Monday, September 28, 2015

Roasted Winter Squash Lasagna

With fall upon us, the cooler temperatures have me craving hearty, comfort food. This lasagna recipe fills the bill and is also very versatile... enjoy the full flavors and rich goodness of pasta, Italian sausage, veggies and cheese. Substitute kale for the spinach or omit it all together for a kid friendly version. For an even more kid friendly version; puree the roasted squash... or change it up to be vegetarian by omitting the sausage. Try any version as a lovely side dish for Thanksgiving Dinner or your next pot luck gathering.

Before you start though, a tip about 'no-boil' noodles. 'No-Boil' pasta is partially cooked then dried before packaging. Recipes that use no-boil noodles have a more liquid sauce and are cooked tightly covered to help the noodles soften while cooking. If you only have the traditional lasagna noodles; cook them, then make a thicker sauce because they won't absorb as much of the sauce as the no-boil noodles.

Garlic and fresh sage complement the fall flavors in this hearty dish.

For the vegetables:
1 x 3 lb. kabocha type (or butternut) squash...
    -peeled, seeded and cut into 1/2" dice (about 8-9 cups)
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the sausage:
Extra virgin olive oil
1 x 500g. pkg. Sweet Italian sausage -remove casings
1 medium yellow onion -small dice
1 x 300g. pkg. frozen spinach...
    -thaw, squeeze out excess liquid, and chop

For the bechamel:
1/4 cup butter
1 Tbsp. finely minced fresh garlic 
10 sage leaves -sliced very thin
1/4 cup all purpose or unbleached flour
4 cups whole milk  
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg -optional

For the lasagna:
Butter for the baking dish
1 cup grated extra old white cheddar (about 4 oz.)
1-1/2 cups grated mozzarella cheese (about 6 oz.)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese (about 2 oz.) 
12 no-boil lasagna noodles

To roast the squash; preheat oven to 425 F and oil a large bake sheet with a drizzle of olive oil, set aside. In a large bowl, toss the diced squash with olive oil until well coated. Season with salt and pepper and spread in one layer on prepared bake sheet. Roast squash in oven 10 minutes. Stir and roast another 10-15 minutes or until tender and beginning to turn golden. Remove from the oven and set aside.

While the squash is roasting; heat a drizzle of olive oil in a large skillet. Crumble the sausage meat into the pan, brown and break it up into small bits with a wooden spoon as it cooks. Add the onion and cook until soft then add the chopped spinach and mix well. Remove from heat and set aside.

While the sausage cooks make the bechamel; melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add minced garlic and sage. Cook for about one minute but do not brown the garlic. Stir in the flour to make a roux and cook for another minute. Slowly whisk in milk. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg if using and bring to a boil. Whisk often to prevent lumps. Reduce the heat, continue to whisk often and allow to simmer until the sauce thickens, about 5 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings.  

Position a rack in the center of the oven and reduce the temperature to 375 F. Lightly butter a 13"x9"x2" glass baking dish. Toss the cheeses in a bowl, set aside 1/2 cup for topping. 

Assembly; evenly coat the bottom of the baking dish with 3/4 cup of the bechamel. Lay 3 lasagna noodles side by side on top. Cover with 1/3 of the squash then 1/3 of the sausage and sprinkle with 1/3 of the cheese mix. Drizzle 3/4 cup of sauce over the layers then repeat layering 3 more times using 3 noodles, squash, sausage, cheese and sauce. Be sure to get the ingredients evenly distributed and to the sides of the dish. Top with remaining 3 noodles and cover with the remaining bechamel.

Tightly cover the baking dish with foil and bake lasagna for 40 minutes. Sprinkle with the reserved 1/2 cup cheese and continue baking uncovered 15 minutes longer until the sauce bubbles and the top is golden. If needed, place under the broiler until browned, about 2 minutes. Let the lasagna stand for 15 minutes before serving.
Serve with a green salad along side.

Till next week ... Bon Appétit!

Photo by Sally Rae     

Sunday, September 13, 2015

September Strawberries

Seascape Strawberries weigh in at 1/4 oz. per berry!
I have 2 raised beds of 'Seascape Strawberry' plants in the garden. Each bed measures 4'x10'x12" deep, with three rows of strawberry plants per bed. This year the old plants are in their third year of production and will be pulled out and replaced for next summer. The second bed was planted last fall so this summer was their first year.

