Thursday, October 9, 2014

Fall Lasagna: Turkey, Butternut Squash and Spinach Lasagna

This is a recipe that I concocted when thinking of how to use things in my fridge. I had lean ground turkey, organic baby spinach (which I always have), and some sweet butternut squash that I roasted the night before. I held it all together with some cheese and a bechamel (white sauce), and it was a big hit. The kids all raved about it (even my Handsome man who is not a big fan of butternut squash on it's own), and even had seconds. My amazing husband got back late last night from fighting a fire for the last 2 weeks, and he got the last piece. He gave me an enthusiastic thumbs up, and said it was really good. So, needless to say, this recipe is a big hit in our family and I hope it becomes one in yours too.

I started by getting some hot water going to boil my lasagna noodles. I like the no-boil kind too, but I didn't have any of those on hand. If you use whole grain noodles this recipe would be even healthier!
(When the water cam up to a boil, I salted it generously and then added my noodles one at a time. I used about 15 noodles which was 8 less than my 1 lb package had in it. I only cooked the noodles about 1/2 way, since they will finish cooking in the oven.)

While the water heated, I got out my biggest skillet and started browning my ground turkey. I mash it with a potato masher while it cooks, to help break it up into small pieces.
When it was almost done, I added 1/2 of a large onion, diced, 2 tsp of minced garlic, some Italian seasoning, basil, salt and pepper. Then I stirred it all together and let it continue cooking.

When the onions were soft and the was meat cooked completely, I set it aside for later.

In the same pan (because who wants more dishes to wash?), I melted 1/2 stick of butter. I always use salted butter, but use whatever you have.

When the butter was melted, I added 1/2 cup of flour.

I whisked it all together. It should look like wet sand.

I let the butter and flour cook for a minute and then I slowly poured in my milk. I do this part over low heat, so that I have more time to get the lumps out before the sauce thickens. Make sure to constantly whisk, to get all the lumps out before you add more milk. If you add all the milk too quickly, you will have a lumpy sauce; and no one likes that.

When all the milk was added, and the sauce smooth, I grated in a bunch of fresh nutmeg. I would say at least 1/2 tsp. Probably closer to 1 tsp.

I also added some salt and pepper until it tasted good (probably about 2 tsp salt and 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper). Then I continued to cook the sauce, whisking occasionally, over medium heat until the sauce bubbled and began to thicken.

Then I added the finely chopped baby spinach. My kids don't mind me putting spinach in everything, but it needs to be chopped finely. They are not big on trying to chew a whole spinach leaf. Even the baby ones.

I stirred the spinach in and then cooked the sauce for another 5 minutes or so over low to medium low heat (again, stirring occasionally so it didn't lump up or scorch on the bottom), and then turned off the heat. (I also tasted the sauce again, to make sure it didn't need any more salt and pepper.)
This was about the time that my noodles were done cooking, so I drained them and set them aside.

Next, I turned my attention to the butternut squash. The night before I had roasted an entire medium butternut squash. I just cut in in half horizontally, and then each of those halves I cut again, but vertically. I scooped the seeds out, then salt and peppered the squash and put it on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. I roasted it @ 400 for about an hour, flipping each piece half way through. I let it cool, and then used a spoon to scoop the soft flesh of the squash out of the skin. The squash went into a bowl with a little brown sugar, butter and salt and pepper (to taste). Then I just mashed away until it was smooth. This is my husband's favorite way to eat butternut squash, but the texture is not one that my son cares for at all. So, I put it in the fridge and left it for today.
For the lasagna, all I had to do was warm up the squash and it was ready. If you don't have mashed or pureed butternut squash, you can substitute pumpkin or sweet potato. Just make sure it tastes good before you add it to the lasagna. Each layer should taste great by itself.

Oh, assembly time.
I put down a thin layer of the sauce on the bottom of a 9x13 baking dish.

Then I put down some noodles. (I used 4 on the first layer and then 5 on all the other layers. No rhyme or reason, that is just what I did. You can use 4 or 5 noodles per layer. Your choice.)

On top of the noodles, I spooned about 1 cup of the squash. Then I spread it out into an even layer.

Then I sprinkled on 1/3 of the meat mixture, into 1 even layer.

On top of the meat went the cheese. About 1/2 cup of shredded mozzarella. Just spoon some sauce over that (sorry no picture), and you can start again.

See, this time I used 5 noodles. I like to change the direction of my noodles for each layer, so that it holds its shape better when cutting.

Repeat all the layers 3 times. On the last layer, instead of adding more noodles on top of the sauce, just cover the top with cheese.

A lot of cheese! This is the best part of any baked pasta dish! I used probably 2 cups of mozzarella and then grated about 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese on top of that. (The Parmesan gets more brown in the oven, so it always goes on top.) FYI: You can totally cover it and freeze it at this point for a make ahead meal at a later date.

Now, do yourself a favor and place about 6 toothpicks in the top of your lasagna. They need to be secure, but not pushed down into the dish. Think "birthday candles."
Why? Because the toothpicks will keep the foil off the top of your lasagna, and save your beautiful cheesy crust you are going to create. If the foil just rested on top, then it would meld with the gooey cheese and when you removed the foil, the cheese would come right off with it. Not good! So, listen to me and use this kitchen hack. Use toothpicks!

Cover the dish with foil, and then place it onto a parchment lined baking sheet. (You'll see why.) It goes into a preheated 375F oven for 30-35 minutes - until the sauce is bubbling around the edges.

