A friend of mine affectionately called me and my now-husband "weekend warriors." That was before we had children. We were always up to something, like trying an out-of-the-way eatery, trekking to a remote exhibit, or gathering friends to do something a little quirky.
Well a bunch of years later. and with two boys added to the mix, we are not quite as intrepid as we used to be, but we still try to get out and do things. Recently I took the kids to the Denver Botanic Gardens for the Orchid Show, we went to Breckenridge to see the International Snow Sculpture Championship and this week we drove to Silverthorne to check out the Ice Castle. There were also trips to the Denver Art Museum, the Clyfford Still Museum, the Butterfly Pavilion and we walked through 10 historic, architecturally significant neighborhoods in town. We are always out and about.
By the time I get back from our morning outings I'm usually quite exhausted. So I decided that this week I would make some "bulk food." I would spend one afternoon cooking non-stop and that would be it for the week, or at the very least, a few days. Not that I mind cooking. I love food and I love preparing it. But I want to start relaxing a few days a week. I'm also going to try to read a bit more while the kids are napping. I know, sounds crazy! But getting through a book is not quite as easy as it used to be. So I'm going to start with some short stories because they don't require the same time commitment as a 300 page novel. I was thinking about Nathan Englander's What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank, but I am open to suggestions.
Back to my 'bulk food.' I'm going to make Moosewood's Spanakopita and a quiche, but I also wanted to make a pasta dish. I wasn't in the mood for anything 'red sauce.' I was feeling vegetables, but didn't want anything chunky. I did some digging through my many, many recipe printouts and found this one for Butternut Squash Lasagna with a Basil Béchamel. Perfect. I had all the ingredients on hand: basil, no-boil lasagna noodles (fresh pasta sheets would be really nice here-- but there really are only so many hours in the day), milk, cheese, and a 2 pound squash.
This is a really nice, filling, seasonal pasta dish. It took me an afternoon to make all the food I wanted to make for the week and now I've got a whole bunch of meals that can easily be paired with a salad or simple side dish. For the next few days I can spend the kid's nap time under a blanket, curled up on the couch...reading some short stories.
Butternut Squash Lasagna with Basil Béchamel (Adapted from Giada De Laurentiis)Yield:8 to 10 servings
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 (2 pound) butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch cubes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup water (I added another 1/4 cup as the water evaporated)
3 amaretti cookies, crumbled (I used 3 Graham crackers instead)
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3 1/2 cups whole milk
Big pinch nutmeg
1 cup (lightly packed) fresh basil leaves
12 no-boil lasagna noodles or fresh pasta sheets from a specialty store
2 1/2 cups shredded whole-milk mozzarella cheese
1/3 cup grated Parmesan
Heat the oil in a heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the squash and toss to coat. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Pour the water into the skillet and then cover and simmer over medium heat until the squash is tender, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes. (I added another 1/4 cup of water about half way through.) Cool slightly and then transfer the squash to a food processor. Add the amaretti (or graham) cookies and blend until smooth. Season the squash puree, to taste, with more salt and pepper.
Melt the butter in a heavy medium-size saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk for 1 minute. Gradually whisk in the milk. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer until the sauce thickens slightly, whisking often, about 5 minutes. Whisk in the nutmeg. Cool slightly. Transfer half of the sauce to a blender*. Add the basil and blend until smooth. Return the basil sauce to the sauce in the pan and stir to blend. Season the sauce with salt and pepper, to taste.
Position the rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 375 degrees F.
Lightly butter a 13 by 9 by 2-inch glass baking dish. Spread 3/4 cup of the sauce over the prepared baking dish. Arrange 3 lasagna noodles on the bottom of the pan. Spread 1/3 of the squash puree over the noodles. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup of mozzarella cheese. Drizzle 1/2 cup of sauce over the noodles. Repeat layering 3 more times.
Tightly cover the baking dish with foil and bake the lasagna for 40 minutes. Sprinkle the remaining mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses over the lasagna. Continue baking uncovered until the sauce bubbles and the top is golden, 15 minutes longer. Let the lasagna stand for 15 minutes before serving.
*When blending hot liquids: Remove liquid from the heat and allow to cool for at least 5 minutes. Transfer liquid to a blender or food processor and fill it no more than halfway. If using a blender, release one corner of the lid. This prevents the vacuum effect that creates heat explosions. Place a towel over the top of the machine, pulse a few times then process on high speed until smooth.