As mentioned in previous strawberry posts (to view, click on 'Strawberries' under Labels), this incredible day neutral (ever-bearing) variety has a small June crop. The impressive production starts in August. The photo above was taken August 12th, 2015. The late summer crop starts with huge berries and even though they get a bit smaller, they are still an impressive size for the time of year. These sweet, juicy beauties weighed in at 1/4 ounce each! As long as the sun was shining, I picked on average 2-1/4 pounds, every second day through August! 
In my garden ~ September 11th, 2015

Our September weather is cooling down a bit. I now pick every 4th day, with the same average of about 2 pounds per picking. If the days continue to be sunny and dry, I will be able to pick fresh, sweet, ripe berries until mid-October. The photo at right, of the strawberry patch, is more reminiscent of June rather than September! The plants are still prolific with flowers and developing berries. 

Last October was the first year of ripe, fresh berries because of the dry weather. If the rain starts, the green berries will not ripen but instead get brown spots that eventually turn to mold. I have tried to ripen the berries that are a bit pink but it is useless. When that happens, I cut all the plants down to about 2" and straw mulch around the crowns and between the rows. When winter sets in, I spread a thin layer of straw over the plants and top the whole bed with maple leaves for winter protection.
Strawberries are my favorite summer fruit, so my fingers are crossed for dry weather and another month of fresh berry picking!

Till next week ... Bon Appétit!

Photos by Sally Rae 

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Healthy After School Snacks

Back to School is just around the corner... time to start gearing up with some new ideas for after school snacks. Here are a few kid friendly, fast and healthy bites to try! 

HUMMUS PINWHEELS      Yield: about 30 pinwheel bites
I use the smaller 8" wraps for these pinwheels. When cut into 1" pieces they are small enough for tiny fingers and just a bite for adults! 

6 Ancient Grain tortilla wraps
1-1/2 cups hummus 
6 small romaine leaves
1 large carrot, grated
1/4 cup fresh basil, chiffonade*

Without overlapping, lay the 6 tortilla wraps on a cutting board or clean counter. Place a #20 scoop (or about 1/4 cup) of hummus on each wrap and spread evenly to the edges. On top of the hummus, place one lettuce leaf at the bottom edge of each wrap. On top of the lettuce divide the grated carrot then sprinkle with basil evenly among the 6 wraps.
To roll the wraps; fold the left and right side of each wrap inward about 1-1/2 inches. Then starting from the bottom tightly roll the wrap upward keeping the layers intact. Cut wraps into 1-inch pieces and serve.  
*Chef's Tip: The culinary term 'chiffonade' means to cut into very fine strips or ribbons. For basil; stack the leaves and roll up like a cigar. Hold tightly and slice very thin. 

Kale has an impressive nutrient content. It is a cold-hardy plant with a continual harvest that can last right through snow. This is a fast and fun way for kids to eat greens!
1 large bunch fresh kale
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Sea salt, optional
Freshly ground pepper, optional
Granulated garlic, optional

Line several bake sheets with parchment paper and set aside; preheat oven to 350F. Rinse kale, allow to dry on a cotton towel. Remove leaves and discard the coarse stem. Tear leaves into small pieces, about the size of a potato chip and place in a large bowl. Sprinkle with a small amount of olive oil and gently toss. Sprinkle with a bit of salt, pepper or your desired seasoning and toss well. You don’t need much salt or seasonings, just enough to make them tasty. Scatter them on the parchment paper lined sheets. Bake in the preheated oven for about 5-8 minutes; they should be crispy but not dark in color.

DATE n' NUT BALLS         Yield: 15 balls with #50 scoop
'Cacao Nibs or Powder' is chocolate in it's most natural form... which is the cacao bean (or nib); a bitter, nutrient packed superfood that is a healthful addition to these snacks. The nib is made from breaking the larger bean into smaller pieces. Cacao powder is made by pulverizing the raw or roasted nib into a powder. Cacao powder contains more fiber and calories than cocoa powder since more of the nutrients from the whole bean are still intact.   

1/4 cup pitted dates (4 large)
1/4 cup cacao powder
2 Tbsp. cashew, almond or macadamia nut butter
1/2 cup whole cashew, almond or macadamia nuts
Pinch sea salt

Pulse or run the dates in a food processor, add all remaining ingredients and run until the nuts are still slightly chunky. Scoop using a heaping #50 scoop (or a generous tablespoon). Roll into balls and place in the fridge or freezer for 20-30 minutes. Store in an airtight container in the fridge.

Till next week ... Bon Appétit!

Photos by Sally Rae