Pumpkin lasagna a great vegetarian Thanksgiving alternative

This recipe is a project — but oh, what a result.

Fall is a wonderful time to tuck into a cozy kitchen and lose yourself in a great recipe. I like to think of cooking projects as culinary meditation. While you work, listen to some music that makes your heart happy, or put on a favorite old movie to play in the background. Lose yourself in the rhythm of chopping and stirring as the windows turn hazy from the steam of boiling water.

Lasagna from scratch may seem overwhelming at first. Take it one step at a time and you’ll see that each component is quite simple. You’ll get your first hint of the goodness to come while sautéing the vegetables. When the nutmeg and black pepper hit your hot pan the pure autumn aroma will be the sign that the finished dish will be worth your labor.

The beauty of this lasagna is it’s combination of textures. Pumpkin is the unapologetic star of the dish but eating a big serving of pumpkin alone would be along the same lines as digging into a jar of baby food. Some people go for that, but, I have found, most folks prefer to chew their meals. Nestled between layers of creamy pumpkin and ricotta cheese is a medley of hearty fall vegetables that easily satisfy that need.

There is no meat in this lasagna but the rich hearty vegetables should satisfy many carnivores — I can’t say all, because I know it won’t suit everyone, but, you may be surprised. Diced Portobello mushrooms have a delightfully chewy texture that make them a lovely alternative to the sausage or hamburger you are used to in a traditional Bolognese (meat sauce) lasagna. I’ll go so far as to say, the meat eaters at the table may not notice the absence of animal protein on the plate if you “accidentally” forget to tell them it isn’t there.

If you happen to be on the lookout for a non-traditional, or vegetarian, Thanksgiving dinner idea, look no further. Pumpkin Lasagna is destined to become a fall classic you’ll return to year after year.

Pumpkin Lasagna

1 pound kale, thick stems removed and leaves chopped

1 ½ teaspoons salt, divided

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided

1 teaspoon of minced dried rosemary, divided

½ teaspoon ground nutmeg – divided

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 medium onion, diced (2 cups)

8 ounces Portabella mushroom, diced

6 ounces carrots, peeled &grated (1½ cups)

8 ounces zucchini, grated (2 cups)

3 cups pumpkin puree, divided

½ cup part-skim ricotta

12 ounces fat-free evaporated milk, divided

½ cup shredded parmesan cheese, divided

¾ cup shredded mozzarella cheese, divided

½ cup low fat milk

9 lasagna noodles

Fall is a wonderful time to tuck into a cozy kitchen and lose yourself in a great recipe. Lasagna from scratch may seem overwhelming at first but by the time the nutmeg hits your hot pan and the smell tickles your nose, you’ll get your first hint of the goodness to come and know the labor will be worth the result. Pair with a rustic seed covered loaf of bread and a fruity dry red wine or a crisp fall ale.

Begin by placing the kale into a large, microwave safe bowl, cover loosely and cook on high for 2 minutes to wilt the kale and reduce the volume by about half. Set the wilted kale aside.

In a small bowl, blend the salt, pepper, rosemary, and nutmeg. Heat 2 teaspoons of the oil in a large frying pan. Cook the onions and mushrooms. Sprinkle over 1/3 of the spice mixture and stir occasionally until the vegetables begin to brown. Scoop the onions and mushrooms into a large dish and return the pan to the heat and add 1 teaspoon of oil. Cook the grated carrots and zucchini in the hot frying pan for about 5 minutes until most of the moisture has evaporated, sprinkle with 1/3 of the spice mixture while they are cooking. Add the carrots and zucchini to the onions and mushrooms. Return the pan to the heat and increase the heat to medium high. Add the wilted kale and sprinkle over the final 1/3 of the spice mixture. Stir the kale frequently until it has cooked down by more than half again and no liquid remains in the pan, 5 to 10 minutes. Add the kale to the vegetables and toss everything together until evenly combined — set aside.

Heat the oven to 400 degrees, bring a large pot of water to a boil, and have a 13-by-9-inch baking dish standing by.

In a medium bowl, mix together 2 cups of pumpkin, ¾ cup evaporated milk, ½ of ricotta, ¼ cup of parmesan cheese, and remaining spices (1/2 teaspoon of salt, ½ teaspoon of pepper, ½ teaspoon of rosemary, ¼ teaspoon of nutmeg). Set aside.

In a small bowl, mix together remaining 1 cup of pumpkin and ¾ cup evaporated milk. Set aside.

Cook the lasagna noodles in the boiling water for 6 minutes. They should be rubbery, not cooked through. Drain the noodles through a colander and set the colander on a plate at your lasagna assembly station, next to the baking dish.

Assemble the lasagna: Pour the milk into the bottom of your baking dish. Place the first three noodles over the milk in an even layer (make noodle stripes) then spread half of the pumpkin and ricotta mixture over the noodles. Cover the pumpkin with half of the vegetable mixture and lay three more noodles over the top. Repeat the layering process with the remaining pumpkin, vegetables, and a final layer of noodles. Cover the noodles with the pumpkin and evaporated milk mixture. Sprinkle the top with the mozzarella and remaining parmesan cheese.

Cover the baking dish with foil and bake for 25 minutes then remove the foil and continue baking for an additional 10 minutes. Let the lasagna rest for 10-15 minutes before cutting and serving.

Notes: Make a day ahead if possible and reheat in a 400-degree oven under foil until internal temperature reaches 140 degrees. Let the lasagna sit out at room temperature for about an hour before reheating. Do not put a cold glass dish in the oven — ever. The sudden change in temperature can cause it to explode.

Prep time: 50 mins; Cook time: 35 mins.

Nutrition information: Serving size: 1/12 Calories: 212 Fat: 5 Carbohydrates: 32 Sugar: 9 Sodium: 313 Fiber: 6Protein: 12

Adapted from Food &Wine

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