Squash ‘lasagne’

This dish evolved from Jamie Oliver’s lasagne – memorably cooked for a big family lunch by my brother, who gave me the recipe. I really like the combination of coriander-spiced butternut squash and mozzarella with the traditional slow-simmered meat sauce, and Jamie’s use of crème fraîche with anchovy instead of a bechamel is quick and effective. The end result is pretty rich, though, and the meat sauce takes 2 hours to cook in the oven (it’s not always easy to get minced shin of beef either). Moreover, the recipe makes enough for 10 and I rarely have that many people to feed.

So, first of all I substituted a meat sauce based on the one in Claudia Roden’s The Food of Italy (a favourite and, in my experience, infallible Italian cookbook), and used a layer of ricotta, which goes well with the squash. I made a béchamel using a mix of stock and milk, and – wanting the taste of baked lasagne without the weight of pasta – I left out the lasagne itself, letting the squash provide the starchy layer. The end result is a lighter, gluten-free dish (if you use rice flour for the bechamel) with all the comfort and flavour of a traditional lasagne.

Meat sauce:
1 onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 stalk celery, finely chopped
1 clove garlic
leaves of 1 good sprig of thyme
50g unsmoked bacon (or pancetta), chopped
35g butter
150g minced beef
150g minced pork
2 cans tinned tomatoes
250ml red (or dry white) wine
125g chicken livers, finely chopped

Fry the chopped vegetables, garlic and herbs with the bacon in the butter until the onion begins to colour. Add the minced beef and pork and fry, stirring for 3 minutes. You can also add a pinch of cinnamon (as Jamie does) if you like. Add the tomatoes and cover with wine, season with salt and pepper and simmer for at least 1 hour, adding water or stock if necessary – it should be just moist, not too dry but not too much liquid left either. Mix in the chopped livers. The original recipe has a little less meat, omits the garlic and herbs, and adds chopped prosciutto at the end. It also specifies dry white wine – I tend to use red just because I more often have some lying about. The chicken livers are important, giving a really rich flavour (and you can use the rest of the packet to make chicken liver salad!).

1 small butternut squash (or half a large one)
1 tbsp coriander seeds, roughly crushed
1 dried red chilli, bashed
olive oil

Heat the oven to 180ºC. Peel and deseed the squash, then either cut into rough chunks or slice into 1 cm rounds (if you want to make a more solid lasagne-like layer). Drizzle with olive oil, season and sprinkle over the coriander and chilli. Roast in the oven for around 40 mins until tender to the point of  knife. It is worth turning the pieces at half time to make sure they cook evenly. While the meat sauce and squash are cooking make the béchamel.

Béchamel sauce:
40g butter
3 tbsp flour (can use rice flour)
250ml milk
250ml stock (1 tsp Marigold in 250ml boiling water)
grating of nutmeg
Melt the butter and stir in the flour over a medium heat. Cook for a few minutes then add the hot stock a little at a time, stirring all the time so that lumps do not form. Then gradually stir in the milk, season with salt and pepper if necessary, grate over a little nutmeg and leave to cook very gently for 5 minutes, stirring from time to time.

125ml ricotta
50g parmesan
When the squash comes out of the oven, turn it up to 200ºC. To assemble the lasagne, lightly oil an ovenproof dish, start with a thin layer of béchamel, then one of squash, and another of meat sauce. Dot over the ricotta, sprinkle over a little parmesan, then repeat the layers of squash and meat sauce. End with a layer of squash, cover with the béchamel and sprinkle the remaining parmesan on top (you could follow Jamie and add some torn up mozzarella too). Bake for about 30 minutes until brown and sizzling. Serve with a green salad.

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