Acorn squash, orange, and sage. These are the ingredients for the November Royal Foodie Joust chez The Leftover Queen. Luckily for all of us residing outside the United States, it was deemed appropriate to substitute any orange-fleshed winter squash. I thought I’d use a patidou, but they seem to have disappeared from the markets. Ah, well. Potiron is plentiful and cheap, not to mention tasty.
But what to do with it? The combination of winter squash with orange sounds good, ditto with sage. All three together, however, pose a bit more of a challenge. It’s not exactly an intuitive pairing. After a good amount of brainstorming, I had come up with two good ideas, or so I thought. I ultimately rejected the homemade pork-sausage-stuffed acorn squash, not only because of my change in squash, but because it seemed a little too obvious. Sure, it would be delicious, but I wanted something unique. The other idea, for a dessert, did come to fruition, but that’s tomorrow’s post.
Somehow, while wandering through the market, basking in the glory of the new fall produce, a new dish began to take shape in my head. We had picked up some Swiss chard, and after getting some preparation tips from Chez Loulou, I was excited to try my hand at some fresh chestnuts. (A brief aside: I learned this weekend that while chestnuts are most commonly referred to here as “marrons,” the correct word for edible chestnuts is “châtaignes.”)
Nick mentioned lasagna somewhere along the way, in reference to something else entirely, and all of a sudden it fell into place: Orange-roasted squash lasagna with chestnuts and Swiss chard! A little Béchamel sauce and Gruyère to pull it all together… this is going to be fantastic!
Lasagna is hardly a quick-and-easy dish, and this was a project, for sure. Roasting and peeling the chestnuts, trying to find the right balance between orange and squash flavor, making the sauce, grating the cheese… you get the idea. The approach I took was a relaxed one, doing one component at a time, stretching the prep out over the course of the day. You could go the other way, roasting the squash and chestnuts simultaneously while cooking the chard and Béchamel, but since I cook on schedule all week at work, I prefer a leisurely pace when I’m cooking at home.
Besides, cooking the slow way leaves plenty of time to take copious notes, not to mention innovate along the way. While the pumpkin was in the oven, I decided to use the orange zest to make an orange butter with which to baste the squash. I liked it so much that I ended up using it in the dessert, too.
Béchamel sauce makes not-uncommon appearances in my kitchen, so that was no problem. Combined with sautéed Swiss chard, fresh sage, and Parmigiano-Reggiano, it made a scrumptious, creamy dish that could easily stand alone.
Once I had all the components ready, I layered them with no-boil lasagna noodles (because for one, they were all I could find, and for two, after all that cooking I think I deserved a break on the pasta and they’re just so darn convenient) and put the lasagna in the oven to heat through.
I’m a big fan of vegetable lasagnas in general, but it seems that every time I make one for guests, there is inevitably someone who thinks it would be improved with meat (you know who you are). This lasagna, however, is so flavorful and hearty – the chestnuts, in particular, give it a delicious meaty bite – that even the most die-hard carnivores won’t miss the meat.
Winter Vegetable Lasagna
For the chestnuts:
300 g/10½ oz. fresh chestnuts
- Preheat oven to 220 C/425 F.
- Wash and dry the chestnuts. With a sharp knife, cut an x into the rounded side of each nut. Spread the chestnuts in an even layer on a sheet pan or in a roasting pan. Roast until the shells split and the skin curls back from the x, 20-30 minutes depending on your oven and the size of the chestnuts.
- Remove from the oven and wrap the nuts in a clean dishtowel. Rub them together a bit until you hear the shells cracking against each other. Let steam in the towel 10-15 minutes, until cool enough to handle. Peel and set aside.
For the squash:
1150 g/ 2½ lb. winter squash (this could be a couple of acorn squash, a large butternut, a hunk of pumpkin, etc.) halved if necessary and seeds removed.
2 Tbsp. olive oil
Zest and juice of ½ orange
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbsp. orange butter (see below)
Freshly grated nutmeg
1 tsp. brown sugar
- Preheat oven to 205 C/ 400 F (or you could roast the squash at the same time as the chestnuts, if your oven is big enough).
- Rub cut sides of squash with olive oil and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and orange zest. Roast until the flesh is soft and beginning to brown, about an hour or so. After 30 minutes, baste with orange butter.
- Remove from oven and drizzle with the orange juice.
- Scoop the flesh into a bowl and mash with a fork. Season to taste with additional salt and pepper, nutmeg, brown sugar, and the juice of the other ½ orange, if you’re so inclined.
For the orange butter:
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
Zest of 1 orange
- Stir the zest and softened butter together.
- Use with abandon.
For the Béchamel sauce:
3 Tbsp. unsalted butter
4 Tbsp. flour
590 ml/ 2½ cups milk
235 ml/ 1 cup cream
1 shallot, peeled and root end removed
1 bay leaf
1 clove garlic, lightly smashed
Sea salt and white pepper
Freshly grated nutmeg
- Use the clove to pin the bay leaf to the shallot. In classical French cuisine, this is called an oignon piqué.
- In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the flour and stir. Cook a few minutes, until the raw-flour smell dissipates and you have a smooth, light roux. Gradually whisk in the milk, trying your best to avoid lumps. (Don’t stress too much about it, though, the sauce will be strained later.)
- Add the cream, onion piqué, and garlic. Simmer, stirring occasionally, about 40 minutes, until the sauce thickens slightly and coats the back of a wooden spoon.
- Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg.
For the Swiss chard:
1 bunch Swiss chard, leaves and stems separated
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
60 ml/ ¼ cup white wine
1 recipe Béchamel sauce (see above)
Leaves from 4 branches of fresh sage, chiffonnade (sliced very thinly)
1 oz. Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated
- Thinly slice the chard stems and tear the leaves into bite-size pieces (bearing in mind that the leaves will shrink substantially once they are cooked).
- Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chard stems, season with salt and pepper, and sauté a few minutes until they begin to soften. Throw in the garlic and wait for the unmistakable aroma to hit your nose. Immediately introduce the chard leaves to the pan. There will be a loud reunion. Toss the ingredients together and let the chard leaves wilt. Pour in the wine and reduce the heat to medium. Simmer until most of the wine is gone. Remove from heat.
- Strain the Béchamel over the chard and stir to combine. Add the sage and Parmigiano-Reggiano. Stir, taste, and adjust the seasoning as necessary.
No-boil Lasagna noodles (the exact number is going to depend on the size and shape of your baking dish and the noodles themselves, so I’m going to leave that to your discretion)
60 g/ 2 oz. Gruyère cheese, grated
The roasted chestnuts (remember those?), winter squash mash, and Swiss chard mixture
- Preheat oven to 190 C/375 F.
- Spread a thin layer of the Swiss chard Béchamel in the bottom of a glass or ceramic baking dish, (20 x 25 cm or similar – 8 x 8 inches should work). Top with a layer of lasagna noodles. Cover the noodles with a thick layer of the squash mixture (use about 2/3 of what you have). Crumble half of the chestnuts over the squash and sprinkle half of the Gruyère over that. Place another layer of noodles on top and follow with a substantial layer of the Swiss chard (you may have some extra, not that that’s a bad thing). Strew the rest of the chestnuts and Gruyère over the chard and top with another layer of noodles. Smear the remaining squash mixture atop the noodles, making sure to cover them as evenly as possible.
- Bake 30-40 minutes until bubbling and heated through. Let cool 10 minutes and serve.
Originally published on Croque-Camille.