I have been wanting to post about this lasagne for ages. It’s one of my signature dishes. It’s a great vegetarian meal, but tasty enough to satisfy carnivores too. It also works very well to take to work for lunch. If you like, you can serve it with a rocket salad, but I often take it by itself. I think this is a very pretty dish, with the golden cheese as gooey as you expect, but lovely clear layers of white ricotta cheese, orange pumpkin, green spinach, and red passata through the lasagne.
The early season butternut pumpkins are looking so fine I bought one for this explicit purpose. I wasn’t disappointed. I picked up a beautiful little bunch of English spinach at As Nature Intended in the Belconnen Fresh Food Markets on the weekend. You need to use a lovely moist ricotta for this recipe. You can use low fat if you prefer, but I don’t.
I made my own sheets of lasagne for this recipe, but it’s a sizeable amount of work, so you can buy your sheets ready-made. However, it is important to use fresh lasagne sheets, not dried lasagne sheets. This is not a slow cooking dish like a meat lasagne, and isn’t wet enough to properly cook the dried sheets. I think it works best when the pasta is rich in egg yolks, you should be able to tell this by the colour of the sheets. Pasta with lots of egg yolk will be golden in colour.
|1||packet||fresh lasagne sheets|
|2||cups||fresh ricotta cheese|
|1||bunch||fresh English spinach|
Gently heat the olive oil in a small saucepan, add the crushed garlic, and cook gently for a few minutes. Add the tomato passata and keep on a low heat, to warm through and infuse the flavours.
Peel the pumpkin and discard the seeds. Thinly slice the pumpkin into strips. Salt the slices and leave to rest. Heat a chargrill pan on high. When the pan is hot, cook the slices of pumpkin till charred, and just cooked through. They can still be quite firm, because they’ll cook further in the lasagne. This process is important to intensify the flavour of the pumpkin, partially cook it, and provide a little extra complexity with the smoky charred flavour. Set the pumpkin aside.
Wash the spinach thoroughly. Discard the base of the spinach plants and any yellow leaves. Chop the leaves from the stems.
Preheat the oven to 200oC.
Take a rectangular baking dish (I use one that’s 12 by 25 centimetres) and layer a little of the tomato sauce on the bottom. Then cut a lasagne sheet to fit. Place the pasta atop the tomato.
Scatter or gently spread the pasta sheet with ricotta (I find I use a bit more than a tablespoon per layer). Then arrange some pumpkin slices atop the ricotta, making sure you completely cover the layer with pumpkin (the finished product will look much better if there are no gaps between the pumpkin pieces). Cover the pumpkin with a little more tomato sauce, then another layer of pasta.
Scatter or gently spread the pasta sheet with more ricotta. Arrange some spinach stalks atop the ricotta, all facing longways down the lasagne, then arrange the spinach leaves to go all the way to the edges of the layer, again making sure there are no gaps between the leaves. Be generous with the spinach, it will cook down a lot, and will not be anywhere near as thick as you think it will in the finished product. Cover the spinach with a little more tomato sauce, then another layer of pasta.
Repeat with a pumpkin layer, then spinach, etc, until you run out of filling or room in your pan.
Finish with a layer of lasagne.
To make the béchamel sauce, melt the butter in a small saucepan then add the corn flour, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Stir this mixture till it is bubbling, then pour in the milk, whisking well as you add. Stir continuously with a whisk until the sauce thickens. Taste and season again if needed.
Pour the béchamel sauce over the top layer of the lasagne and bake for about 30 minutes at 200oC. You want the top to be nice and golden, feel free to turn the oven up a little at the end to get the desired colour.
Allow the lasagne to rest in the pan for about 15 minutes before slicing. This will allow the liquid to fully absorb, and the ricotta to set. It will make it easier to cut, and means it will hold together better for serving. Serve with a salad or vegetables.