Lasagna at Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving, the all-American holiday complete with turkey, gravy, stuffing, mashed potatoes, lasagna, pumpkin pie, the list goes on. That's right, you read that correctly, I said lasagna. We always have lasagna at Thanksgiving along with the traditional fare. Because my mom is a vegetarian she makes a lasagna so that she will have a substantial main dish too. But somehow everyone in the family ends up with a square of lasagna on his or her plate. I guess we just can't pass up lasagna even if we are stuffing ourselves with a bunch of other food (pun intended).

It's just as well that my mom makes the lasagna though. She definitely cannot make the turkey (thankfully another relative assumes that role). She once made a turkey when I was in high school. She got a free turkey from the grocery store for spending so much on groceries. She decided to cook the turkey thinking that she could make things like turkey sandwiches, enchiladas and so on for my step dad and me to eat.

Since she rarely cooked meat she didn't own a roasting pan that would fit the turkey. She purchased a foil pan and began cooking the turkey in that on a cold November evening. My sisters and I were doing our homework at the kitchen table as the turkey baked. Then I thought I smelled smoke.

"Is something burning?" I asked.

"Mom, something is burning!" my sister yelled. My mom came in and opened the oven door. Smoke billowed out. The foil pan had a large hole in it and juice from the turkey was spilling out onto the bottom of the oven and burning.

Being of no help at all my sisters grabbed their papers and ran upstairs shutting their bedroom doors to avoid the smoke. I tried to help my mom by opening the windows to let the smoke out. The turkey wasn't done though, so we had to let it continue cooking. My mom slid a sheet pan into the oven on the rack below the turkey to catch the drippings, but there was still a lot of it on the oven floor burning away.

My eyes started to water from all the smoke and it was suddenly freezing in the house with all the windows open. Mom suggested I head for my room as well.

"Smoked turkey is served," my mom laughingly called upstairs over an hour later.

What a sight we were. Eating dinner in puffy jackets with the hoods pulled up because it was so cold in the house with the windows open. Our eyes burning and watering from all the smoke. We all laughed and told my mom she was never, under any circumstances to make a turkey again. And to this day she hasn't.

Her lasagna is still there at Thanksgiving though. She usually makes a simple lasagna with layers of ricotta, noodles and marinara sauce. I was having some friends over the other day, and thinking about our tradition of lasagna at Thanksgiving, decided to make a butternut squash lasagna. (Speaking of butternut squash, I am also loving this recipe again lately).The picture below is not the best, but it was tasty. Here is how I made it:

Butternut Squash Lasagna

1 large butternut squash, quartered lengthwise
1 teaspoon lemon zest
scant 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg + 1 pinch, divided
scant 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Extra virgin olive oil
15 oz whole milk ricotta
1 cup grated parmesan cheese, divided
1 egg
1/2 cup packed basil leaves, chopped
16 no boil lasagna noodles
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
4 cups whole milk, warmed
1 stick unsalted butter
1/2 cup all purpose flour
Freshly ground black pepper

Make the squash filling: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil. Scoop out the seeds from each squash quarter with a spoon and discard. Place squash quarters on sheet and drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cover with another piece of foil and roast in oven until tender when pierced with a fork, about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Remove from oven and allow to cool until you can handle the pieces. Scoop out the squash with a spoon (or peel away flesh with a pairing knife), and transfer to a food processor. Add lemon zest, cinnamon and 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg. Process until smooth (may take a few minutes). Season to taste with salt and pepper if necessary. Squash mixture can be made one day ahead. Cover and refrigerate.

Make the ricotta mixture: Mix the ricotta, egg, 1/2 cup parmesan cheese, basil, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in large bowl. Set aside.

Make the sauce: Melt butter in large saucepan over medium high heat. Add flour all at once and whisk for 1 minute. Add the milk and continue whisking. Bring to a simmer, then lower heat to medium and continue to whisk until thickened, about 5 minutes. The mixture should coat the back of a wooden spoon. Add a pinch of nutmeg and season with salt and pepper.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 9 x 13 inch baking dish. Ladle 3/4 cup sauce on the bottom of the pan. Layer ingredients in this order: 3 lasagna noodles, 1/2 butternut squash mixture, 1/2 cup sauce, 3 lasagna noodles, 1/2 ricotta mixture, 1/2 cup sauce, 3 lasagna noodles, remaining butternut squash mixture, 1/2 cup sauce, 3 lasagna noodles, remaining ricotta mixture, 1/2 cup sauce, 3 lasagna noodles. Pour remaining sauce over the top of the lasagna. Sprinkle with mozzarella and remaining 1/2 cup parmesan cheese. Cover with foil and bake for 45 minutes. Remove foil and bake an additional 10-15 minutes until cheese is browned on top and lasagna is bubbling. Allow to rest for 10 minutes before cutting.

Serves 8-12

Note: You can make the lasagna 1 day in advance. Simply cover with foil after layering and refrigerate overnight. Let stand at room temperature for 1 hour before baking.


Again and Again

You know a recipe is good when you find yourself making it again and again. One recipe that I make at least a few times every fall is Giada DeLaurentiis' Apple Crostata. The crust is rich and flaky and the apples bake up perfectly. It's much easier to make than apple pie and to me tastes better. I like that it's supposed to be rustic and imperfect. It needs no adornment, though you could serve it with a dollop of whipped cream or vanilla ice cream if you wanted. I've also used this dough to make other crostatas filled with jam or fresh figs. This was my first time making it this year and I'm sure it won't be the last. A good consideration for Thanksgiving too if you want to make something yummy and homemade but want to skip the work of making a pie. Enjoy!

