I’ve been racking my brain to find a recipe that felt like fall. The trouble with living in Northern California this time of year is that we are spoiled by our ‘Indian Summer’ weather. With temperatures ranging upwards of 100 degrees Fahrenheit it is difficult to look at all the amazing fall produce through the same eyes. I am dreaming of stews and lasagna in my mind’s eye and yet the weather refuses to sport a good downpour of rain or even slightly exhibit a drop in temperature.
Finally, with one cold day to hide behind, the wheels went into motion. A hearty vegetarian dish- Cheesy Pumpkin Kale Lasagna (or as my Italian friends would say (Lasagne Con Zucca e Cavolo)! So why all of the hullabaloo over a vegetarian pumpkin lasagna recipe? Well because it is delicious! It looks, smells and tastes just like fall.
This hearty lasagna is perfect for that transitional time, when late-summer produce is winding down and the first fall vegetables appear at farmers’ markets. What makes it especially unusual is that this homemade four-cheese lasagna uses a pumpkin sauce in place of a red marinara sauce for a creative and unusual meatless lasagna that’s nothing short of gourmet. Perfect for a fall dinner or even for an unusual meatless Thanksgiving entrée.
This dish can be prepared the day before as long as the unbaked lasagna comes to room temperature for a few hours before baking.
Cheesy Pumpkin Kale Lasagna
1 lb lasagna noodles
2 TBS extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1.5 lbs kale, washed with stems discarded and chopped
1/2 lb Swiss chard, stems discarded and leaves chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1.5 pound pumpkin, roasted (or 3-15-oz cans pumpkin puree)
1/4 cup heavy cream
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
3 cups fresh ricotta (24 oz)
2 large eggs, beaten
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
1 cup freshly grated Romano cheese
2 cups shredded imported fontina cheese, divided
Creamy White Sauce</p>
7 TBS unsalted butter
1/2 cup flour
3 1/2 cups milk, warmed
1 cup grated Parmigiano, plus extra for topping
There two options for cooking the pumpkin, roasting in the oven and microwaving. There is nothing that compares to the smell of a roasting pumpkin. If time permits, this method is recommended.
Oven Method: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut the pumpkin in half and remove the stringy fiber and seeds. Lightly oil a foil lined baking sheet, place pumpkin cut side down. Roast until soft, approximately 35-45 minutes.
Microwave Method: If using the quicker microwave method, cut the pumpkin into wedges and place skin side up on a microwave safe plate. Microwave on high for 15 minutes, checking occasionally, as the time will vary with size. The pumpkin is ready when it is soft to the touch and the plump can be easily scooped away from its skin. Allow to cool.
Remove the skin from the pumpkin and chop into 1-inch pieces.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Similar to the pumpkin preparation, there are also two options for preparing the noodles.
Fresh Lasagna Noodles: I was able to source a fresh refrigerated noodle that does not require precooking.
Boiled Lasagna Noodles: Boxed lasagna sheets should be slightly cooked. Bring a large pot of salted water to a full boil, cook the lasagna noodles until just starting to soften – no longer than 3 minutes. Drain well and transfer the noodles to a baking sheet. Toss the noodles with olive oil to prevent them from sticking together.
Combine grated Parmigiano and Romano cheeses. Set aside.
In a large skillet, heat the 2 TBS of olive oil. Add the onion and cook over moderately low heat until softened, approximately 7 minutes. Add the kale and Swiss chard and cook approximately 8 minutes over moderate heat, stirring frequently, until wilted and no more liquid remains. Add in the garlic and cook stirring 1-2 minutes until fragrant. Season with salt and pepper and then transfer mixture to a plate. Set aside to cool slightly.
In a medium bowl, mix together the pumpkin puree, heavy cream, nutmeg and cayenne. Season with salt and pepper. In another bowl, mix the ricotta with the eggs, 1 1/2 cups of the grated Parmigiano and Romano cheese blend, 1 cup of the fontina and 1 1/2 tsps of salt.
To prepare cheesy sauce, melt butter with the flour in a large saucepan over a medium-low heat. Cook, stirring, for 5 minutes (careful not to let it brown). Remove from heat and slowly add all the warmed milk in a thin stream, whisking as you go. Return to heat and cook, stirring, until thickened. Stir through the cheese. Season to taste and remove from heat.
In a well-buttered, 9×13-inch baking dish, spoon 1/2 cup cheese sauce and dot the pumpkin mixture in an even layer on top. Arrange 3 or 4 lasagna noodles in the dish, overlapping them slightly. Spread half of the cheese and remaining pumpkin mixture over the noodles in an even layer. Top with half of the kale/chard mixture and another layer of noodles. Cover with half of the ricotta mixture. Repeat the layering with lasagna noodles, cheese sauce, pumpkin, kale/chard, another layer of noodles and then the ricotta mixture. Add last layer of noodles and coat with cheese sauce.
Cover the lasagna with foil and bake for about 40 minutes, until heated through and slightly firm. To be certain that cheese does not attach itself to the foil, toothpicks can be inserted part way into lasagna to make a slight tent in the foil. If is okay if toothpicks poke through the foil.
Remove lasagna from the oven and uncover. Preheat the broiler. Sprinkle the remaining 1 cup of fontina on top of the lasagna and broil about 4 inches from the heat until golden brown, bubbly and crisp on top; approximately 4 minutes. Allow the lasagna rest for 15 minutes so that the juices can settle, then cut into squares and serve.