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Thursday, April 23, 2020


Edward R. Murrow dining room at the National Press Club in Washington DC has seen its share of Butternut Squash Lasagna being served.
Butternut Squash Lasagna, A favorite vegetarian entrée most requested recipe at the Club

GUEST BLOG / By Susan Delbert, executive chef, National Press Club, Washington DC--As one ages, making favorite recipes engenders a serendipity circumstance.  Things change; recipes change; ingredients change, but the enjoyment remains the same. This recipe was conceived in 2006.  It was a hit then, when it was a Tuesday special, and it remains a coveted entrée recipe whenever served at the National Press Club.

Interestingly, it has evolved—as perhaps have we all.  Originally, it had cubed butternut squash; it had lasagna noodles; it had hazelnuts; it did not have spinach.  Over countless servings at the club, several versions have emerged:  no lasagna noodles, deep fried green beans, not spinach; mascarpone instead of ricotta; Swiss instead of mozzarella; no nuts.

Chef Susan Delbert
Ultimately, if you combine slightly pre-baked squash, dried cherries (luxe) or cranberries (more accessible), some sort of dairy filler: ricotta, sour cream, mascarpone or cream cheese with any choice of grated Parmesan, Gruyere, Swiss or mozzarella, and layer this in a casserole dish with Béchamel, you cannot go wrong.  I have indicated how we make it at the Club with variations that will not distract from the love this will immediately engender.  This is one of the great vegetarian dishes of all time.

The recipe was conceived for one 9 x 13” pan.  During this time of sharing, one can make two 9 x 9” pans and share one with someone who is shut-in or self-quarantining. Just call them and tell them to turn their oven to 350 degrees and then leave it on their doorstep:  I predict instant friendship for life.

Don’t judge a book by its cover...
Roasted Butternut Squash Lasagna
3 pounds butternut squash (can substitute part roasted sweet potatoes)
2 onions, peeled and sliced or diced
3, cloves garlic, peeled and minced
4 oz. Combo butter and olive oil
½ cup parsley, cleaned, chopped (optional)
½ cup rosemary, chopped (optional; may sub sage)
1 ½ cups toasted Hazelnuts (aka filberts), roughly chopped
1 ½ cups dried cranberries (or cherries)
1 cup ricotta (or mascarpone or sour cream)
¾-1# mozzarella (fresh is nice, firm is ok; may sub Swiss or Gruyere)
1½ cups grated Parmigiana Reggiano (any hard cheese)
12 (7 x 3 ½") Lasagna Noodles (about ½ pound)
4 oz. fresh spinach (or Swiss chard), optional
Dry breadcrumbs, butter (optional)

For Béchamel sauce:
2 cloves garlic, minced fine
4 T butter (½ stick)
4 T flour (about ½ cup)
Quart milk, half and half or heavy cream, or any combo)
2-3 bay Leaves
Salt/Pepper (traditionally, white pepper only is used)

--Grease and set aside a 13 x 9 pan; (or two 9 x 9 inch pans—see above variation); preheat oven 350 degrees.
--Peel and seed squash; slice with mandolin, slicer or knife; about ¼ inch thick.  Oil with olive oil and oven roast on flat cookie sheet until slightly caramelized around the edges (about half cooked), 15 minutes.  (Sprinkle with parmesan cheese, optional).  Cool slightly
--In large sauté pan or rondeau, sauté onions until soft, add garlic, salt and pepper.  Remove from heat:  add parsley, rosemary, if using.  Cool slightly
--Salt water in wide pot to boil lasagna noodles.  Have a basin or pan of iced water ready to shock noodles after boiling. Do not oil water; this does nothing.  Drop lasagna noodles into boiling water one at a time, cook until half cooked, about 5 minutes.  Remove and shock in ice water basin. Cool. Massage noodles with oil to keep separate
--Slightly chop hazelnuts.  If untoasted, place in oven about 10 minutes, remove, rub in terry cloth towel to remove skins (some will stick); chop slightly in food processor or with knife on cutting board.  Hold.
--If using fresh spinach, put 4-8 oz. in colander, salt and pour hot water over colander.  This will fix the color and extract some of the (unwanted) water.
--Mix dairy product using:  ricotta, mascarpone or sour cream with grated mozzarella or Swiss/Gruyere and parmesan cheese.  Add grated pepper (optional)
 --Béchamel:  this may be the most daunting aspect of the recipe, but it need not be.  This is a simple white sauce.  It is only daunting because it looks like it cannot possibly work when you are in the middle of making it.  In a straight sided sauté pan (aka rondeau) -- or flat bottom pot, melt 4 oz. butter/oil, add garlic and dump flour in one mass.  Using a whisk, or fish spatula, blend butter and flour.  This will look impossible, but soon the mixture will start to look like bubbling beach sand.  Continue cooking to cook out raw flour taste -- until you start to smell the butter; it will bubble around the edges.
--Using whisk, stream in milk (or half and half/cream).  Whisk constantly.  Add bay leaves; these are a professional trick of lovely béchamel.  Slow boil about 10 minutes.  It will come together.  It should be thick, but not paste-y:  Off heat, add some of the parmigiana.  Whisk in salt and pepper.  Remove bay leaves.
--The hardest part of lasagnas is prepping all the components, and then it is just an assembly project of layering.  The order doesn’t really matter, just alternate.

From the bottom of pan to top:

--Sauce the bottom of pan slightly with Béchamel
--Spread 1/3 Squash;
--Spread ½ spinach over squash; sprinkle ½ cranberries
--Spread ½ onion mixture over squash
--Layer ½ lasagna noodles, cutting to fit in pan
--Spread ½ cheese over noodles; sprinkle ½ hazelnuts
--Spread second 1/3 squash
--Repeat all steps:  spinach, cranberries, onions, noodles, nuts, cheese
--Top with last 1/3 of squash.
--Top with Béchamel Sauce:  Dab it on over whole surface, spread like frosting.
--For a luxe finish, butter sauté bread crumbs (4 oz. butter, ½ cup dry bread crumbs); sprinkle atop Béchamel with bit of grated Parmesan
--Lay non-stick spray parchment paper over casserole. Cover baking dish with foil. Bake for 40 minutes in middle of oven. Remove foil and parchment; bake about 20 minutes more.

Let rest 15-20 minutes before cutting.

Can be made, baked and cooled.  Reheat before service.

Enjoy.  Yum.  Have fun with this; make it your own!

Source: Susan Delbert, Executive Chef, National Press Club, Washington DC

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