Partially a relief from the heat and partially off-putting for the lack of lakeside beer-sipping, Hurricane Alex is treating west Texas to the first rainy and cool 4th of July in recent memory. Even though I’m an 8 hour drive from the coast, the weather traveled this far west to abuse the land as a parking lot. These clouds are clearly not from around here because there’s no thunder. There’s no menacing black wall of weather looming over us, isolating us in a dark tunnel of water that ends moments later with the splintering of the gray by the blinding sunlight. No, these clouds are just drizzling and misting, and they don’t seem anxious to move after five days. Like I said, they’re not from around here.
The unusual weather inspired an upside-down summer meal. Too heavy for a hot sunny holiday, but perfect for an evening that almost feels like fall: butternut squash (barely in season) layered in a lasagna with spinach, cheeses, pecans and a garlicky bechamel. The original recipe was touted as being nutritional. Nutritional? Well that word seems to be up for grabs, so call it that if you want. But really what I like is making creamy lasagna in July. Like when I wear shorts in January.
As for the recipe…
Butternut Squash Lasagna
adapted from Brian Malarkey’s recipe over here.
1 large butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into thin slices
1 cup spinach leaves
20 oz mozzarella, grated
4 oz parmesan, grated
1/2 cup pecans, chopped
12 lasagna noodles, or enough for 3 layers, cooked
4 tablespoons butter, plus more to grease pan
1/4 cup flour
3 1/2 cup whole milk
4 cloves garlic, minced or grated
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
salt and pepper
Set oven to 375 degrees.
Start by making the roux: brown the butter on medium-low heat until it has finished foaming and smells a bit nutty. Whisk the flour in until the mixture is smooth, then add the milk a little bit at a time, whisking smooth after each addition. Add garlic, paprika and salt and pepper to taste. Allow the bechamel to come to a simmer then reduce the heat so that it is just steaming. Whisk often and remove from the heat when the sauce is thick enough to heavily coat the back of a spoon. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.
Brush a bit of butter on the bottom of a 9×13 casserole dish and begin to layer the lasagna: bechamel, spinach, pasta, mozzarella, a touch of parmesan, squash, pecans. Season with a bit of black pepper between occasional layers. Make sure to finish the top layer with cheese, then put it in the oven, covered with foil, for about an hour. Remove foil and reduce temperature to 350, baking until the top is bubbly and caramelized, approx. 30 more minutes.
It serves best if allowed to cool ~30 minutes. The layers are less slippery that way. I served this with a strawberry and spinach salad dressed with red wine vinaigrette, just to even out the extra creamy cheesiness. And to remind me that summer’s still up there blaring the heat on the other side of the clouds.