Saturday, 21 September 2013

Meat free Friday doesn't have quite the same ring to it, does it?

Here is a moan: grocery shopping in Brussels requires the GDP of a small African nation. In England, there are always supermarket own brands and deals and cheap options. Here, there are no cheap options. You can't look at the shelves and think 'ooh I'll treat myself to the organic Duchy Originals baked beans rather than the Tesco Value this week', it's all Duchy Originals all the time. (Do Duchy Originals do baked beans?) (It's not actually Duchy Originals. Charles hasn't invaded Belgium. But you get my drift.) So we've decided to do at least one dinner a week without meat. Meat free Mondays has been a thing for quite a while now, I believe, but I'm a free spirit and won't be tied down by alliterative demands.

Butternut Squash is something I love. I love all kinds of squash, pumpkin, etc., and the markets have just started bringing in the weird looking orange things in all shapes and sizes. I shall investigate further, but for now, the sweetness of the butternut works well here.

Butternut Squash and Spinach Lasagna

Recipe adapted from Recipe Rifle, who got it from Pippa Middleton. (My dinner is less than six degrees away from royalty.) Extreme exegesising all my own. Serves 4.

- a medium onion or three shallots so strong they make you WEEP
- a smallish butternut squash, about 750g
- fresh sage leaves
- 2 garlic cloves, depending on your allium love, or some squirts from a garlic paste tube (the greatest invention of ALL TIME)
- 200g fresh spinach
- 8 fresh or dried lasagna sheets
- nutmeg, salt, pepper, olive oil
- white sauce (made with about 60g each butter and flour to 400ml milk)
- as much parmesan as you like (see 3a of method for REASONS)

You will also need some sort of tin to cook this in. Obviously. I used a 7 inch springform cake tin, because it was the only thing I had that was about the right size. Cake tins are round and lasagna sheets are rectangular. Tessellation, bitches!

1. Preheat the oven to 200°C.
2. Peel the butternut squash, discarding the seeds, and cut it into very thin rounds (Esther says to cut to about the thickness of a pound coin, which is much thinner than you think). Cut the onion into similar rounds.* Roast the butternut and onion, drizzled with a fair amount of oil and torn sage, for about twenty minutes, stirring occasionally. If using garlic paste, stir this in when it's cooked, or it will burn.
* The Dutchman cut my shallots for me, because this batch cause much weeping, and he did a rough dice, which worked fine.
3. Whilst this is cooking, make the white sauce. People seem to be scared of lumps in making white sauce. I've never had a problem with my mum's method. I'll not post anything here as people usually have their own ways of making white sauce, but if you follow the link to Recipe Rifle above, Esther has a fool-proof method that you might like to try if you're unsure.
3a. I did not add much cheese to my sauce. I also made it with soy spread and almond milk instead of butter and proper milk. This is because I have recently been diagnosed as intolerant to dairy. I think this is a bit of a wanky thing to say, it always makes me think of Americans saying 'could I get a soy latte?' and as it isn't an allergy I try to 'make good choices' but don't eliminate it from my diet completely. I know that proper allergies are a terrible thing - coeliacs, for example, can really suffer if you're not careful and it's great that there are so many alternatives on the market, but I find that I manage my body's intolerance best by just restricting dairy. Using a strong parmesan means that you don't need to add that much anyway. I also didn't put extra cheese between the layers, as the original says, but I did sprinkle some on top. I also added the nutmeg to the cheese sauce rather than to the spinach, basically because I forgot. End of ramble.
4. Wilt the spinach. I don't add any water in the pan, just put it on a low heat and hit it with a spoon for a bit. Then for this recipe it is important to get as much water out of it as possible, so stick it on a bit of kitchen towel and smoosh it about a bit.
5. Layer up the lasagne. Esther blanched her dried pasta sheets first, many of her commenters said they didn't need to. I used fresh because they were cheaper than dried (wtf). Lasagna on the bottom, then a third of the butternut and onion mix, then a third of the spinach, then a bit of sauce, repeat until done. I ended with pasta, which means needing a bit more sauce on top to ensure it doesn't dry out. 'A bit more' turned into 'a fuckload' but the Dutchman did not complain. Sprinkle with cheese.
6. Bake for half an hour, or until the top is nicely browned. I served this with a green salad (with honey mustard dressing) and cucumbers (sprinkled with vinegar) to balance the sweetness. We ate half last night and then half this lunchtime, reheated, which seemed to work just fine, if making the pasta a little crispy.

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