Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Pumpkin Party 2011 - Dinner

If you haven't already, you'll want to be sure and read the previous post which introduces the Pumpkin Party and shares the appetizers. Hopefully that got your sqaush juices flowing, and you're hungry now for the main course. 

The first year of the party, I made a butternut squash lasagne which was a big disappointment. First of all, this was before the days when Trader Joes sold pre-cubed squash, so I spent literally hours cubing a whole raw butternut, only to slip while carrying the bowlful and spilling the cubes all over the floor. Secondly, it was before I had enough experience to realize that cooking the squash first makes it about a thousand times easier to cut than doing it raw. Thirdly, the recipe I used just didn't have much flavor; it was a nice concept but it needed some tweaking with herbs and salt. The next few years, I made other pasta dishes with squash, tomatoes, and mixed vegetables, but this time I was ready to give  lasagne a second chance. I found a new recipe, and modified it a bit based on my previous experience, and was really happy with the results.

I started with this recipe for Roasted Butternut Squash, Rosemary, and Garlic Lasagne but made some additions. My version follows.

Alongside the lasagne, I served a stuffed pumpkin and a green salad (below). There is really nothing more perfect for a pumpkin party than filling the cavity of a pre-carved jack-o-lantern and popping the entire gourd into the oven. But something about it was intimidating. A friend of mine once served soup in a hollowed-out pumpking "bowl" but I never would have taken on this stuffed pumpkin had it not been for the recommendation of another friend who pointed me toward Dorie Greenspan's Pumpkin Stuffed with Everything Good. Since I like my parties to be vegetarian-friendly, I looked for another stuffing to use, but otherwise followed her inspiration.  I selected this Corn Bread, Apricot, and Pepita Dressing (I left out the eggs entirely, and half the recipe filled my 12-pound pumpkin completely, and served about 20 as a side-dish.)

Pumpkin stuffed with Green-Onion Cornbread, Apricot, and Pepita dressing.

Butternut Squash and Rosemary Lasagne
Makes 12 servings
1  3-pound butternut squash
olive oil
4 cups milk
1 cup cream
4 six-inch sprigs fresh rosemary, woody stems removed
2 large cloves garlic, minced (minimum one tablespoon)
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon freshly grated black pepper
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon kosher salt
8 ounces mushrooms (I used 10 baby portabellas), sliced 3/8" thick
9 sheets dry no-boil lasagne pasta
1 1/3 cups freshly grated Parmesan (about 5 ounces)
1/3-1/2 cup chopped toasted hazelnuts
Preheat oven to 450°F. and oil cookie sheet. Cut squash in half lengthwise and remove seeds. Place cut-side down on cookie sheet and roast until fork inserted through skin can penetrate, about 25 minutes. Allow to cool, then peel, slice, and cube in 1/2-inch chunks.

Meanwhile prepare bechamel sauce.
Bring milk and cream to simmer with rosemary. Simmer over low 10 minutes, then strain to remove herb leaves.
In a large heavy saucepan cook garlic in butter over moderately low heat, stirring, until softened. Add flour and stir roux over heat about 3 minutes. Remove pan from heat and whisk in milk mixture in a stream until smooth. Return pan to heat and simmer sauce, whisking occasionally, about 10 minutes, or until thick. Stir in salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Reserve about 1 cup of sauce. Mix squash cubes with remaining 4 cups of sauce and mash until about half remain as cubes. (Sauce may be made 3 days ahead and chilled, its surface covered with plastic wrap.)  

Assemble lasange: Butter a 9x13x2" baking dish. Coat bottom of pan with about 1 cup of squash sauce. Lay 3 lasagna noodles over, so they are parallel but not touching. (They will expand as they bake.) Top with half of remaing sauce, and spread evenly over noodles. Layer with sliced mushrooms, evenly spaced but not overlapping. Top with 3 more noodles, sauce, and remaining mushroom in layers. Top with remaining noodles and the reserved cup of white sauce. Sprinkle with parmesan and hazelnuts, and garnish with a few short springs of rosemary.
Cover tightly with foil, tenting if necessary so foil does not touch the surface. (Can be made 24 hours ahead. Store in fridge.)

Preheat oven to 375. Bake for 35 minutes, uncover, and bake an additional 10 minutes until golden and bubbling. Allow to rest 5 minutes before cutting and serving.

Butternut Squash Lasagne being assembled.

Mixed Greens with Acorn Squash, Golden Raisins, Walnuts, and Sherry-Maple Vinaigrette
Serves 12
1/2 pound mixed greens (baby spinach would also be good, but not as colorful)
1 medium acorn squash
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup chopped toasted walnuts
Sherry Maple Vinaigrette 

Cut squash in half, scoop out seeds, and place cut-side down on oiled cookie sheet. Bake at 400 for 20-30 minutes until skin is easily pierced with a fork, but flesh is still firm. Allow to cool, then peel (the longer you cook it, the easier it will be to remove the skin, but the softer your cubes will be, making for a potentially messier salad.) It's a pain, but the easiest way I found was to cut the squash into thin slices (about 1/2 - 1" thick) and use a vegetable peeler to remove the skin, then cube for bite-size salad pieces. Toss with remaining ingredients.

Notes on vinaigrette: I only made a half-recipe, and only used half of what I made to dress the amount of salad in the recipe above. I used half walnut oil/half vegetable oil, and sherry cooking wine because I didn't have sherry vinegar.

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