I hate winter. I was born on the wrong latitude for sure. I belong somewhere along the equator. So every year around this time I try to think of things to appreciate in the coming months of cold. It's usually food. Right now I'm consoling myself by thinking about all of the hot soups I'll get to make and all of the winter squash ahead in the farmers markets. This recipe is always a hit for me, and is a pretty easy alternative to the ubiquitous butternut squash soup. I hope you enjoy it!
Mozzarella (high quality)
I never really measure anything for this- it's a pretty easy recipe to just eyeball, which is how most of us cook, I think. Start off by hacking your squash in half and scraping out the seeds (don't forget to save these for roasting later). Then microwave it for about 4 or 5 minutes. This will allow you to cut through the rest, and peel it much easier.
While it's in the microwave, put on a big pot of water to boil for your lasagna noodles. Then, get your squash out and peel and chop it into 1 inch cubes and then throw it into another big pot with some olive oil, and add some water to simmer until it's mushy. I used a 3lb squash, about a tablespoon of oil, and 3/4 cups of water.
While it's cooking, your water should start boiling and you can put in your pasta. I used whole wheat noodles- I think the flavor complements the nuttiness of the squash, plus it's better for you. This is also a good time to preheat your oven to 375, and make sure the middle rack is in place. Next start grating your mozzarella if necessary, and chop up your fresh basil into strips. I cannot overstress that fresh basil cannot be replaced with dried in this dish. It just isn't the same.
Once your squash is thoroughly cooked, sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper, then mash it all up with a fork or potato masher. Grate in some fresh nutmeg to taste and a pinch of sugar (optional). When I made this last time, I was out of nutmeg so I substituted allspice. It was still really good- you could also try cinnamon. Next pour in some milk until it's creamy. I poured about a half cup, but if you want to pour more and then cook it back down that's good too. Think mashed potatoes' consistency. Next, add butter- as much as you want. Let's be honest, the more butter you put, the better it will taste. I put about 2 tablespoons of butter in mine at this point.
Now it's time to fish out your lasagna noodles (Don't take my word on the timing though- set a timer for the noodles according to the box). I set out a towel on the table and laid them out to drain and cool. While they are drying, take a little more butter and coat your casserole dish all around. Now the fun part! Start by putting a thin layer of the squash on the bottom of the pan, then your first layer of noodles, then more squash. Next, put a generous handful of mozzarella, and then a handful of basil. The basil flavor mixes amazingly with the squash, so I put quite a lot, maybe 30 or so chopped leaves. Next, a lighter grating of ricotta salata- this is really a key flavor; its saltiness brings the whole thing together. Repeat this layering until you reach the top of your pan, and finish with extra ricotta salata on top.
Cover the pan with foil and bake for about 40 minutes. Then take off the foil and bake 15 more minutes uncovered to get that crispy brown top layer. Let sit for about 1o more minutes, then slice and enjoy!
Oh, and for a later-that-night snack: take all those seeds you saved at the beginning and put them in a pan over low heat with a little olive oil, a drop of sesame oil and lots of salt. Stir or shake occasionally and let them toast for about 20 minutes. Eat them hot- they are AMAZING.