I always feel pulled in two directions when planning meals this time of year. On one hand, I'm still trying to stay on track with balanced, reasonably healthy meals after all of the indulgence of the holidays. But on the other, it's winter, and I want something hearty, filling, and, if at all possible, cheesy. So when I saw this beautiful vegetable lasagna with butternut bechamel that won The Kitchn's best healthy casserole contest, it looked like I could have it both ways!
As the original recipe suggested, I added ground bison for more protein. It's a very lean red meat, and paired very well with the earthiness of the mushrooms and butternut squash. I also used spinach instead of chard, as the chard at the grocery store was looking a little off that day.
The squash made the sauce so rich and creamy that we didn't miss the usual quantity of cheese, and the veggies pack a great nutritional punch as well as adding a ton of flavor.
Vegetable Lasagna with Butternut Béchamel
What's in it:
1/2 pound (about 8) lasagna noodles
1 to 1 1/2 pound butternut squash (or 1 pounds chopped squash)
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 pound ground bison
1/2 pound cremini mushrooms, washed and sliced
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 large bag spinach
1/4 cup water or white wine
3/4 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 cup shredded Parmesan and mozzarella cheese mix
How to make it:
Heat the oven to 375°F. Lightly grease an 8x8-inch baking dish with olive oil. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil over high heat. Add the lasagna noodles and cook as directed on the package. When cooked, drain and lay out on clean kitchen towels to dry.
While the pasta is cooking, peel and seed the squash. Cut into 1-inch cubes and toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil and a generous amount of salt and pepper. Spread on a baking sheet and roast for 40 minutes or until extremely soft.
Heat a thin drizzle of oil oil in a medium sauté pan. Turn the heat to medium-high and crumble bison into the pan. Brown the meat, and remove to a plate. Add more oil to the pan if necessary, and add the mushrooms. Cook without stirring until quite brown — about 5 to 7 minutes. Flip them over and cook for an additional 3 minutes. Turn the heat down to medium, and add the garlic to the pan. Cook, stirring frequently, until the garlic is fragrant — about another minute. Add the spinach and 1/4 cup water or white wine and cook until the leaves are tender and wilted. Turn off the heat and season the vegetables lightly with salt and pepper.
At this point the butternut squash should be very soft. Remove from the oven and let cool slightly. Scrape all the squash into a bowl and add 1/2 cup milk, the nutmeg and thyme. Use an immersion blender to puree the mixture, adding the remaining milk as you go (this can also be done in a traditional blender). Add extra milk if necessary to make the sauce smooth and creamy, but not too thin. (Think thin fruit smoothie.) Add salt and pepper to taste.
To assemble the lasagna, spoon about 1/4 of the butternut sauce into the bottom of the prepared baking pan and spread to thinly coat the bottom. Place 1/4 of the noodles on top and then spread 1/3 of remaining sauce on noodles. Top with 1/2 of the cooked vegetables, and 1/3 cup of cheese. Add another layer of noodles, then sauce, then the rest of the vegetables, and 1/3 cup of cheese. Place the final layer of noodles over the vegetables and spread the last 1/3 of the sauce over top. Sprinkle evenly with the remaining cheese and a pinch of thyme.
Cover the lasagna with foil and bake at 375°F for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and continue to bake for 10 to 15 minutes or until the top is golden and the cheese is gooey. Remove from the oven and let stand uncovered for 5 to 10 minutes before slicing.