I have been a little overwhelmed by the number of pumpkin recipes that swamped the food blogosphere in the month of October. The ways people have been sneaking chunks and dollops of pumpkin into practically everything, sweet and savory, is incredible. Although I did pay homage with a few items, they were all sweet—pie, doughnuts, muffins, granola. So after our sugar pie jack-o-lantern had his big night, I hacked him into pieces and roasted him in the oven, determined to use at least part of the resulting puree to make a savory dish.
After the butternut mac and cheese affair, I am very willing to admit that winter squash and cheese are good friends. Which is why the idea of a cheesy pumpkin lasagna had a lot of appeal for me. I briefly considered a filling that included yet more of the cider-molasses braised pork, but in the end, I chose to make this an entirely vegetarian meal.
I was working off a recipe with a rich pumpkin cream sauce and a chard filling. I lightened up the sauce out of necessity—no cream and just a small amount of cheese on hand—and pumped up the filling with a mix of cooking greens (everything from turnip, radish and kohlrabi greens to kale), onion, garlic, and cream cheese. I even included a handful of leftover Great Northern beans in homage to that traditional Italian idea of greens and beans.
However, in the back of my mind was the new episode of Good Eats I had just watched, in which Alton Brown discussed the three sisters of historic North American agriculture: corn, squash and beans. I was already using two of the three in my lasagna, so I decided I ought to incorporate corn in some way. If I had not already mixed up my pasta dough, I might have attempted a corn-based pasta using masa harina, but as it was, I opted to thicken the sauce’s roux with a combination of all-purpose flour and masa, which lent a slightly reduced thickening power but a mild corny flavor that played well with the sweet pumpkin and nutty cheeses.
The lasagna baked up luminously orange, bubbly, brown, and very rich. While it settled, I whipped up a bright salad using lettuce, baby spinach and French breakfast radishes from the community garden, dressed with a vinaigrette of Comice pear pureed with thyme, mustard, garlic, white balsamic vinegar and olive oil. The sweetness of the pear really helped balance those peppery radishes, and I threw in a few toasted seeds from that same pumpkin for crunch and synergy.
Lasagna Tre Sorelle
1 recipe fresh pasta dough or dry lasagna noodles
3 T butter
2 T all-purpose flour
2 T masa harina
3 C milk, or a combination of milk and stock (I used 1% milk and about 1/2 C leftover chicken stock)
1 C pumpkin puree
1/2 C grated Parmesan or Grana Padano
pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
pinch of cayenne or chipotle powder
2 T olive oil
1/2 a red onion, chopped
1 tsp garlic, minced
1 C cooking greens (measured after cleaning, chopping, blanching and squeezing very dry—or use frozen spinach, thawed and drained well)
4 oz cream cheese
1/2 C cooked or canned white beans
1/2 C Gruyere, grated
pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
Additional grated Gruyere and Parmesan or Grana Padano
Make the pumpkin cream sauce: Melt the butter in a large saucepan and stir in the all-purpose flour and masa until thick and bubbly. Pour in the milk and stir over medium low heat until thickened to the consistency of heavy cream, then add the pumpkin, seasonings and cheese. Add salt and pepper to taste. Set aside and keep warm.
Make the greens filling: In a skillet, saute the onion and garlic in olive oil over medium heat until tender, then add the greens and a pinch of salt and nutmeg, and cook for several minutes until heated through. Turn off the heat and add the beans and cream cheese, using the back of your spoon to mash them up a little until the cream cheese melts. Gently stir in the Gruyere and set aside.
Roll out your pasta into sheets of an appropriate size for your 7×10 casserole dish, cook until al dente in boiling water; then drain, chill briefly in an ice water bath to stop cooking, and lay out on a towel to blot. Or cook lasagna noodles according to the package directions. Preheat the oven to 400F.
Assemble the lasagna: Spoon about a quarter cup of the pumpkin sauce into the bottom of your casserole and cover it generously with pasta. Spread about a third of your filling over the pasta, grate on a little more cheese if desired, and drizzle on a ladleful of pumpkin sauce. Repeat these layers two more times, ending with pasta, sauce, and plenty more cheese.
Bake at 400F for 20-30 minutes, until the cheese is golden brown on top and the sauce is very bubbly. Allow to rest for 10-15 minutes before serving, and serve with a salad on a cold night.