Note: You may know Carolyn Cope as Umami Girl. She stops by on Tuesdays to help us cook through seasonal surplus with ease.
It occurred to me recently that I have a very specific conception of what it means to be a serious eater. Decades before I met this website, I developed a deep admiration for--and eventually an identity as--the kind of person who kicks off Thanksgiving dinner with a generous helping of lasagna. I'm not sure I'd named her until a few weeks ago, but that particular serious eater has been my companion for as long as I can remember. I think about her almost as much in the off-season as in the days leading up to the big game.
She's not loud or flashy about her ability to pack in, as a pre-turkey palate cleanser, that which any reasonable person would consider a substantial main course. In fact, while she's sociable during dinner, she'll often get quiet for a minute or two at a time, focused on the flavors that consume her as she consumes them. And while she'd be the first to say that eating should be about the singular pleasures of the moment, she takes her training seriously, too.
About a week in advance of turkey day, she selects an outfit with minimal waist restriction and dry cleans if necessary. Maybe she packs a pair of drawstring sweatpants for the car ride home. On Turkey Eve, she eats a bulky dinner designed to stretch the stomach without lasting caloric repercussions. Early the next afternoon, her pleasant smile greets you at the door, but it's her A-game you notice stepping across the threshold.
I think she would be happy with this Acorn Squash Lasagna with Béchamel Sauce. She'd call it autumn on a fork. She'd appreciate the interplay of the sweet roasted squash and the Parmigiano's deep umami. She'd be glad that it's simple to prepare, and that it doubles as a main course for vegetarians.
She would savor every bite. And then she'd move on to the turkey.
About the author: Carolyn Cope writes Umami Girl and manages a CSA in Hoboken, New Jersey.
- 1 medium acorn squash
- 1 cup whole-milk ricotta cheese
- 4 Tablespoons butter
- 1 medium onion, diced small
- 6 cloves garlic, chopped
- 3 Tablespoons chopped fresh sage
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 4 cups whole milk
- 1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 1/2 cups freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, divided
- 2 eggs
- 15 no-boil lasagna noodles (from one box)
Preheat the oven to 450° F. Halve the squash lengthwise, discard the seeds, and roast until tender, about 40 minutes. Let cool slightly, then scoop out flesh into a medium bowl and mash with a fork. Stir in the ricotta cheese. Reduce the oven temperature to 375° F.
While the squash is roasting, melt the butter over medium heat in a medium pot. Add the onion, garlic, and sage and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion begins to soften. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom of the pot to prevent burning, for one minute. Add the milk along with the nutmeg, salt and pepper. Raise the heat to high and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Then reduce the heat to maintain a brisk simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture has thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 8 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in one cup of the Parmigiano cheese.
In a small bowl, lightly beat the eggs. Very slowly pour in about one cup of the sauce while whisking the eggs with a fork. (This tempers the eggs so they don't scramble during the next step.) Then pour the tempered egg mixture into the pot with the sauce and stir to combine thoroughly.
In a 9x13x2-inch pan, assemble the lasagna. Spread 1/2 cup of the sauce on the bottom of the pan. Lay five lasagna noodles on top, slightly overlapping them and breaking up the fifth noodle as necessary to cover the whole bottom. Top with half the squash mixture and then about 1 1/4 cups sauce. Repeat with a second layer of noodles, squash mixture and sauce. Add a third layer of noodles and top with the remaining sauce. Sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup Parmigiano cheese on top. Bake on the center rack until bubbly and slightly browned on top, about 35-40 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes before serving.