Yield: 4 servings
Every time I think about making a butternut squash lasagna–and there have been many times over the years!–I never end up doing it because I can’t make up my mind about whether or not to include mushrooms and/or spinach, whether to go with a bechamel or a tofu “ricotta” layer, whether or not to give in and incorporate some purchased vegan cheese (of which I’m not a big fan), in what order the layers should go, and on and on. All of the possibilities just short-out my circuits.
But, recently, I had an already peeled and ready-to-cook butternut squash in the fridge from our farmer’s market, some lasagna noodles, and a fresh batch of my Smokey Kale Pesto. The kale pesto made it easy to decide how to incorporate the greens–into a tofu “ricotta” layer–which also answered the bechamel vs. “ricotta” question. And since I didn’t have any mushrooms on hand, the rest just sort of fell into place.
This beautiful golden lasagna stacks up high but holds together beautifully to cut. Acidic fire-roasted tomatoes prevent it from being overly sweet. And the creamy ricotta layer receives a major flavor boost and a hint of color from the pesto. Since I make this bright green pesto with smoked almonds, I added a little smoked paprika to the marinara to marry the flavors. Because of these smokey notes, fire-roasted tomatoes are perfect.
Ultimately, I opted for no purchased vegan cheese, so I just sprinkled my beloved nutritional yeast over the marinara as the last layers. But then, not wanting the top to seem dry and wanting one final burst of fall flavors, I sauteed some fresh sage leaves and roasted pepitas in olive oil, drizzling the leaves, nuts, and sage-infused olive oil over the top of the lasagna before serving.
Wow! The results were worth all the years of waiting!
Though it’s a little different, this dish would be a beautiful and welcome addition to even the most traditional of holiday feasts. Happy Thanksgiving, all!
Note: To make this lasagna ultra-easy to put together, I like to prepare the various parts a day in advance. The pesto can even be made a couple of days in advance, as the lemon juice will keep it bright green.
4 lasagna noodles
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 pounds seeded butter nut squash, peeled, and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1-15 ounce can fire roasted diced tomatoes
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano or marjoram
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
7 ounces extra firm tofu (not silken)
2 tablespoons coconut creamer
6 tablespoons Smokey Kale Pesto (recipe follows) or your favorite vegan pesto
1/2 cup nutritional yeast, divided
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder or to taste
1/4 teaspoon onion powder or to taste
Zest of half of a large lemon
Freshly cracked black pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
12 to 16 fresh sage leaves
1/4 cup lightly salted and roasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Pour 2 tablespoons olive oil into a large roasting pan. Add the squash, season with salt, and roast for 20 minutes, stirring after 10. Transfer to a medium bowl. Heat another tablespoon of oil in a large cast iron skillet over medium-high. Add onion and a pinch of salt and saute, stirring frequently, for 3 minutes or until the onion softens and develops a little golden color. Add the garlic and saute, stirring continuously for another minute. Turn off the heat.
Remove half of mixture to a 2-quart saucepan. To the remaining onion add 1/2 teaspoon dried or dried rubbed sage. Stir to combine. Fold into the squash mixture. To the onion in the saucepan, add the diced tomatoes, water, basil, oregano or marjoram, smoked paprika, thyme and sea salt to taste. Simmer for about 15 minutes or until mixture thickens and most of the watery-moisture has cooked off. Turn off the heat.
To make the “ricotta,” place into the bowl of a food processor tofu, coconut creamer, pesto, 1/4 cup nutritional yeast, garlic powder, onion powder, zest of a large lemon, and salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Process until smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Oil a 5 x 9-inch loaf pan. Layer mixtures in this order, dolloping the marinara and “ricotta”: 1/4 of marinara, 1 noodle plus part of another, trimmed and arranged to fit pan, 1/2 of “ricotta,” 1/2 of squash, 1/4 of marinara, another noodle plus part of a third trimmed and arranged to fit pan, 1/2 of “ricotta,” 1/2 of squash, 1/4 of marinara, final noodles and 1/4 of marinara. Top with remaining 1/4 cup nutritional yeast. Cover the dish with foil and bake for 30 minutes; remove foil and bake for another 30 minutes.
During the last 5 minutes of baking, heat 1/4 cup olive oil in a cast iron skillet over medium-high. Add sage leaves and pepitas and saute, stirring continually, for about 30 seconds to 1 minute or until sage leaves are lightly fried (they will darken in color and shrivel just a bit) and pepitas, though already roasted, develop a little more color. Remove the lasagna from the oven and pour the sage-pepita mixture and all of the olive oil evenly over the top. Let rest for 10 or so minutes and slice into 4 ample pieces.
Smokey Kale Pesto
Note: this recipe makes far more than you will need for this lasagna, but you will love having it on hand.
8 ounces trimmed kale (that’s one bunch with stems removed from our grocery store)
1 cup smoked almonds
4 large garlic cloves
1 teaspoon powdered thyme (or 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves)
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt or to taste
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/4 cups olive oil
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
In the bowl of a food processor, process kale in two batches until very finely chopped, returning all kale to the food processor before continuing. Add remaining ingredients except olive oil and lemon juice and pulse until nuts are very finely chopped and ingredients are well combined. Then, turn the processor on and slowly drizzle in the olive oil and lemon juice until the mixture comes together. Check for seasoning and adjust if necessary. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Or, if not using for this recipe, freeze in ice cube trays, remove and store in zip-lock bags.