For most of my adult life I’ve been anti-lasagna. It’s not that I refuse to eat it. Quite the reverse! I love to eat lasagna. I just refused to make it.
The idea of boiling giant, unwieldy sheets of pasta always got on my nerves. It didn’t seem worth it, no matter how delicious the result. For years, a little depiction of a pan of lasagna superimposed with one of those internationally recognized “No!” circles occupied the part of my brain where enthusiasm for making lasagna should reside. Recently, though, I heeded the siren call of no-boil lasagna noodles. It’s been an incredibly liberating experience, and now that I have openly acknowledged that I am no-boil curious, I’ve been experimenting with many different flavors and ingredients. Who wouldn’t?
Since I was feeling adventuresome, I decided to try making a Thanksgiving-worthy lasagna featuring pumpkin or butternut squash. I perused many pumpkin and squash lasagna recipes, but they almost all called for béchamel sauce, which I categorically despise. (It’s basically warmed over, dairy-rich wallpaper paste: flour, milk, and butter. If you’re lucky there’s a smidgen of nutmeg and a pinch of salt thrown in. Yeech!)
As part of my lasagna journey, I decided to make a version that contained pumpkin and allspice, but also tomato sauce. For richness I included goat cheese along with ricotta and ground Parmesan, and I added smoked mozzarella to create a gooey and flavorful topping.
For the vegetarian version I added Field Roast brand smoked apple sage sausages, which are made with wheat protein. For the omnivores I made a version using kielbasa and one featuring chorizo, and I also made a version without any sausage at all.
One of my friends asked, gently and gingerly, if the tomato and pumpkin combination was a good one. To my palate it is, and once she tried it, she agreed. The pumpkin, allspice, and smoked mozzarella give the dish a strong autumnal quality that it wouldn’t otherwise have, while the ricotta, Parmesan, and tomato sauce make the dish luscious and flavorful in a way that is more familiar. In some of the recipe-testing iterations, I tried adding caramelized onions to the pumpkin ricotta mix and also a bit of maple syrup, but neither of these made a big enough difference to really justify including them in the recipe, so I ditched them.
I’ve tried several different brands of no-boil lasagna noodles, all with great success. The Whole Foods no-boil lasagna noodles are my favorite because they are very thin. I like lasagna that is a little bit less heavy and filling, and it’s nice that there’s a way to eat lasagna that is slightly lower in carbs than the usual affair.
When I initially made this lasagna, I tried making nine portions in a 9 x 13 dish. I decided, however, that it’s probably a good idea to make a bigger lasagna and be able to serve more people and/or have leftovers, so I changed to a 10 x 15 dish. (A Pyrex 10 x 15 dish cost $9.99 at my local hardware store.) You can get 12 good-sized servings out of a dish this size. Be forewarned, though, that most people will ask for seconds. I asked my test subjects if they wanted seconds because they were still hungry; they all replied that no, they were full, but they wanted seconds because it was so good.
During one phase of my lasagna-a-thon recipe-testing madness, I called my friend Katherine — who had agreed to let me make a batch of lasagna at her house so we could watch TV together while it cooked — to ask her if her teeny oven would accommodate a pan that large. She measured her oven and called to say that indeed it would. The lasagna turned out well, and we ate it happily while we watched an American Masters episode about Carol Burnett and lamented the demise of the variety show.
When it came time for me to wash the dishes, however, I was in for a rude surprise: The dish didn’t fit in the sink. So, measure your sink as well as your oven before purchasing a 10 x 15 pan! It was a pain in the arse to wash. (Needless to say, I make this complaint within the context of being consciously grateful for having indoor plumbing and running water to begin with.)
I think this lasagna makes the grade for Thanksgiving, but it’s good any time you want to make a hearty autumn or winter dinner for your guests. I hope Thanksgiving finds you, your friends, and family in good health and good spirits, even if it’s only one day’s respite from all the troubles of the world. Happy Thanksgiving.
A reader recently asked why I don’t always specify that ingredients should be organic. My reply was that I assume that most Grist readers are already buying as much organic produce and groceries as they can afford or feel is necessary, and that I don’t want to sound like an eco-nag. That said, the more organic stuff you can buy, the better. I think it’s a nice way to express gratitude to the earth for the gifts that we enjoy all year long, as well as a way of taking care of ourselves, our loved ones, and farmers and farm workers — so Thanksgiving is a good time to spend a little more than usual and make a special effort, even if buying organic ingredients isn’t part of your regular routine.
Most of the ingredients in this dish are very affordable, with the exception of the smoked mozzarella, which is expensive and can be hard to find. If you can’t afford it or can’t procure it, just use regular mozzarella and sprinkle grated smoked Gouda or Bruder Basil or another smoked cheese over the mozzarella. If you can find and afford smoked mozzarella, however, you are in for a huge treat. It melts well and lends a superb flavor to the dish. It makes the kitchen smell good too.
Makes 12 portions • Use a 10 x 15 pan
8-12 no-cook lasagna sheets
Two 24- or 25-oz. jars of tomato or marinara sauce
One 15-oz. can of pumpkin purée
10.5 oz. goat cheese (or you can buy a smaller log and it will be fine)
16 oz. whole or low-fat ricotta
1 1/2 to 2 cups Parmesan cheese, grated (half goes into the pumpkin ricotta mixture and half on top of the lasagna)
1/4 teaspoon allspice
7-8 oz. veggie sausage (I used Field Roast Smoked Apple Sage) OR the same amount of chorizo or kielbasa or your favorite sausage
12 oz. smoked mozzarella, cut into 12 slices (or use regular mozzarella with one cup of grated smoked gouda or Bruder Basil)
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
- Spread one jar of tomato sauce over the bottom of your lasagna pan.
- Spread one layer of the lasagna sheets over the tomato sauce.
- Mix the pumpkin purée, goat cheese, ricotta, and 3/4 to 1 cup of Parmesan cheese together with the allspice.
- Spread the pumpkin mixture over the lasagna sheets. It’s easiest to do this by dropping spoonfuls onto the sheets and then spreading the mixture with a spatula. Cover it as evenly and comprehensively as you are able without driving yourself crazy.
- If you are using sausage or veggie sausage, cut it into one-inch slices and place the slices evenly over the pumpkin mixture.
- Lay down another layer of lasagna sheets.
- Spread the second jar of tomato sauce on top of the sheets. Sprinkle with the rest of the grated Parmesan and lay the slices of mozzarella or smoked mozzarella over the top of the lasagna.
Bake until the lasagna is bubbling and the mozzarella on top is melted and taking on a light golden hue. This takes about an hour, but start checking it after 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and let sit for 15 minutes or so before serving so that it will “set up” (become more solid) and will be easier to cut into attractive, discrete pieces.