This is what mine looked like after 30 minutes. See that lovely saucy/cheesy mess bubbling out of the dish and onto the parchment paper? Now do you understand why it goes on the parchment paper lined baking sheet? Yes, you could just use a baking sheet, but then you would have to scrub it like crazy afterwards and who wants that? Not me! I'm all about easy clean up.
O.K. So, at this point, the lasagna is hot and all, but it's not that pretty. It needs the crusty brown curb appeal that makes people want to dig right in. How do we get that? The broiler, of course. :)

I leave mine on the center rack in the oven and then broil it for 8-10 minutes, until it is nice and brown. Unfortunately, I didn't hear my timer go off, and mine broiled for probably 11 minutes and it got a little too brown. Not burnt, just extra brown. :)

My son says this shot looks like a pizza, and I have to agree. The yummy cheesy crust does make me think of a pizza.
Now, this is where I'm going to ask you to do probably the hardest thing you have done all day . . . . wait. Yes, I said wait. Walk away from the piping hot, heavenly smelling lasagna that you just took out of the oven and occupy yourself with something else. Anything else, but DO NOT cut into it for at least 20 minutes (30 is better), or it will be a gooey runny mess. I chose to make a nice side salad (Cucumber Tomato Salad) to eat along side. It was the perfect accompaniment. A crispy tangy side dish to cut through the richness of this divine casserole.

OK When the waiting is over you can dig in. See how nicely it cuts when you let it set up? It's so pretty, and it tastes even better.
Here's the recipe:

Fall Lasagna
about 15 lasagna noodles cooked (or the no-boil kind is o.k. too)
1.25 pounds lean ground turkey
1/2 large onion, diced
2 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp dry Italian Seasoning
1/2 tsp dry basil
salt and pepper (to taste)
3 cups smashed butternut squash (Roasted, and smashed with butter, brown sugar, salt and pepper to taste. **Can substitute pumpkin puree or mashed sweet potatoes)
1/2 stick of butter (4 Tbsp)
1/2 cup of flour
4 cups of milk
freshly ground nutmeg (1/2 to 1 tsp)
salt and pepper (to taste)
shredded Mozzarella cheese (about 4 cups)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
3/4 pound fresh, organic baby spinach, chopped fine

Preheat oven to 375F. If using traditional lasagna noodles, boil them to 3 minutes shy of the package directions (very al-dente; they will continue cooking in the oven). 
Over medium high heat, break up and brown the meat. When it is almost done, add the onions, garlic, Italian Seasoning, basil, 1 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp of ground black pepper. When the onions are soft and the meat is browned, taste for seasoning (add more salt and pepper if needed), turn off the heat and set aside. 
Over medium low heat, melt the butter in the pan and add the flour. Whisk together until it looks like wet sand and cook for about 1 minute. Slowly add the milk, as you whisk vigorously to remove any lumps. Grate in the nutmeg and add salt and pepper to taste (I added about 2 tsp salt and 1 tsp pepper). Continue to whisk and cook over medium heat until the sauce thickens. Add the spinach and cook about 5 minutes more. Turn off heat and set aside.
In an 9x13 baking dish, spread out a thin layer of the spinach sauce so the noodles don't stick. Then, in a single layer, place 4 or 5 noodles. On top of the noodles, spread out 1 cup of the squash. Then sprinkle on 1/3 of the meat mixture, and then about 1/2 cup of Mozzarella. Top the cheese with a layer of spinach sauce, and then start the layers again. (There will be 3 noodle layers when you are done).
Cover the last layer with the remaining Mozzarella cheese and the Parmesan cheese. (You could cover and freeze it at this point for later use.) Cover with foil, being careful not to let the foil touch the cheese. (I like to use toothpicks to help keep the foil off of the top of the lasagna.) Place the baking dish onto a parchment lined baking sheet. Bake @ 375F for 30-35 minutes (until the sauce is bubbling around the edges). Remove the foil and broil until browned. (I leave mine on the middle rack, and broil for 8-10 minutes, but keep an eye on it.) Let sit for 30 minutes before cutting so the slices retain their shape. Serve warm.

Cucumber Tomato Salad

This is such an easy side dish, but it always is a hit and brings back good memories. It's tangy, cool and satisfying. The tomatoes are soft while the cucumbers are still crisp. It's a great balance.
    My dad used to make this for us when I was younger. He, of course, never measured anything. He just chopped the veggies and added in a splash of this and a splash of that. He also usually used Balsamic vinegar, so the final dish had a darker hue than mine, but I like the brightness of the veggies so I opted for Apple Cider vinegar instead. You really don't need a "recipe" for this, since it's all pretty much "to taste" but I measured out everything that I did anyway, in case you need guidelines. The typical ratio for a vinegrete is 2:1 oil to vinegar. But I like this salad on the acidic side, so I do more of a 2:1 vinegar to oil ratio (even less oil actually). I encourage you to make it how you would like it. :)

Here's the recipe: (serves 4 adults as a side)

Cucumber Tomato Salad

1 medium organic cucumber, chopped (I quartered mine, to be easier for the little ones to eat, but just slices work well too) 
1 medium organic, vine ripe tomato, chopped (I also seeded mine, but it's optional)
2 Tbsp vinegar (I used apple cider vinegar - this is to taste, if you don't like it so sour use less)
2 tsp oil (I use extra-virgin olive oil - again to taste, if you like it more oily then add more)
salt and pepper to taste
Stir all the ingredients together in a bowl and serve cold or at room temp. The longer it sits, the softer and more pickled the veggies will become.