November Cooking Tool of the Month – Casserole Dish
Anyone that reads food blogs and is vegan (or not vegan for that matter!) has run across Keepin’ It Kind. The photos are gorgeous, recipes are creative, and Kristy’s sweet and bubbly personality shines through. Her blog is definitely one of my favorites so I’m thrilled to share with you a guest post for our November Cooking Tool of the Month feature. Lasagna takes some time to prepare but like Amanda said in our last post, casseroles mean leftovers so it’s worth it to spend a little extra time preparing. If you’re wondering why I haven’t post my own recipes lately it’s because I’m super duper busy working on a new wellness program that I will tell you more about soon! But do keep an eye out for a vegan Tettrazini later this week and my favorite holiday side dish next Monday!
Butternut & Wild Mushroom Lasagna with Pecan Parmesan by Kristy Turner
I’ve always been partial to meals that revolved around a casserole. I lived with my grandmother for a year during high school and she taught me the basics of how to cook. Since my grandmother usually cooks to feed a crowd, it was only natural that casserole-style dishes were the first type of meal I learned how to cook. To this day, there is something truly comforting and “homey-feeling” about pulling a hot casserole dish out of the oven, the kitchen flooding with the scent of whatever meal is about to be shared. What’s even better is that, in most cases, when the casserole is pulled from the oven, it is shared with people you care about.
While growing up, my family never ate lasagna. I’m not exactly sure why, but lasagna is not something regularly featured at the dinner table in my family. I have a very distant memory of my parents telling me lasagna was gross because of the ricotta (and this is long before I had a clue of what ricotta was). Furthermore, there seems to be a general understanding that lasagna is not something to be brought to any family event. With these conditions, I’m sure you can understand why I never tried lasagna until I was in my late teens, but as soon as I did, I was infatuated.
When I began experimenting with my own lasagnas in my early twenties, I fell in love with the versatility of the dish. Because they can take some time to make, it made it even more special and rewarding to share with friends. After much experimentation, I came up with a butternut squash lasagna that I was in love with. I loved it so much, I decided to throw caution to the wind and bring my new favorite lasagna to Thanksgiving dinner that year. The only person who ate it, and went back for seconds, besides myself, was my cousin’s boyfriend (so it was understandable that he liked it since he isn’t blood related).
Over the years, I continued to make various versions of the butternut lasagna, trying different techniques and ingredients. The last one I made before going vegan, I incorporated a step that I’d learned while I was teaching English in northern Italy. I lived with a host family and my host mother, Gabriella, was just the most incredible cook. She let me watch her cook a few times (helping was not an option as I was “a guest.”), and one of those times, she made lasagna. It was a very traditional lasagna, which she made vegetarian for me (this was pre-vegan days), but Gabriella let me in on a trick she does for all of her lasagnas. When making a lasagna using a creamy sauce rather than a marinara sauce, she always blends fresh basil or other herbs into the cream sauce. Her explanation was that the marinara sauce has all the fresh herbs in it already, so shouldn’t the cream sauce as well? When I tried it with my beloved butternut squash lasagna, it took the meal to a whole new level. It was incredible.
When Christy asked me to do a guest post about casseroles, I was first extremely excited, and then when I finally settled down, I knew immediately I wanted to finally veganize my old favorite. I decided to use Gabriella’s basil method since it worked so well and I threw in some wild mushrooms to add some texture. I chose to replace all the cheese with some pecan parmesan, inspired by several nut-based “parmesans” I’ve seen floating around the web. This lasagna takes some time to prepare but the hard work will reap extremely delicious rewards. The natural sweetness coming from the roasted, caramelized butternut squash paired with the nutty, salty, cheesiness of the pecan parmesan is out of this world. The wild mushrooms, which were quickly sautéed with some fresh sage, combined with the basil cream sauce, gives the final product a very herbal, rustic finish. The crunchy pecan parmesan topping just puts it over the edge. As my husband, Chris, and I savored every last bite of this delicious meal together, I really wished that I lived closer to my family because this dish, for sure, would change their minds about lasagna for good.
