Butternut Squash and Spinach and Leeks and Cheese = Awesome Veggie Lasagna!
These are some of my favorite flavors to put together. I have at least 4 different squash lasagna recipes pulled out of magazines and probably two or three more on Pinterest. None of them were exactly what I wanted (with leeks!) so I decided to make up my own.
Lasagna always has a ton of steps and ingredients and it’s easy to get overwhelmed at the process. It probably doesn’t help that I have a gazillion photos of each step either, but rest assured, this is SO worth the effort.
And, if you use Oven Ready or No Boil Lasagna noodles, you’ve already saved yourself one of the most time consuming steps.
Here’s what you need:
Butternut Squash*, Leeks, Frozen Chopped Spinach, Oven Ready Lasagna Noodles, Garlic, Mozarella Cheese, Romano Cheese, Butter, Flour, Ricotta Cheese (not pictured), 1 egg (also not pictured), Milk, Cayenne Pepper, Sage, Nutmeg, Salt & Pepper.
Sorry that I left the ricotta and the egg out of the picture. I was half way through putting my lasagna together when I realized they were missing. Lasagna without ricotta is no lasagna at all.
*I pre-baked my butternut squash earlier in the day. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees, cut the squash in half, scoop out the seeds, and place it cut side down on a foil lined baking sheet. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until tender when pricked with a small knife.
Set the cooked squash aside to cool.
If you haven’t just baked the squash, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Since this lasagna doesn’t have the traditional tomato sauce, we need to make a white or Beschamel Sauce to hold it together.
White sauce is very easy to make. It’s basically a roux, or thickener of butter and flour, with milk stirred in until it is slightly thick. It’s the same way you start to make mac and cheese so a good skill to know.
Melt 2 Tablespoons of butter in a medium sauce pan. Stir in 1/4 cup flour until you have a thick paste.
Cook the flour roux for about 1 minute over medium heat stirring to be sure it doesn’t burn or stick. Add 1 cup of milk and whisk or stir to remove most of the lumps.
You will have a thick paste like grade school glue.
Add 1 more cup of milk for 2 cups total and stir or whisk to remove any remaining lumps. Anything that is thickened with flour needs to cook – almost to a boil – to achieve the maximum thickness. Cook the sauce over medium heat for about 5 minutes and you will see it thicken up quite nicely.
If it doesn’t thicken, turn the heat up a bit. You don’t want this to come to a big full on boil or the milk might burn, but get it at least to the stage where there are tiny little bubbles around the edge and it should thicken right up.
Once the sauce is about the thickness of gravy, turn it down to very low to keep warm.
Leeks! I love them. They are related to onions but have a much milder flavor. They are perfect for this recipe because they won’t overwhelm the more delicate flavors of the squash and spinach.
Cut the root and the tough green tops off the leeks leaving the white and light green section. Cut that in half and rinse thoroughly under running water, slightly separating the layers of the leek, to wash away any dirt and grit. Leeks are often quite sandy and gritty so don’t skip this step.
Chop up the clean leeks and while you’re at it, chop up 3 cloves of garlic.
Melt 2 Tablespoons of butter in a large pan and sauté the leeks for 5 minutes over medium high heat until tender but not browned. Give the leeks a 2 minute head start in the pan and then add the garlic so it won’t burn.
Set aside the cooked leeks until you are ready to assemble the lasagna.
By now your squash should be cool enough to handle. Remove the outer peel and break up any big chunks. You can easily do this with your hands.
I’m using frozen spinach for this dish because it is more economical than fresh. I thawed out one 10 oz box of frozen chopped spinach in the microwave (about 4 minutes). Squeeze out as much of the moisture as you can and add the spinach to the white sauce.
Season with salt & pepper and a dash each of nutmeg, sage, and cayenne pepper. If you are a measuring sort of person, my dash is probably about 1/4 teaspoon.
I decided to add 1/2 cup of grated romano cheese to the spinach sauce mixture as well.
I almost forgot the ricotta cheese. Oops. In a medium bowl, stir together 1 (15 ounce) container of ricotta, 1 egg, salt & pepper. I’m using part skim or lite ricotta and it’s fine.
Now for the assembly….Grease or spray a baking dish with high sides (mine is 9×13) with non-stick cooking spray and spread a very thin layer of the spinach mixture on the bottom. Lay 3 sheets of the oven ready lasagna on top. The trick to oven ready lasagna is that you have to be sure that it is completely covered with the sauce and buried beneath other ingredients so that it will rehydrate and become soft pasta sheets.
Add half of the crumbled butter nut squash on top of the noodles….
and then put all of the sautéed leeks on top of the squash.
Add another layer of lasagna noodles and top with 1/2 of the remaining spinach mixture.
You can obviously make the layers in any order that you like. Just try to judge your ingredients so that the layers are somewhat equal in size.
Spread 1/2 of the ricotta mixture over the spinach for the next layer…
then top with the rest of the squash. Add a third layer of lasagna noodles…
then the rest of the ricotta cheese. Are you still with me?
I added a fourth layer of noodles (because there were 12 in the box) and finished with the remaining spinach mixture top. This is where you want to be sure that no dry ends of pasta are sticking out anywhere.
Spread 2 cups of grated mozzarella cheese over the top, cover the pan with foil, and bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes. After 25 minutes, remove the foil and continue to cook for another 20 minutes or until the cheese on the top is golden brown.
Let the lasagna sit for about 5 minutes to set up before you cut it. This lasagna is more veggies than sauce so if you want a gooier interior, you might want to make extra white sauce.
This turned out great – you can taste all of the individual veggies but also get that overall cheesy lasagna goodness. It makes a nice big pan of 6-8 servings and is great left over.
Eat your veggies – lasagna style!
Here’s the recipe: