Thursday, 24 October 2013

Sensational Under the Sheets

Lasagna con la Zucca, Pomodoro & Basilico
Pumpkin Lasagna with Tomato & Basil

Everybody loves lasagna- that much is for sure. And although I always try to make healthy food, that was not my main motivation in making this totally different version of the classic dish- nope! I just wanted to make something that was doable with the ingredients I had at home and that wouldn't take so long! That's fair enough, isn't it?!? But the fact that it IS a much lighter version, that it is vegetarian and that it is made from start to finish in only an hour might make it interesting for you too... follow me and take a look!

Basically, all I really wanted to do this evening was to finally get around to using some of the little pumpkin I bought on Saturday. Oh, it keeps for ages I know... but I was simply in the mood for it! I thought of making a soup, which is also a Winter favorite, but decided I wanted something a little more satisfying and filling- a nice comfort food dish for a cold evening that I could spoil myself with a little. And I came up with this idea...

To make this double portion here, I needed just 2 cupfuls of grated pumpkin, 10-15 cherry tomatoes (depending on their size), an onion, a little garlic, tomato paste, milk, basil and 5 sheets of oven-ready lasagne. Of course the Italian word "lasagne" simply means "sheets" or "layers" and the whole fun the dish is building up layers of filling between the pasta sheets. 

Usually that means alternating layers of tomato sauce with ground meat and bechamel sauce, with lots of grated cheese, but in this case I decided to make a sauce using grated Hokkaido pumpkin and tomato, flavored with nutmeg to taste similar to a bechamel and made lightly "creamy" tasting by adding milk. No flour and butter as in a traditional bechamel- and therefore with a lot less calories... but trust me- the flavor is still all there! 

So to get things started, I finely chopped a small onion and a clove of garlic, and got them sizzling in a deep frying pan with just a pat of butter. Whilst that was happening, I coarsely grated the pumpkin and turned on the oven to get it nice and hot... multi tasking is important!

Once the onion had become translucent, I added the pumpkin, stirred it through and let it sit and brown for a while, whilst I sliced up the cherry tomatoes. As soon as the pumpkin started to brown, I added about a handful of the tomatoes and 3 tablespoons of tomato paste and stirred them into the mix. Of course by now, the pan was beginning to seem a little dry and things were beginning to stick to the bottom a little- which is just fine! That is all good flavor in there, and a good splash of boiling water was all it took to loosen everything up and to bring everything together. Before I knew it, what had looked like a a messy fry-up just a minute before was transformed into a rich, thick sauce. 

A little water turned all of those tasty ingredients into a sauce- but it was actually still more of a thick paste at that point, so what I added was milk, plain and simple, stirring in little by little until it was the right consistency. And of course the whole thing needed to be seasoned! Salt, pepper, grated nutmeg, a tiny sprinkle of cinnamon and a hint of cayenne- simple but good flavors! I let the sauce simmer for just a couple of minutes whilst I grated a little salted ricotta and parmesan, plucked a few nice, large leaves of basil and got ready for action... it was now time to assemble that lasagna!

I spooned some of the sauce into my baking dish and then laid down the first pasta sheet and spooned sauce on top of that as well. I added a few slices of cherry tomato, then tore up and spread out a couple of basil leaves, sprinkled a little of each the parmesan and the ricotta, added a little fresh pepper and nutmeg and repeated this procedure until the sauce was all used up- as I said, 5 sheets deep in this case. The final layer of course needs to be nicely coated in sauce and of course cheese and then the whole thing needs to be covered in foil and baked at 300°F for half an hour. 

After 30 minutes, the foil can be removed, a little pepper added and the lasagna can continue baking and browning and becoming more and more delicious, whilst the wonderful smell drives you insane with impatience- but it does take just a little longer for the cheese to continue melting and browning and crisping up the lasagna around the edges and it is torture! But it will soon come to an end and it will be a happy ending indeed once you actually can dish it up and enjoy!

I was a little surprised myself at how good this turned out and how wonderful it tasted! The coarsely-grated pumpkin retained a nice consistency, and although of course it is softer than a meat filling, it still had a satisfying bite to it and it still browned up nicely around the edges which was very, very nice!

The milk added a creamy flavor without there actually being any butter, or bechamel added, as I already mentioned- and with the nutmeg the overall taste was very similar indeed- and the pumpkin and pasta soak up any excess moisture very nicely as well. The result is a nice, compact, moist and firm lasagna which is easy to slice up and serve and as rich and delightful as "the real thing"... but different. I like that! Life is too short to keep on eating the same-old same-old anyway! So give this a try and enjoy! I am pretty sure you will if you do! ;-)

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