Butternut & Wild Mushroom Lasagna with Pecan Parmesan
for the butternut squash puree:
1 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch cubes
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 teaspoons cinnamon
salt and pepper to taste
for the pecan parmesan:
3 cups raw pecan pieces
1 cup nutritional yeast
juice of half a lemon
1 teaspoon minced garlic
for the wild mushrooms:
1 8oz package of dried wild mushrooms
10-12 sage leaves, chopped into small strips
½ teaspoon olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
for the basil cream sauce:
3 tablespoons vegan butter
3 tablespoons whole wheat flour
4 cups almond milk (or other vegan milk)
1 cup fresh basil leaves, loosely packed
a couple dashes of dried thyme
1 teaspoon arrowroot powder (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
for the lasagna:
12 no-boil lasagna noodles
olive oil spray or olive oil to grease the casserole dish
Place your dried mushrooms in a bowl and cover with hot water. Let sit until rehydrated, about 10-15 minutes, then drain.
Prepare your squash puree. Preheat the oven to 400. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Spread your butternut cubes out on the baking sheet and drizzle with the olive oil. Sprinkle the cinnamon evenly over the squash and add salt and pepper to taste. Toss to fully coat each piece. Roast in the heated oven for 30 minutes, flipping halfway through to ensure even cooking. Once your squash is done roasting let cool on the sheet for about 5 minutes. Then place the cubes in the bowl of your food processor and puree until smooth. This might take awhile and you might be tempted to add water to get it to puree more quickly, but if you give it time, you will have a super thick butternut puree, which we all know is better than a thinned out puree. Rinse and dry the food processor- you’ll need it later for the parmesan.
While the squash is in the oven, make the pecan parmesan. Combine all of the parmesan ingredients in the bowl of the food processor and pulse until it has a crumbly texture with tiny pieces of pecan. Do not overprocess- You do not want a flour-like or nut butter-type consistency. Pour the pecan parmesan into a bowl and set aside.
Also, while the squash is in the oven, you can cook your mushrooms. Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat for about 30-60 seconds. Add the sage strips and sauté in the oil for about 1-2 minutes, then add the mushrooms. Saute for about 4-5 minutes then remove from heat. Add salt and pepper to taste and set aside.
To make the basil cream sauce, melt the butter in a medium-size pot over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk for 1 minute. Gradually whisk in the milk. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer until the sauce thickens and reduces by about 25%, whisking often, about 7-8 minutes. Whisk in the thyme. Pour about half of the sauce into a blender or food processor, add the basil and blend until completely combined. Return the basil sauce to the sauce in the pan and stir to blend. If you would like the sauce to be thicker, whisk in the arrowroot powder. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Lower the oven heat to 375. Spray a 9 x 13 casserole dish with olive oil spray or lightly grease it with olive oil. Pour about ½ a cup of the cream sauce into the casserole dish and evenly spread it out. For the first layer: Place 3 lasagna noodles on top of the sauce. Evenly spread about 1/3 of the butternut puree on the lasagna noodles. Sprinkle about a ½ cup of the pecan parmesan on top of the butternut puree, then drizzle about ½ cup of the sauce over the parmesan. For the second layer: Place 3 more lasagna noodles on top of the sauce, spread with 1/3 of the butternut puree, then evenly spread the wild mushrooms over the top of the puree. Top with about a ½ cup of the parmesan, and drizzle ½ cup of the sauce over the parmesan. For the third layer: Repeat the steps for the first layer. Top with three more lasagna noodles, pour the rest of the sauce over the top, then cover the top with pecan parmesan (about 1-1½ cups).
Tightly cover the baking dish with foil and bake the lasagna for 50 minutes, then remove from heat. Let the lasagna sit for 15 minutes before serving. Enjoy!
What are YOUR favorite things to put inside lasagna? Have you ever tried using zucchini slices instead of the pasta? That’s yum!
Kristy, a former personal trainer and nutritional advisor, is the recipe developer, writer and food stylist for Keepin’ It Kind while her best friend and husband, Chris, is the primary photographer. Together, they hope that Keepin’ It Kind will show that a healthy, plant-based diet can be easy, fun, and delicious and maybe spread a little compassion along the way. When they aren’t working on the blog, they can be found working side-by-side in the locations department for film and commercials or just hanging at the beach with Chris’s twins and their canine roommate. You can follow Keepin’ It Kind on Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram.
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