Is this the ultimate vegetarian lasagne?

This dish is a real autumn warmer: sweet squash sits with garlic mushrooms, fried sage, ricotta and nutmeg

Butternut squash and mushroom lasagne

Butternut squash and mushroom lasagne

 

This dish is autumn personified. It’s quite deep, with loads of layers, and comforting, with a touch of spice from the nutmeg. The recipe for this has been brewing and evolving for some time.

Years ago I made a wild garlic and butternut lasagne, but I never wrote down the recipe as I made it, or recreated it since. So it has become somewhat of a legend, idolised as being the ultimate vegetarian lasagne.

But I feel that change is coming with the seasons and it is time for butternut to get a second chance at the lasagne game, this time in the form of a smooth purée, in between layers of meaty mushrooms with thyme and sage. There are so many flavours going on but they do all work together and balance nicely.

The sweet butternut with the garlic mushrooms is divine. I’ll be making this butternut purée as a dish in its own right. It would be fantastic with roast chicken, and a little feta crumbled on top just before serving for a salty kick.

I love fried sage leaves, they transform in the heat and become toasty and even more meaty – perfect for garnishing soup or pasta. We rarely fry our herbs in this part of the world. In the Middle East, fried herbs are often added before serving a dish. It really makes a dish look so elegant.

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Frying herbs gives texture and flavour, transforming the herb into something completely different. Basil, mint, parsley and sage can all be fried. Crumble a mix of herbs over hummus for great crunch and flavour. Fried rosemary is delicious crumbled over roast potatoes and can be added at the last minute. Simply heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a frying pan then drop in the herbs, leave them to sizzle and become translucent, you may need to turn them. Then carefully lift them out and leave on a piece of kitchen paper to remove any excess oil. They are fragile but worth the effort. 

BUTTERNUT SQUASH AND MUSHROOM LASAGNE

Serves 6
Ingredients
1 butternut squash
2 onions
2 tbsp olive oil
50ml water or stock
1 tbsp butter
600g mushrooms, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
6 sage leaves, finely shredded
1 packet of fresh egg lasagne sheets
500g ricotta cheese
1 egg
Quarter tsp nutmeg
Salt and black pepper
1 ball of mozzarella cheese
3 tbsp grated Parmesan

Method
1
Preheat an oven to 220 degrees Celsius, or equivalent.

2 Cut the butternut in half, scoop out the seeds and peel it. Cut into thick slices and lay on a large baking tray. Cut the peeled onion into wedges and place in the middle of the tray. Drizzle with olive oil and roast in the oven for 20-25 minutes until the squash is soft. Leave to cool slightly then blitz in a food processor with salt, pepper and the stock till smooth. Set aside. 

3 Melt the butter in a heavy based pan. Fry the mushrooms in batches. Add garlic, thyme and sage leaves to the final batch. Mix them all together to combine. 

4 Lower the oven to 190 degrees Celsius. Use a fork to whisk the egg with the ricotta and nutmeg. Season well. 

5 Assemble the lasagne in a buttered 9 x 11 inch oven-proof dish. Spread half the squash purée on the base then top with half the mushrooms and half of the ricotta.

6 Next add a layer of pasta sheets followed by the remaining squash purée and mushrooms. Add a final layer of pasta and finish with the ricotta. Dot with slices of mozzarella and sprinkle with grated Parmesan.

7 Bake for 25-30 minutes, cover with foil if it begins to brown too much.

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