Beet Green Lasagna with Squash Bechamel

4 Feb

Perhaps it goes without saying for someone who takes the time to write a food blog, but I love cooking.  I often think I could spend the entire day in the kitchen without complaints.  I love the experimentation that it requires – even when something is a failure, or doesn’t live up to expectations.  I love the creativity involved – even though it comes down to numbers, measurements, and timing.  I love how it doesn’t involve much thinking – I do enough of that during the rest of the day, and the best dishes tend to come from the “little of this, little of that,” throwing in whatever your palette and body is craving.  I just enjoy the hell out of myself in the kitchen.  I particularly enjoy taking vegetarian dishes, which many people dismiss out-of-hand as “boring” or “rabbit food,” and making something special.

This dish was one of those “special” vegetarian dishes.  It had all the panache of a cheese-and-meat laden lasagna with a hell of a lot less fat, calories, cholesterol, and all those other bad guys.  The low-fat cottage cheese was a great substitute for the ricotta usually found in vegetarian lasagnas.  The squash béchamel was on the sweeter side, but the slight bitterness of the beet greens, the earthy richness of the mushrooms, and the slight salty bite of the Parmesan helped to balance it out quite a bit.  In the future, I may roast the squash for a little less time to result in less caramelizing or substitute a saltier or more pungent cheese (such as feta or Gorgonzola) for the Parmesan.  Overall, though, I was very happy with the way this turned out.  I especially loved the fact that the béchamel was creamy and flavorful without the use of any flour or butter.  Although it was slightly labor intensive (par for the course with lasagna), a lot of it was make-ahead.

Beet Green Lasagna with Squash Béchamel

8-12 no-boil lasagna noodles (depending on size of casserole)

1 cup butternut squash, peeled and cubed

1 small acorn squash, halved

2 tbs. olive oil, divided

1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt

1/4 cup low fat cottage cheese

1 lemon, zested

2 tsp. fresh thyme leaves, minced, plus a few sprigs reserved for garnish

2 tsp. fresh rosemary leaves, minced

Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper

Greens and stems from 4-5 beets, washed well (about 3 cups chopped)

1 1/2 cups crimini mushrooms, sliced

3 cloves garlic, minced (about 2 tbs.)

1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes

1/4 cup Parmesan, grated

Non-stick cooking spray

Heat oven to 375º.

Spray a small casserole dish with non-stick cooking spray.

Spray a tinfoil covered baking sheet with non-stick cooking spray.  Add cubed butternut squash and halved acorn squash, flesh side up.  Toss with one tbs. olive oil and season with kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper.  Roast 40 minutes or until fork tender.

Remove squash from oven and let cool.  Remove flesh of acorn squash from skin with a spoon and place in food processor.  Add butternut squash, plain Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, lemon zest, thyme, and rosemary.  Pulse 10-15 times in 1-2 second bursts.  The final texture should be a smooth puree about the consistency of a fruit smoothie.  Taste and season with kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper as necessary.  [Note: This can be done up to 24 hours in advance.  Simply prepare and store in the refrigerator in an airtight container.]

While squash is roasting, remove beet greens from center stems.  Roll up leaves and chop into thin ribbons.  Chop stems into 1/2″ segments.

Add olive oil to a sauté pan and heat over medium-high heat.  Add mushrooms and cook until browned, about 7-10 minutes.  Reduce heat to medium and add garlic and beet stems.  Cook, stirring frequently, until garlic is fragrant, 1-2 minutes.  Add chopped beet greens and water and cook until leaves are wilted and tender.  Season vegetables with crushed red pepper flakes, kosher salt, and freshly cracked black pepper.  Set aside.  [Note: This portion can also be made ahead and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 24 hours.]

For assembly, spoon a few tbs. of squash sauce into the bottom of the prepared casserole dish, spreading to evenly coat.  Place noodles, overlapping slightly, to cover bottom of casserole.  Add 1/3 of remaining sauce.  Top with 1/2 of the cooked vegetables and 1/3 of cheese.  Add another layer of noodles, 1/3 of sauce, remainder of vegetables, and 1/3 of cheese.  Top with final layer of noodles, the remainder of the sauce, and the remainder of the cheese.  [Note: Yet again, this can be assembled ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator for a day until you’re ready to heat through.]

Cover the lasagna with foil and bake at 375º for 30-40 minutes.  Remove foil and continue to bake for 10-15 minutes until the top of the lasagna is golden and the cheese is melted.  Let rest, uncovered, 15-20 minutes before slicing.  Garnish with a few sprigs of thyme.

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