Butternut squash, sage and ricotta lasagne

The sweetness of the squash, fragrance of the sage and creaminess of ricotta are a divine match. The flavours need very little to bring the best out of them so keep the ingredients as simple as possible so you can taste each element. The secret twist to the creamy ricotta filling is a good helping of sweet roasted garlic which really takes it to another level. Ovenproof dishes come in such a range of shapes and size so, before you cook the lasagne sheets, try to work out how many sheets you need to fit yours. I always cook a couple of extra sheets in case they tear. The filling also works with cannelloni.

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Ingredients- serves 4
For the lasagne filling
1 butternut squash- cut into cubes
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
3-4 garlic cloves- kept whole and with the skin on
Handful of fresh sage
250g ricotta
Ground nutmeg
Lasagne sheets

For the béchamel sauce
500ml milk
1 onion- halved
2 bay leaves
2 cloves
50g butter
50g plain flour
Parmesan to top

1. Get going by preheating the oven to 180c/ 160fan. Place the cubes of squash on a baking tray, drizzle with olive oil and season well with salt and pepper. Toss the cubes and add in the garlic cloves so each is coated in the oil and roast until tender. When it is ready, a knife will easily sink through the cubes. Place in a large bowl and set aside.

2. Whilst the squash is roasting you can get started on the béchamel sauce. Secure the bay leaves to the onion halves using the cloves- this way you don’t have to go fishing around the saucepan to find the cloves later on! Add the milk to a small pan and bring to a boil before removing from the heat and allowing the flavours from the bay and clove to infuse for around 20 minutes.

Take another pan and melt the butter and flour together until a paste, or roux, is formed. Remove the onion, clove and bay from the pan containing the milk and slowly add the milk to the pan with the roux. Keep stirring so lumps don’t form! Simmer and stir until it thickens before removing it from the heat ready to pour over the lasagne.

3. Stir the ricotta through the squash cubes so well combined. Finely chop the fresh sage and add to the bowl along with 1tsp of ground nutmeg; use fresh nutmeg if you can. Taste and adjust the seasoning to suit you. Set the mixture aside whilst you prepare the lasagne sheets. Don’t worry if the squash starts to break up; I sometimes mash down half of the squash and leave the other half in cubes to add a different texture and make smoother. Squeeze the tender roasted garlic from their skins and mix through well.

4. Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil and add the lasagne sheets to cook, a few at a time so the pan does not become overcrowded. Cook the sheets until parboiled- you can cook them without parboiling but I think this really does make a difference. Nobody wants to find chewy pasta in their mouthful!

5. Now to assemble the lasagne. I spoon a little of the béchamel sauce in the bottom of the ovenproof dish to stop the pasta sticking when baked. Lay sheets of lasagne to cover the bottom before adding a layer of the butternut squash filling. Add another layer of pasta and repeat until the filling has been used up and finish with a layer of pasta.

6. Pour the béchamel sauce over the lasagne and top with freshly grated parmesan. Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes until bubbling and golden. I usually cover the lasagne for the first half of the cooking time and then remove the foil for the end but it will depend on your oven as to if you need to do this or not. Serve with a simple side salad and dig in!

Squash, sage and ricotta lasagne- a satisfying vegetarian pasta dish which is perfect for a midweek meal or special occasion!

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Chard, butternut squash and goat’s cheese gnocchi

Chard, butternut squash and goat’s cheese gnocchi is the perfect way to make use of the new season vegetables and boost their flavour even more! Chard can be found in most supermarkets but can often be overlooked in favour of its better known friends such as kale and spinach. It’s flavour is akin to beetroot leaves but it is so versatile and just all the colours it comes in is incentive enough to pick up a bunch. I used butternut squash in this recipe but autumn is the time where there is an abundance of different varieties of squash so play around and experiment. Choose a sweeter squash for this recipe to balance the slight bitterness of the chard and the savoury goat’s cheese. I have used Carmarthen ham in this recipe which you can learn more about and order here: http://www.carmarthenham.co.uk. If you don’t use this then simply replace it with parma ham or omit for a vegetarian meal.

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Ingredients- serves 2-3
Glug of olive oil
1 large red onion- finely chopped
2 garlic cloves- finely chopped or crushed
Few fresh sage leaves- finely chopped
Small bunch of chard- leaves and stems separated
200g butternut squash- cut into dice
70g Carmarthen or parma ham
3-4 tbsp. crème fraiche
Small log of soft goat’s cheese
Pack of fresh gnocchi- approx. 400-500g

1. Start off by taking a large frying pan and heating a glug of oil over a medium heat. Add in the onion, garlic and sage and cook together until they are softening. I often add a small amount of sea salt to the onions to draw the moisture out and this works well. Take the diced butternut squash and add to the pan; cover and cook the squash until tender. This will usually take around 15-20 minutes but keep checking as it will depend on the freshness of the squash and the size of the pieces. Stir from time to time.

2. Meanwhile you can prepare the ham; cut 50g of the ham into bite size pieces and reserve the other 20g. I then placed the reserved ham in a hot smaller frying pan and crisped it up before allowing to cool and cutting finely to sprinkle on the finished dish later.

3. For the chard, make sure the leaves have been separated from the tougher stalks as they need to be treated differently. Cut the stems into centimetre pieces and roughly chop the leaves. Quickly blanch the stems in a pan of boiling water for around 1 minute before plunging into iced water and then draining. Shocking the stems in cold water stops them from cooking further and also helps them to retain their colour. Add the cooked stems and the leaves to the pan with the butternut squash which should be lovely and tender. Pop in the squares of ham.

4. I find that fresh gnocchi can vary in texture and firmness a lot so I simply boiled the gnocchi for a minute and a half until starting to rise to the surface of the water before draining. While the gnocchi is boiling, add the crème fraiche to the pan with the squash and chard and stir well to combine. Tip the cooked gnocchi into the pan and combine so each piece of gnocchi is coated with the crème fraiche.

5. Lower the heat to low/ medium and give the gnocchi a few minutes to relax into the pan and combine with all the fresh flavours of the vegetables.Cut the goat’s cheese into small pieces and scatter in the pan. Cook for an additional minute or so to let it start to melt through the gnocchi. If you find the crème fraiche gets a little claggy then add a small splash of water to the pan and stir in well. Serve the gnocchi in deep bowls and add a liberal sprinkle of the crispy ham pieces on top.

Colourful chard, butternut squash and goat’s cheese gnocchi- a surprisingly light meal that’s packed full of flavour! I challenge you not to sneak a taste straight from the pan- just look at it…

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