Saturday, 2 November 2013

Butternut squash and kale lasagne

This recipe came about as a bit of an experiment. I had some kale, I had a butternut squash, and I had a sudden urge to eat some lasagne.

I think by now you might have worked out that I’m quite a big fan of pasta (did I mention that before?). And lasagne is one of those pasta dishes that, when done right, can turn simple ingredients into something quite fancy, tasty and unarguably comforting. I’d unfortunately gone out for a bit of a disappointing Italian dinner a few days before at a well known chain (not mentioning any names) – which serves me right for choosing that over local and independent, right? So to set the good vs bad food scales right again, I thought I’d give this guy a go.

I've had numerous variations on the veggie lasagne- spinach and ricotta, lentil, roast veg, but thought this combo might work well. And it did! The sweet, creamy butternut squash mixed with some garlicky, earthy kale and a bit of cheesiness are a match made in heaven, and when baked to get that lovely, slightly burnt crunchy topping made this an absolute joy to eat. Served with a crisp, sharp rocket salad to offset the richness and a glass of white wine, this was much better than any ‘meh’ dinner out at a chain. Lesson learnt!

It definitely isn't a speedy recipe. It does take some time and effort and unfortunately a fair bit of washing up afterwards, but if, like me, you enjoy an afternoon pottering around the kitchen it’s definitely worth it for a bit of a special meal or for feeding a group. It can be made in advance up to the baking stage and frozen/refrigerated before sticking it in the oven when you need it.

In other news, I’m so excited to say that the boyfriend and I have found a flat! House hunting is not at all fun, and we saw some 'interesting' places-but the one we have gone for just feels so homely and cosy- and has a lovely big (relatively for a one bed flat!) brand new kitchen, that I’m so excited to take over with all my Kilner jars, spice collection and everything else, and while away the hours in there working on some new creations. A decent kitchen was so important to me as I love cooking so much, and some of the places we saw literally had room for a sink and an oven and not much else, so I’m very pleased to have got this place and super excited to move in and make it our own!

Butternut squash and kale lasagne
(Serves 4)

1 butternut squash, peeled, seeds removed and cut into small chunks
3 cloves garlic, peeled
1/2 tsp of chilli flakes
1 onion
1 bay leaf
5 whole peppercorns
500 ml of semi-skimmed millk
50g butter
50g plain flour
pinch of grated nutmeg
glug of olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped
large bunch of kale, stems removed and roughly chopped
4 ready made lasagne sheets
vegetarian parmesan

Preheat the oven to 200C. Place the squash, garlic and chilli in a large roasting tray and roast for about 30 minutes until soft and starting to turn golden. Once out of the oven, mash roughly with a fork or potato masher until mostly smooth.

Meanwhile, make the bechamel sauce for the lasagne. Add the milk to a pan with the peppercorns, onion and bay leaf and heat until slightly boiling. Take off the heat and set to one side. After a couple of minutes, strain the milk.

Melt the butter in a large saucepan over a medium heat. Add the flour and heat the paste for a couple of minutes. Take off the heat and add a small amount of milk, stirring quickly until smooth. Keep adding the remaining milk and stirring until you have a smooth sauce. Return to the heat for a few minutes until thickened. Grate in some nutmeg and add salt and pepper to taste.

Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan, then add the onion and fry over a medium heat until soft. Add the kale, and a splash of water, and heat until wilted. Stir in about a quarter of the bechamel sauce.

Depending on your lasagne sheets, you may need to precook them. As this dish doesn't have a lot of liquid, I just soaked the sheets in a dish of boiling water for about 5 minutes beforehand to ensure they would be cooked.

Cover the bottom of a medium sized oven proof dish with about half of the bechamel sauce. Place one of the lasagne sheets on top. Spread a third of the butternut squash on the top, and cover with a third of the kale. Repeat for two more layers, finishing with a lasagne sheet on top.

Cover with the remaining bechamel and grated parmesan.

Bake for about 30 minutes until golden on top.

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