PUMPKIN & GREENS LASAGNA

from

Southfacin’ Cook, Patsy Brumfield

Sometimes, weird things happen in my kitchen, cooking-wise anyway. My son’s wife had a late meeting and I volunteered to make dinner for them (and me, of course). I always have to take into account my 3-year-old grandson, too, so as I searched my pantry, I realized I had the makings for a lasagna he really likes, having been reared on greens and other veggies.

So, that’s where this went. And boy, did it turn out to be tasty. It’s also hard to beat a béchamel with mozzarella, parmesan and ricotta.

This recipe – a pretty “fall” offering with the Pumpkin Pasta Sauce* – makes a big batch for a crowd or wonderful leftovers that need only a brief microwave zap for yummy lunch or dinner (or breakfast, hey!).

It’s also great for a football game day tailgate. Try it, really. It may sound weird, but it is really good and a nice change from meaty lasagna.

Equipment:

Large Dutch oven, medium sauce pan, 9×13 or 10×14 casserole dish*, cutting board, chef’s knife, whisk, flat-edged wooden spatula, medium mixing bowl, measuring cups and spoons, microplane, large serving spoon, large baking sheet, aluminum foil, cooking spray.

Ingredients:

1 pkg lasagna noodles (recipe uses 15, 5 per layer)

1 25-oz. bottle pumpkin pasta sauce (often gluten-free)

2 12-oz. pkgs frozen chopped kale

2 12-oz. pkgs frozen chopped spinach

1-2 bunches green onions, coarsely chopped

8-10 oz. sliced mushrooms (whatever you like)

Salt

1 teaspoon grated nutmeg

2 tablespoons olive oil

Béchamel Sauce

½ cup canola or vegetable oil

½ cup flour

8 oz. ricotta cheese

8 oz. grated parmesan cheese

12 oz. grated mozzarella (save 4 oz. for topping)

½ cup dried parsley

3 cups milk (whatever fat content you prefer)

Salt

Red pepper flakes (optional)

Let’s Get Started

In Dutch oven, heat olive oil on medium-high and add mushrooms to soften. After about 5 minutes, add chopped onions. Add dash salt and cook together another 5 minutes. Stirring occasionally. Add chopped spinach and kale, plus nutmeg. Add ½ cup water. Cook on medium heat, stirring occasionally for about 10-15 minutes. Be careful it doesn’t scorch.

While greens are cooking, make your béchamel or simple cheese sauce.

In sauce pan, heat vegetable oil on medium-high until it shimmers, then whisk in flour and dash of salt. Reduce heat to medium and stir often with whisk or flat-edged wooden spatula. (You’re making a roux but not a dark one – it’s a “blond” roux. You just want to cook out the floury taste.) Cook 5 minutes and move off the heat.

Put 2 cups of milk and heat in microwave 2 minutes. Whisk into roux and return to medium heat, whisking constantly until the mixture begins to thicken. Move off the heat and add cheeses. Stir until mixed. This is likely to feel very thick, so put another cup of milk into the microwave for 2 minutes, and then add slowly to cheese mixture. Add parsley and pepper flakes. When it’s combined well, add cheese mix to the greens. Mix well. Turn off the heat.

Assembling Casserole

Spray casserole dish with cooking spray.

In mixing bowl, pour pumpkin pasta sauce. In its empty jar, fill about 1/3 with water, put cap back on and shake well. Pour pumpkin-water into the pasta sauce and mix. (This is going to be a little runny, but that’s OK because it will hydrate the dried noodles.)

Now, line up pasta sauce bowl, casserole dish and greens-cheese mixture for assembly.

In bottom of casserole dish, add a thin layer of greens-cheese, then a thin layer of pumpkin sauce. This is where I use the large serving spoon for the greens-cheese and a 1/3-cup measure to spread the pumpkin sauce.

Top with layer of dried lasagna noodles. In a 10×14 or 9×13 dish, I can get 5 noodles laying them across, although I have to break off a little from one end per noodle. It’s not beautiful but it works. Top noodles with another layer (¼ inch?) greens-cheese, then pumpkin. Repeat. If you’re using a 10×14 you may have run out of pumpkin, but that’s OK. Top next layer with noodles (this makes third layer of noodles), then greens-cheese. If you’re using a 9×13, you likely still have pumpkin to use like the other layers. ** If you have any extra ricotta, dot the top with some of it, then sprinkle thin topping of the rest of the mozzarella and, if you have it, a little parmesan. (I always have some stray shredded cheese in the fridge.)

Place the completed casserole in the refrigerator for at least an hour, overnight if you like. This “rest” time allows the noodles to soak up juices (which makes cooking the noodles unnecessary).

Cook:

Turn oven on 400. Bring casserole out of fridge and let it warm about 20 minutes. Cover baking sheet with foil. Before you cover the casserole with foil, spray cooking spray onto the inside of the foil (the part that will lie against the cheese topping), so it won’t stick. Place casserole atop baking sheet. Bake 45-60 minutes, remove the foil and bake another 15 minutes until the topping is bubbly and browning. Allow cooked casserole to cool at least 15 minutes before serving. (This lets the juices calm down and prevents them from running all over the place, which defeats the pretty layering you’ve done so well.)

Serve:

Makes a hearty 8-12 servings. Serve with a crisp salad and crusty French bread. Lovely!

If you’re tailgating, this is great to make ahead of time (freezes well, just make sure it’s thawed before you cook it). You can keep it warm wrapped in newspapers in a cooler. It’s also awesome room temp or cold, so don’t worry about that.

Notes:

* Pumpkin Pasta Sauce is found with the regular tomato pasta sauces in most grocery stores. I first found it at Whole Foods but noticed Kroger has it or a good substitute, Butternut Squash Pasta Sauce. If you use the Butternut Squash variety, I recommend adding a ½ teaspoon cinnamon.

** Cook’s Confession: I made this recipe twice for PorchScene, the first I left in the oven too long while I played with my grandson. The second, I made on his birthday while everybody else was sweating the details of his party. Know there’s a difference in content between a 10×14 and a 9×13 dish. With the larger, you may run out of pumpkin sauce after the third layer and use almost all the greens-cheese mix. For the smaller, you may have enough pumpkin sauce to drizzle over the topping at the end and you’ll have a fair bit of greens-cheese left – I put that into a freezer bag, label it, mark it with the date and plan to use it as part of the filling (minus eggs and cheese topping) for 2 quiches. You also could use it to top a home-made pizza or inside flour tortillas for quesadillas. Use your imagination. As for the lasagna noodles, don’t worry if you massively break any of them. Just lay them out in the dish like the others (puzzle pieces, sort of) and continue the sauce layering. Nobody will ever know the noodle isn’t one continuous piece.

All photos by Patsy Brumfield

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