I remember the first time I made this dish quite clearly. It was not long after I started my post-baccalaureate in Biology and the reality of my situation [read: I’M BROKE!] was really sinking in. I was still basking in the victory of my last complicated attempt at cooking–a chicken coq au vin–and was hungry for something else that was complicated. I had never cooked with butternut squash nor created a béchamel sauce before… but was convinced I was more than up to the challenge.
My poor husband and mother. They were so supportive of my cooking at the time and ate it without complaint, but it was not very good. I spent most of the time almost cutting myself with the dull knife I was using on the squash, and the rest of the time trying to pull my knife out of said squash. Needless to say, the squash was in huge chunks and didn’t cook thoroughly. I burned myself while trying to boil the lasagna. I didn’t chop up the sage leaves and left them in the lasagna whole, making each bite a sage-y surprise. And the béchamel sauce–it looked like clotted cream. It was a hot mess, but the me of three years ago was fiercely proud of it. (Seriously, I still have the picture of it! Oh, the embarrassment.) Lucky for me (and my husband especially), I’ve gotten much better at cooking since then.
I don’t usually cook with butternut squash–James isn’t a fan–but I ended up with a leftover squash after a dinner party and decided to have another go at the lasagna. And it turned out absolutely sublime. The caramelized, roasted cubes of butternut squash almost melt into the creamy béchamel–but still offer a sensory ‘bite’, much like meat. The fresh sage is subdued but not underrepresented, and plays off the sweetness of the squash nicely. The mozzarella cheese is a nice, salty touch. And the sweet Italian sausage packs a savory punch, making this lasagna the full package and the real seasonal deal.
I won’t lie–this is not a quick or easy dish to make. Just prepping the squash alone takes 15-20 minutes–cutting off the skin, dicing, scooping out the seeds, and so on. But I think that this is one of my favorite ways to use butternut squash in a way that is more savory than sweet. I tagged this recipe as being vegetarian, even though I clearly have Italian sausage on the ingredients list–to be honest, you can leave the sausage out completely and this dish will be a vegetarian crowd-pleaser! I would add a little more salt and pepper to the béchamel if you are leaving out the meat to make sure that the sweetness of the squash doesn’t overwhelm the rest of the dish.
This lasagna would be right at home with the rest of your Thanksgiving spread–or just a nice, hearty meal for you & your family on a cold winter night. And if your lasagna looks as busted as my old one did–don’t worry, you’ll get there eventually! I’m certainly no Julia Child, but I can look back at my progress from four years ago and laugh.
Roasted Butternut Squash Lasagna
- 2 lbs. butternut squash, diced into ½ in. cubes
- 2 Tbsp. olive oil, plus more for cooking
- 2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
- 4 Tbsp. fresh sage leaves, chiffonade or minced
- 1 large onion, diced
- 2 Tbsp. garlic, minced
- 4 Tbsp. unsalted butter
- 4 Tbsp. flour
- 1 ½ c. milk
- 8 oz. / ½ lb. sweet Italian sausage
- 2 c. mozzarella, shredded
- 1/4 c. Parmesan cheese, shredded
- 8-9 sheets of cooked lasagna (I used no-cook)
- salt & pepper to taste
- Preheat the oven to 400ºF while prepping the butternut squash.
- Mix the diced butternut squash cubes with 2 Tbsp. of the sage leaves, 2 Tbsp. olive oil and 2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar, then salt to taste. Place the cubes onto a pan lined with parchment paper or aluminum foil (with nonstick spray) and roast the cubes for 30 minutes, stirring and turning the pan around after 15 minutes. Once you see caramelization on the edges and the aroma from the oven becomes sweet, remove the pan and set aside. Turn the heat down to 300ºF.
- In a french skillet or saute pan, melt 4 Tbsp. of unsalted butter under medium-low heat.
- When the butter has melted, add the diced onion. After a few minutes, when the onion becomes translucent, add the other 2 Tbsp. of sage leaves and the 2 Tbsp. of minced garlic and stir to combine until fragrant.
- Turn the heat to low.
- Add the flour to the pan, 1 Tbsp. at a time. Be sure to mix the flour completely before adding the next Tbsp.
- Slowly add milk to the pan, ~ 1/4 c. at a time. Be sure to stir the milk completely into the mix before you add more. It will clump at first, but will eventually thin out into a nice, glossy and thick béchamel sauce.
- When all of the milk is added, turn up the heat to medium-low and stir continuously until the sauce thickens a little more. Salt & pepper to taste, then set aside.
- Heat ~ 1 Tbsp. olive oil in a pan at medium heat, then add the Italian sausage and cook until browned. Remove from heat and mix the butternut squash cubes into the pan with the Italian sausage pieces.
- Place a thin layer of the béchamel sauce at the bottom of your lasagna pan (I recommend using a 9 x 9 glass baking pan). Place your lasagna noodles on top of the sauce.
- Put a third of your squash/sausage mix on top of the noodles, then place a layer of béchamel sauce on top. Top with mozzarella cheese–not too much! You should still be able to see your squash and sausage underneath your cheese layer. Place your noodles on top of the mozzarella.
- Repeat the process until you have three layers.
- Place your lasagna noodles on top of your last layer, then spread the last of your béchamel sauce over the noodles so they don’t dry out. Sprinkle the last of your mozzarella and the 1/4 c. Parmesan that you’ve reserved.
- Put your lasagna pan on a rack placed in the center of the oven and cook for 30 minutes. Be sure to check after 20 minutes–if the cheese is starting to burn or turn a dark brown, tent the top with aluminum foil to prevent further burning.
- Allow the lasagna to sit for 20 minutes before serving.
- If kept in a refrigerated airtight container, lasagna should be good for 5 days.