As I’ve aged a little (I’m 45), I’ve started to back away from the starches as a main course, side or food group. Sure, we eat pastas and breads etc, but in MUCH smaller amounts than in my 20’s and early 30’s. Without getting into the politics of starches and obesity and etc. I wanted to share a version of my NO PASTA Lasagna – a different, perhaps somewhat healthier version than the Italian classic. We have this meal about 2 dinners every 3 months, and it’s usually by request.I use Butternut Squash as the lasagna noodle substitute. In this case, it’s not even a front-and-center Italian flavor profile I am going for – no sauce here. I am using the word “lasagna” to refer generally to the layering of the ingredients, and to the baking thereof, but there is a cheese factor here as you will find below. Don’t be disappointed or pre-judge – this recipe turns out a great presentation that plates really well for dinner guests.
- 1 or 2 Butternut Squash (thinly sliced)
- 1 thin-sliced purple onion
- 1 or 2 thin-sliced red bell peppers
- Kale, Swiss Chard, or Spinach.
- Ricotta Cheese
- Fresh Mozzarella
- Fresh Parmesan
- Pine Nuts
- Italian Seasoning – homemade or premixed
- Olive Oil
- Cracked Pepper/Salt to taste
- Slice and cook the squash and set aside to cool. Slice the onion and red bell pepper and caramelize/cook in olive oil for 5 minutes. Set aside
- Slice the cheeses or grate them, your preference.
- Use a casserole baking dish and rub or spray olive oil. Be sure to get the sides of the dish as well. Working in layers, place squash slices, spread a thin layer of ricotta, then onion/pepper slices, sprinkled kale, and cheeses and spices, then repeat. I find the ricotta works best on the squash layer, but the other ingredients can be layered however you like. I press down all the layers before the final top layer of kale and pine nuts is added, and I don’t use pine nuts except on the top. Skip them if you aren't into them. Finish with a sprinkling of Mozzarella and Parmesan. Drizzle olive oil.
- Bake, covered, for 20 minutes or so at 325 to 350. Remove the foil covering, and bake a little more to ensure the top cheeses are melted and it gives you a nice “lasagna” style look.
- IMPORTANT: As with any layered lasagna-type casserole, all your hard work will come to nothing if you try to slice it up right out of the oven. Might as well have served goulash out of a pot, because that’s what you’ll get if you don’t let it cool off and firm up for slicing. I allow a minimum 10 minutes of rest after cooking before I slice. Another key trick is to use a spatula and work around all 4 sides of the lasagna, separating the lower layers from sticking to the dish. This prevents crying on your part as you attempt to plate each thick slice and find that half the lasagna slice is still in the baking pan, looking sad and torn up.
Now, anyone who knows me and has been to my kitchen, knows that presentation is easily half of my focus at meal times. Even to the point of miscellaneous items cannot be in the room, on the counter, etc – when food is plated and presented. I even do this with my 3 children and wife when there are no guests. This is a DINING experience – we aren’t eating from a bag here. Atmosphere matters. Every time. And I swear, the food tastes better. But I digress.
Assuming you’re dining area and kitchen can now pass the food inspector, the critic, and a Food Network contest, and assuming you have separated the lasagna from the sides of the baking pan, the lasagna may now be sliced. Be careful! Be sure to cut it nice and clean, and you have a fork or knife in your other hand, to gently slide it off the spatula and on to the serving plate. Many times a pretty lasagna has been ruined by not gently pushing it off the spatula with an alternate utensil.
For final showiness, I drizzle a little olive oil, and either sprinkle a parsley or chive or basil on the side of the dish. Sometimes I use paprika as a dusting which also looks good. Every once in a while I do a zig-zag of balsamic reduction. You choice, just make it look nice.