Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Pumpkin lasagne, evolution of a dish

AKA, Recipes? I don't need no stinkin recipes?

So, about two years ago, I had an experience I think other cooks will understand. I starting craving a dish I had never tasted. Nothing outlandish or even unusual, just something I had never happened to make or eat. I wanted pumpkin lasagne.

I knew just what it should be. Pureed pumpkin, mixed with egg and milk to enrich and improve the texture. Browned Italian sausage, with fennel. A little bechamel. Mozz and Parm. And pasta, of course. And, lo, I made it, and it was good.

The next time I made it, I skipped the mozz and really piled on the sauce. I also spiced the pumpkin with lots of nutmeg and a little cinnamon. That version worked, too.

This weekend, I wanted to make it again. But I wanted the flavor of sage, not fennel, because I had had a nice sage-butter sauce over squash ravioli in recent weeks and the sage had lingered in my mind. No problem, sage and plain ground pork. But when I went to buy the cans of pumpkin,* I hit a snag. The masses must have been out in force, making the curried pumpkin soup every magazine features in their October issue. No pumpkin in the store. Okay, I'll use squash. And no mozz this time. A little Parm on top will do. Then I hunted through my freezer to find I had used the last of my ground pork. Ground lamb? Ground beef? The Afghan restaurant down the street makes a nice pumpkin dish with a ground beef and yogurt sauce. Ground beef it was. But sage and beef and squash is a lot less sweet than fennel and pork and pumpkin. I wanted a little touch of autumnal sweetness. Caramelized onions. There we go. And it was good.

So, do I have a recipe for pumpkin lasagne? If I have a knife, and I replace the blade every odd year and replace the handle every even year, what is...

Well, here's the recipe that's working right now:

Caramelize two large onions in 2 T of butter. (You can cheat and do this overnight in the crockpot. I wouldn't for something really highlighting caramelized onions, because the liquid doesn't evaporate, so you don't get the same depth of flavor you can achieve with the hard-working method. But the onions play a supporting role in this dish. The crockpot is good enough for government work.) Mix 2 cans squash with one egg and 1/2 cup milk, season with salt and nutmeg and set aside. Brown 1 pound ground beef and season with black pepper (be generous) and salt and set aside. Mince sage (I used most of a package, two large sprigs, maybe 1/4 cup?). Mix together onions, sage and meat. Make a simple white sauce by cooking together 2T of butter and 2 T of flour, then whisking in 2 cups of milk and cooking until thick. Cook lasagne noodles. Layer, starting and ending with sauce, alternating between squash and meat with sauce layers. Sprinkle some Parm on top, and bake about 50 minutes on 350. Makes on big dish of nice-looking lasagne, and one of those messy "lasagne leftover" trays as well, about 1/3 as large. I suppose you could make the odds and ends tray look beautiful, if you don't mind messing with tradition. It's your call.

*Yes, canned pumpkin. As far as I'm concerned, there are only a handful of canned products worth buying. Canned tomatoes for sauce, coconut milk, chipotle chilies in adobe, Goya chickpeas and beans, and One Pie pumpkin. Real pumpkin is lovely for stuffing and whatnot, but for pumpkin puree, ease wins out every time.


Emma C said...

This sounds fantastic!

Emma C said...

P.S. I put a link to it on my blog. Hope that's ok!

Tim said...

I have always thought that the best 'recipes', are the ones that you invent to suit your tastes on the day - it sounds like you would agree!

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