna, so don’t skimp on it. But, they each serve their purpose, so no discrimination.
Repeat all of this layering with the goal of finding a home for all of your prepared ingredients and with the top layer being a pasta sheet, a final coating of the white sauce, and a generous layer of cheeses.
Step back and look for a second at how awesome that is. Its density alone will leave you feeling accomplished.
Into the fire!
Coat one side of a piece of foil with butter or olive oil and then use that as the inside cover wrapped around the entire dish.
Put it in the oven at 400-450 for 30-35 minutes. Again, at elevation everything is wacky in terms of cooking times. So, be vigilant and follow your instincts.
After that initial 30-35 minutes, take the cover off. Starting to look good? It will look even better when it crisps up. So, give it another 10-15 to let the top brown.
When it looks like the lasagna of your dreams, yank it from the oven and let it sit while you get the rest of the meal ready, table set, etc.
By the way, when you do go to serve it, use an actual knife to cut into it. No sense mangling your art with the blunted edge of a spatula.
It should taste great. If it doesn’t, well, you really need to reassess how you spend your time. Because, frankly, you had license to use as much cheese, butter, shallot, and pumpkin as you wanted here. I mean, that is almost like cheating in the race to delicious.
Seriously though, hope you enjoy this as much as I did!