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
1/2 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.
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.