This recipe was first introduced to me by my friend, Kirty Labra, who runs baking classes in new delhi.
A few short hours after I landed in San Francisco, the friends I was staying with whisked me away to a holiday party their friend was throwing. I never quite know how I’ll do around new groups of people: sometimes, I click with people immediately and other times, I play the wall flower for a bit. I’ve grown out of being the shy girl in middle school whose parents put her in acting lessons, hoping she’d find her voice. I did find my voice, and apparently, it loves to talk about food.
This, I’ve discovered, works fantastically at most parties where food is involved. It’s an instant conversation start — just ask the other person what they think of their dish. What you usually discover is not a simple opinion; a story comes with it. You hear about the first time they had garlic and hated it, or how impossible and awkward their first experience with butternut squash was. You learn about them: their likes, their favorite places, their politics, their philosophy on life. I’ve never met a person who didn’t like some sort of food, because when you’re eating good food, you know it. Eating a delicious meal is one of the most intoxicatingly vibrant things you can do. You savor the moment. You savor the company and conversation. You drink in each glorious peal of laughter or hushed nod in agreement.
So, on that rainy December night in San Francisco, that’s where I found myself: in a friend of a friend’s apartment, at a party, eating delicious food. It was all amazing, but I fell in love with the butternut squash lasagna and began to dream of making it myself.
For the next few weeks, I bugged my friend to get the recipe. I needed it like I needed to breathe. I was willing to fly — nay, drive! to San Francisco if necessary to get my hands on this recipe. Luckily, it arrived in my inbox and all I had to do was plot a dinner party myself.
And so, this past Friday, I had a small little dinner gathering. There were only four of us, but none of us minded — we all went back for seconds and some even thirds. We ate and we laughed, and I remembered that my favorite thing about cooking and baking are moments like these.
Butternut Squash Lasagna
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 pounds of butternut squash (peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch cubes, or bought like that)
freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup water
3 amaretti cookies, crumbled (optional)
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3 1/2 cups whole milk
Pinch of nutmeg
3/4 cup fresh basil leaves, lightly packed
12-15 no-boil lasagna noodles
2 1/2 to 3 cups shredded whole-milk mozzarella cheese
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Position the rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 375 degrees F.
In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat the oil. Add the squash to the skilled and toss to coat. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt and pepper. Pour the water into the skillet then cover. Simmer over medium heat until the squash is tender, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes. Cool slightly (at least 5 minutes) and then transfer the squash to a food processor. Work in two batches as squash may still be quite hot). Add the amaretti cookies (optional — I decided to leave them out) and blend until smooth. Season the squash puree to taste with more salt and pepper.
In a medium-sized saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk for 1 minute. Gradually whisk in the milk. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, whisking regularly, about 4 minutes (I never got mine to boil). Reduce the heat to medium and simmer until the sauce thickens slightly, whisking often, about 5 minutes. Add in the nutmeg. Cool slightly, about 5 minutes. Transfer half of the sauce to a blender. Add the basil and blend until smooth. Return the basil sauce to the sauce in the pan and stir to blend. Season the sauce with salt and pepper, to taste (I added none).
Lightly butter a 13 by 9-inch glass baking dish. Spread 3/4 cup of the sauce over the prepared baking dish. Arrange 3-4 lasagna noodles (depends on their size) on the bottom of the pan. Spread 1/3 of the squash puree over the noodles. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup of mozzarella cheese. Drizzle 1/2 cup of sauce over the noodles. Repeat layering 3 more times. (You can also layer only 3 times rather than 4.)
Tightly cover the baking dish with foil and place in oven. Bake the lasagna for 40 minutes. Remove foil and sprinkle the remaining mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses over the lasagna. Continue baking uncovered until the sauce bubbles and the top is golden, 15 minutes longer. Let the lasagna stand for 15 minutes before serving.
Can you say “mmmm”?