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This lasagna is a really special treat! It is great for the holiday table or any special occasion. I say this because it takes a bit more time than my usual recipes. I have made it twice recently for Christmas parties. The second time was easier because of familiarity and because I was able to store some cooked ingredients. You will need a block of time such as 2-3 hours (1 hr.15 mins for cooking) and I assure you that you will receive comments such as “this is to die for” repeatedly. It is just that good. Do not be intimidated by the preparation, it is really easy to follow and proceeds easily.  Butternut squash is a powerhouse of nutrition. Like all members of the gourd family, it is technically a fruit because it contains seeds. It is low in fat and chock full of dietary fiber making it exceptionally heart healthy. Butternut squash contains significant amounts of potassium important for bone health as well as B-6 for proper functioning of both the nervous and immune systems. There is folate which has a heart healthy reputation and protects against brain and spinal cord defects particularly in unborn fetuses. As most vegetables of it’s color, this squash has a significant abundance of carotenoids to protect against heart disease, breast cancer and age-related macular degeneration. Because of it’s high antioxidant component, it acts as an anti-inflammatory and helps to reduce the risk of inflammatory related disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis and asthma. Sage is an herb widely used for it’s culinary and medicinal purposes. It contains calcium important for bone, teeth and skin health. Iron is also present to increase energy and Vitamin A benefits us with it’s antioxidant properties. Sage is a memory booster and has both anti-microbial and anti-bacterial qualities.  It is known to lessen the intensity of allergies and mosquito bites.

Here is the yummy, winning recipe…

Ingredients:

2 large butternut squash (3-5 lbs.)

3 tbs. extra virgin olive oil

1 tbs. ground cinnamon

1 tbs. fresh sage leaves finely chopped

1/2  tspn.   freshly ground black pepper

1 tspn. freshly grated nutmeg from the nut ( you can use ready-ground nutmeg but the flavor is enhanced by the freshly grated kind)

2 cups ricotta cheese or a 15 oz. container

1 lb. fesh mozzarella cheese

1 cup freshly grated parmegiano reggiano cheese or grated pecorino romano cheese

2 large eggs

1 lb. dried lasagna sheets or noodles

For the Bechamel or white Sauce:

5 cups whole milk

6 tbs. unsalted or whipped butter

1 tbs. minced sage

2 tspns garlic minced

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

freshly ground black pepper

1/2 tspn. freshly grated nutmeg

Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees F

You will need a 9 x 13-inch baking dish

Preparing the squash:

You need to remove the skin from the squash. I have tried many methods mostly resulting in wrist and muscle soreness in my forearm. I have discovered what I think is the best method for no side effects. First, microwave the squash for 3 minutes. This softens the skin and then you can use a horizontal blade vegetable peeler to remove the skin. It will be helpful to stabilize the squash by cutting it just above the bulbous part. Put the cut side down on a cutting board and remove the skin. Then cut the bulbous part in half and remove the seeds and loose fiber. Chop the squash into 1/2 inch chunks.

Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray oil the foil.

In a bowl, toss the squash with 1-2 tbs. olive oil, 1 tbs.sage, 1 tbs. cinnamon and fresh ground black pepper

Spread the squash in a single layer on the baking sheet.

Roast the squash in the oven until soft and beginning to brown for 45 mins. Stir once or twice during the roasting.

Remove squash from the oven and puree with the fresh nutmeg. The food processor and blender have not proven to do a good job for me. I prefer mashing the squash with a hand held masher. Or you can mix the squash with the ricotta and eggs and use a hand held mixer to blend. The squash is difficult to puree because of it’s healthy fibrous nature.

You can make the squash a day ahead of time or split up your time during the day before the next preparation steps.

In a large bowl, mix the squash puree (it’s okay to have a few lumps), ricotta, parmegiano reggiano, eggs and 1/2 tspn. pepper. Cover and refrigerate the mixture until ready to assemble the Lasagna.

Reset the oven to 375 degrees F.

Preparing the lasagna noodles:

In a large pot of boiling water, cook the lasagna noodles until al dente. Drain the noodles in a colander , then spread them on a baking sheet(s) and spray oil them or drizzle with oil to prevent sticking. Do not let them overlap or touch each other. Set them aside. If you can find them you can use no-boil lasagna noodles and skip this step. Just follow the directions on the package.

Preparing the bechamel sauce:

In a medium size  saucepan, bring the milk to a slow simmer over medium heat.

Meanwhile in a larger pot, melt the butter over medium-low heat.

