Friday, November 11, 2011

Spinach and Pumpkin Lasagna

Yesterday was Thursday, my busiest day of the week. I am in school for over six hours and I still have to get all my studying and cooking and cleaning done somewhere in between all my classes.

So on Thursdays, when it comes to dinner, I am looking for something easy peasy. Something I can throw together and leave in the oven for Mike, and since I wont be eating dinner until after 830, I'd like it to be healthy. Clicking through some fall themed oven meals yesterday morning I found a recipe for Spinach and Pumpkin Lasagna, mmmm. And since I still had half a can of pumpkin puree (from baking some delicious pumpkin cheesecake) I figured why not.

I haven't had this combination before but boy am I ever a fan now! There is a natural richness provided by the pumpkin puree and a subtle earthiness from the spinach and a dash of nutmeg. The recipes I found online mostly included gobs and gobs of cheese which I am normally a fan of, just not today. I opted to leave out a giant layer of cheese in exchange for a lighter bechamel made from skim milk and a 1/2 cup of shredded Parmesan that goes into our sauce and on top of the lasagna.

If you have never made a white sauce before here are a few tips:

* Use a heavy bottomed pot, something that will evenly distribute heat
* Add your milk a little at a time at first, paying special care to whipping out lumps
* Your sauce must come to a boil before you're done, this is the only way to tell how thick the end result will be
*Don't season your sauce until after the cheese has been added. Parmesan is salty as is and you don't want to over do it!

We served this lasagna with roasted vegetables and a VERY tall glass of milk. What? Don't look at me like that, milk is good and good for you!

We had carrot cake that I made in my Baking Science class for dessert. It was phenomenal, and I can say that because it was someone else's recipe and it was my first time making it so I am thrilled it came out well.

This lasagna came together so fast! And it doesn't take a ton of ingredients like the ones we found online. You can put it together and leave in the fridge until it's time to eat. It is healthy, rich, delicious and vegetarian! What's not to love??

Spinach and Pumpkin Lasagna

1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup flour
2 cups skim milk (you may replace 1 cup of milk with low fat, sodium free broth)
pinch of nutmeg
1 clove of garlic
1 bay leaf
3-4 peppercorns

1 cup wilted spinach, drained well
1 cup pumpkin puree (or half of a 15 oz can)
1 egg yolk (optional)
1/2 cup shredded parmesan
1/2 box lasagna noodles, cooked according to directions

To make the bechamel, on low heat melt butter in a large heavy sided pot. Sprinkle in flour and cook until the mixture has taken on a little color. Switch heat to medium and add the milk a small amount at a time constantly stirring. If you notice any lumps, lower the heat and whisk until they are out.

Add garlic, bay leaf, a few peppercorns and nutmeg.

Once all the milk has been added bring mixture to a slow boil, continuing to whisk out any lumps. Once at a boil, examine mixture for thickness. It should lightly coat the back of a spoon, if it is thick or paste like, add more milk or broth. Let it simmer on low heat, mixing with a spoon occasionally. Remove garlic and bay leaf.

Remove from heat and add 1/4 cup of the parmesan cheese, mixing furiously! Taste, then season accordingly. Set aside, stirring frequently to prevent a skin forming on the top of your sauce.
*Note: this sauce is THE balls...remember this sauce. You will use it often, I promise!

For the pumpkin layer, add puree, the remaining parmesan cheese and egg yolk to a small bowl and mix until combined. Season with a little salt and pepper, you can add Italian seasoning if you'd like but only a small pinch. Set aside.

Now we start assembling. This is how I put the lasagna together, use it as a guideline or be a rebel and mix it up. I can guarantee you no one will ever know. It's not as if someone is going to cut into their lasagna and say..."Is that a layer of spinach, THEN a layer of pumpkin? UNACCEPTABLE!" Not going to happen....I promise.

So here's how it went down:

Have your cooked lasagna sheets, pumpkin mixture, bechamel and wilted spinach all close by. Grease your favorite baking dish, I used a 9x9 I think, and put down a spoonful of bechamel. Onto the bechamel you'll layer a few sheets of lasagna noodles. If you find your lasagna sheets too long or short, do not fret. Simply cut some sheets into long or short strips to fit or fill in the gaps, it isn't an exact science...your finished product will look stunning anyway.

After the first layer is down spread all of the pumpkin mixture and top with more lasagna sheets. Put bechamel on the second layer, just thick enough that we will see it when we cut into the lasagna. You can add shredded mozzarella if you absolutely cannot do without that super cheesy layer. I didn't miss it, honestly but my gut says that some of you will NEED this go for it. This gets another layer of pasta then you sprinkle the wilted spinach all around, top with a little bechamel and lasagna sheets. Now spread the very last of the sauce onto the top of your lasagna, shred some extra Parmesan all over the top and you're done. Throw that sucker in an oven set to 350 and cook until the edges are slightly browned and your sauce is bubbling.

You're not going to want to (because your house will smell SO amazing) but you MUST let this rest. The different layers need time to chill out and relax a little before you dig in. If you are a good little boy or girl and wait 10 minutes, when you cut in the layers of orange and white and green will be perfectly distinct and stunning when you go to plate.

I hope you all are enjoying the holiday season so far. There has been a lot of snuggling and hot cocoa going on around here, not looking forward to finals week next week but here's hoping they fly by for all of us! Cheers!

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