Apple Crostata

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
10 tablespoons cold unsalted butter cut into 1/2 inch cubes
ice water

3 large Golden Delicious or Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and cut into 1/8 inch thick slices
1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 egg white
2 tablespoons sliced, toasted almonds (optional)

To make the crust: Place the flour, sugar and salt in a food processor and pulse to combine. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture looks like a coarse meal. Add 3 tablespoons ice water and pulse until the dough comes together in a ball. If the dough does not come together in a ball add another tablespoon or two of ice water. Gather the dough into a disk and wrap with plastic wrap. Refrigerate until firm about 45 minutes to an hour.

To make the filling: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Combine the apples, 1/4 cup sugar and lemon juice in a bowl and toss to combine. Let stand 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, remove the dough from the plastic wrap and place on a lightly floured surface. Roll out to an 11 inch round (you can trim off any ragged edges with a knife or pizza wheel). Gently drape two sides of the dough over the rolling pin and transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Pour off any accumulated liquid from the apple mixture and place apples on top of the dough leaving a 2 inch border. Fold the dough over the filing in pleats to form and 8 inch round leaving the middle exposed. Whisk the egg white with 1 tablespoon of water and brush over the crust. Sprinkle with remaining tablespoon of sugar. Bake the crostata until golden brown, about 40 minutes. Let cool on pan on wire rack for 10 minutes. Then slide off of pan onto rack to cool completely. Sprinkle with almonds before serving.

Serves 6

Note: The crostata is best served the day it is baked.


A Halloween Tradition


Cinnamon Rolls.

My husband's family has been eating chili and cinnamon rolls on Halloween for decades. They are originally from Washington which means that Halloween evenings were cold. Roy's grandmother wanted to make something warm for her kids before and after they went trick-or-treating, and one year she thought of chili and cinnamon rolls. The combo has lived on ever since. When I married into the family I jumped on the chili-cinnamon roll bandwagon. I like to make a double batch of each and invite friends to come over for a bowl and a roll and to pass out candy. It's a fun tradition, and the recipes that follow are nice to make on any cold evening (or the cinnamon rolls for breakfast for that matter). Both are adapted from America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook.

Turkey Chili

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 white or yellow onions, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
6 garlic cloves, minced
2 chipotle chiles in adobo, minced
1/4 cup chili powder
1 tablespoon cumin
1 teaspoon Mexican oregano
2 pounds ground turkey
1 28 oz can tomato puree
1 28 oz can diced tomatoes
1 15 oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 15 oz can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1 15 oz can kidney beans, drained and rinsed

Garnishes (optional)
Diced avocado
Minced red onion
Shredded cheese
Sour cream

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onions, bell pepper, chipotle chiles, chili powder, cumin, oregano, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook until vegetables are soft, about 7 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the turkey and increase the heat to medium-high. Cook until no longer pink, about 10 minutes, breaking up the meat with a spoon. Stir in the tomato puree, diced tomatoes with their juice, beans, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Bring to a simmer, then cover and reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer for 45 minutes. Remove the lid and simmer for another 45 minutes until the chili has thickened. Season with additional salt if necessary.

Serve with optional garnishes.

Serves 6-8.

Cinnamon Rolls 

Sweet Dough
3/4 cup buttermilk
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled to warm
3 large eggs
4 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 envelope rapid-rise yeast
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
Vegetable oil

3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
pinch salt
1 tablespoon melted unsalted butter 

3 tablespoons mascarpone cheese
3 tablespoons buttermilk
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Place buttermilk in microwave safe cup and microwave until it reaches 110 degrees on an instant read thermometer. (I did this by doing 20 second intervals and stirring after each interval. It took about 40 seconds total). Crack the eggs into a large liquid measuring cup and whisk briefly. Whisk in buttermilk and butter.

Place flour, sugar, yeast, and salt in mixing bowl fitted with hook attachment. Mix briefly to disperse the ingredients. With the mixer on low speed add the buttermilk mixture and mix until the dough comes together, about 1 minute.

Increase the mixer to medium-low and knead until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. (After 5 minutes check the dough. It should stick to the bottom of the bowl but clear the sides. If it is sticking to the sides add flour 1 tablespoon at a time until it clears the sides).

Turn the dough onto a clean counter or cutting board and knead for 1 minute (press the dough away from you with your palms, then fold back toward you, then rotate 90 degrees, and repeat). Transfer the dough to a large bowl that has been lightly oiled with vegetable oil. Wrap tightly with plastic wrap. Place dough in warm area and let rise until doubled in size, about 2 hours.

Mix the brown sugar, cinnamon and salt in a small bowl. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and press into a 12 x 16 inch rectangle.  Brush the dough with butter. Sprinkle with the sugar mixture leaving a 3/4 inch boarder on the top. Press on the filing to adhere it to the dough.

Roll the dough into a tight cylinder and pinch the seam closed. Roll the cylinder over so it is seam side down. Gently stretch it to 18 inches in length. Cut into 12 evenly sized rolls. Spray a 9 x 13 inch pan with cooking spray and arrange the rolls cut side down in the pan. (At this point you can place the rolls in the refrigerator for up to 16 hours, and then proceed with the rising).  Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until nearly doubled in size and pressed against each other, about 1 hour.

Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake until the rolls are golden and puffed, 25 to 30 minutes.

Remove from oven and place on wire rack to cool for 5 minutes. Meanwhile sift the powdered sugar into a large bowl. In a small bowl whisk the mascarpone cheese, buttermilk and vanilla until smooth. Add to the powdered sugar and whisk until smooth. Drizzle over the cinnamon buns. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 12 rolls.

Notes: You can substitute regular oregano for the Mexican oregano. Also, I use mascarpone cheese for the cinnamon rolls because I like it better than cream cheese, but cream cheese will work just fine if that's what you like or have on hand. Also, the cinnamon rolls are best the day they are baked, but can be stored in an air-tight container at room temperature for one day.