Thursday, January 20, 2011

Butternut squash turns into a lasagna casserole

This post really is for my own benefit.  I love to experiment in the kitchen, create new recipes, etc. So one of my problems is that I don't write anything down so when I go back to recreate it I often can't remember what I did -- a symptom of age I assure you.
So tonight's experiment in the kitchen turned out F-A-B-U-L-O-U-S *said in a sing-songy voice*! I'm now going to capture the recipe here so I won't forget.  You're welcome to try it too and then send me your feedback.
**Side note - My dad and I are the true foodies in the family.  When I create new dishes he and I sit down and analyze them while we're eating. Comments surrounding this dish included - "Maybe try some italian sausage next time"..."The squash is cut up in just the right size"...."Good thing I didn't add the cabbage to the casserole. The cabbage flavor would have overwhelmed the squash" (we had steamed cabbage as a side dish).  We usually end up analyzing most meals we eat together.**

Back to the casserole. I've decided to call tonight's creation Butternut Lasagna Casserole.  I got 3 smallish butternut squashes in my Bountiful Basket this week and so I needed to use them up.  I first thought about doing a vegetable lasagna, which lead me to thinking about one of my favorite new sauces. One that actually comes in a jar:

Dave's Gourmet Butternut Squash Pasta Sauce. I've only seen it at Costco, but I really haven't looked too many other places. This stuff is delicious.  There are definite roasted red pepper undertones that add an element of heat, while the sauce is smooth and slightly sweet because of the butternut squash.  I just loooove this stuff.

So here's what I came up with tonight...

Butternut Lasagna Casserole
3 small butternut squashes
2-4 TBS olive oil
1 whole sweet onion
3 chicken breasts
1 box of pasta
1 - 15oz container of ricotta cheese
1 egg, beaten
1/3 c. grated Parmesan
1 tsp of herb de Provence
1/2 tsp dried basil
1 jar of Dave's Gourmet Butternut Squash Pasta Sauce
1/2 c. of grated mozzarella to top the casserole

These are pretty general directions:

1. I boiled the chicken in chicken broth and added 3 bay leaves to water.  Once the chicken was cooked I shredded it and set it aside.
2. I cut the skin off the butternut squash, scrapped out the seeds and then diced up the squash into 1/2 inch cubes.
3. I sauteed the butternut squash in a pan with 1-2 TBS of oil just until the edges of each cube started to turn transparent and some of the squares started to get a bit toasted.  I didn't want to cook the squash all the way, because I didn't want them to get to squishy in the casserole. I removed the squash from the pan and set it aside.
4.  I sliced up the onion into thin slices and sauteed the onions in another TBS or so of olive oil.
5. I boiled the pasta till just before al dente.
6. In a small bowl I combined the ricotta cheese with the beaten egg and Parmesan, and herbs.
7. In my 9x13 pan I combined the pasta, chicken, cooked squash and onions, and the pasta sauce.  Once everything was thoroughly combined I spread the cheese mixture over the top and tossed it lightly in with the rest of the ingredients. I wasn't going for a homogeneous mixture, rather I was looking for pockets of cheese amidst the other ingredients.
8.  I put the dish in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes, after 25 minutes I pulled out the casserole, sprinkled the top with the grated mozzarella to melt over the top, and put it back in the oven for the final 5 minutes.

I call it a casserole, because I just mixed everything up.  I prefer to cook my ingredients separately before combing, because I find that this allows each element to develop its own flavor and characteristics which is preserved when combined with the other ingredients.  In the end, they all work harmoniously together to create a more complex and richer flavor.

For example, some would say just cook all your vegetables together, but if you did this then the sweet butternut squash would end of assuming the overpowering flavor of the onions and they would become lost by the time you bite in to the casserole after baking.  By cooking them separately you can enjoy the sweetness of the butternut, coated by the sweet and spicy pasta sauce followed by a burst of salty creaminess found in the ricotta mixture -- a harmony of flavor.

So on a scale of 1-5, 5 being the best...I'd give this recipe a 4.  Next time I might try improving the flavor profile of the chicken..hmmm...I've got to think about that some more.  Give this recipe a try and let me know what you think.

Any suggestions??

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