Add the sage and garlic to the butter. Cook for 30 seconds.

Add flour and stir/whisk.

Add 3 cups of the milk and whisk well to prevent lumps. Bring to a boil while whisking continually.

Add remaining milk and whisk again

Add salt, pepper and nutmeg.

Adjust the heat to low to maintain a slow simmer, and cook until the sauce coats the back of a spoon, about 5 mins. This will make about 4 cups. Remove from heat.

Assembling the Lasagna:

The oven should now be at 375 degree F.

Butter or spray oil a 9×13-inch baking dish. Spoon a ladle of bechamel sauce into the dish and spread to coat the bottom.

Place a single layer of lasagna noodles on top of the bechamel.

Spread some of the squash mixture evenly on top of the lasagna noodles.

Top with fresh mozzarella cheese broken into pieces and sprinkle with parmegianno reggiano or pecorino romano cheese.

Repeat this step until all ingredients are used.  Usually 2 layers will fill your baking dish and you will use 9-10 lasagna noodles.

Finish with grated cheese and sauce directly over the noodles.

Bake covered ( may use foil) in the middle of the oven for about 1 hr. @ 375 degrees F.

Remove cover and continue cooking for another 15 mins. until golden brown and bubbling. During this time, I top the lasagna with dolops of pesto to brighten it and also add another layer of flavor. However, this is optional.

Allow lasagna to rest before slicing into it. Serve warm.

Alternatives:

This recipe may be tried vegetarian style with soy milk, soy cheeses that are like in nature, and egg substitute. Since I have not done it this way, I suggest that you try the bechamel sauce first. If the soy milk works out in the sauce, the rest should work well too. For lower fat, you can use part-skim ricotta cheese and low moisture mozzarella cheese. Skim milk is too thin to make a rue or bechamel sauce.

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Spaghetti is a world wide favorite and in this recipe it is served with no-meat balls. Whole grain or whole wheat spaghetti is used because it’s nutrients remain intact. Most of wheat’s  nutrition is in the bran and germ of the wheat grain.  For years, American’s have processed wheat into white flour and grain  products and then “enriched”  them with the nutrients that the process removed.  Strange!!  In recent years, it has been discovered that leaving wheat in it’s natural state provides a wealth of nutritional value. Whole wheat contains essential B vitamins, folic acid, calcium, iron and many other vitamins and minerals. It is packed with fiber too. The health benefits of whole wheat are impressive. People who eat whole grains, weigh less. This may be because the body is using the nutrients from the grains and the fiber regulates digestion and elimination. Among other things, whole grains are known to lower type 2 diabetes. Also in this dish are store bought (short on time today) meatless meatballs though I can tell you roughly how to make them.  Having never been one to  measure my recipes rather cooking by intuition, eye and taste. It has been a big effort  to measure things as I go along for the purposes of this blog. I have used Nate’s Savory Mushroom Meatless Meatballs purchased at my local Whole Foods market. They are vegetarian, delicious, low calorie, low fat and contain lots of protein.  So, eat this healthy dish and celebrate it’s multiple benefits.

Ingredients:

1  12-16 oz. pkg. of whole wheat/whole grain spaghetti or any whole grain pasta.

Tomato sauce. See my recipe for a quick and easy tomato sauce.I am using my homemade sauce leftover from yesterday

Nate’s Savory Mushroom Meatless Meatballs

Optional:

Grated parmagino reggiano or pecorino romano cheese

Fresh basil

Preparation:

Cook the pasta as directed until al dente which literally means “to the tooth”. There should be a slight resistence in the center when the pasta is chewed. Cooking varies from 8-12 minutes so check frequently after 8 mins.

While pasta is cooking, heat no-meat balls in the tomato sauce. Nate’s meatless meatballs are frozen.

Strain the pasta and remove to serving bowl.

Top with sauce and no-meat balls.

Garnish with fresh basil if you like.

Serve with grated pecorino romano or parmagiano reggiano cheese

Mangia!!

Alternative:

You can make your own meatless or no-meat balls using fresh chopped mushroom, soy crumbles, any kind of bread cumbs or semolina, a wet ingredient for the “glue” such as mashed potato, glutinous cooked rice or any grain or eggs (or egg white) or egg substitute and herbs and seasonings of your choice. As with any meatball the key is the wet ingredients. You can’t go wrong if you assemble all the dry ingredients and then add the thickener gradually. Bake @ 350 degrees or saute one or two to taste test and adjust as needed.

You can substitute the whole wheat pasta with corn,  rice pasta or any of the alternatives available.

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