I will never forget the day my mom came home from the grocery store and promptly announced that she would never, ever cook lasagna again. In her hands she triumphantly held a frozen foil box that would end her kitchen drudgery forever. I cringe at this memory.
Lasagna therefore went from being a special meal in my house to an almost weekly occurrence because suddenly, all this meaty, ice-brick required was a short stint in a hot oven. No pots and pans to clean, no kitchen equipment, not even a cutting board to wipe down. My mom really had it figured out, but oh, how I missed the taste of the homemade, real deal.
A couple weeks ago I had my annual winter party for my girlfriends. We have a vegan potluck dinner that is always totally yummy and totally inspiring. This year I wanted to make something memorable that would leave a few dirty dishes in its wake. Naturally, I decided to make lasagna. Since egg-free noodles are about as common as the sunshine in this town (i.e. the opposite of common), I thought I’d get creative and make my own pasta…out of celeriac. Weird? Perhaps. But effective? You bet!
In fact, after trying the lasagna for the first time, I realized that I almost prefer the casserole without the noodle. The celeriac is creamy, sweet and bright, with just a little tooth to it mimicking its distant pasta cousin, but without all that white flour that makes me want to take a nap after. Yay!
What else could I do to make vegan, seasonal lasagna? Well, ditch the tomatoes for one, and replace them with butternut squash. Deeelish. This was a great idea. The puree was sweet and saucy, and I totally appreciated the fact that it was so different from the traditional sauce we all know and love.
Lastly, instead of the classic béchamel sauce, I puréed a bunch of white butter beans to create a rich, velvety cream. Béchamel is traditionally made with butter, white flour and milk, with a hint of nutmeg. In a lasagna, it almost disappears, combining itself with the ricotta, sinking into the pasta, and slithering through the pasta sauce. It is what makes lasagna so creamy and delicious, but I have found that the bean béchamel is a fantastic substitute, with lots more protein and fiber.
So by replacing every single element in a lasagna with something more high-vibe, can we still call it lasagna? I’ll take my liberties and say, yes.
Butternut squash is one of the most common and well-loved winter squashes. Its sweet, creamy flesh makes it perfect for pureed soups and dips, but it is also delicious in stir-fry, grain dishes, and enjoyed raw in salads.
Butternut has an extremely high phytonutrient content. The bright orange colour of the squash indicates that is loaded with beta-carotene, but did you know it also contains other carotenoids such as alpha-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin? These carotenoids are powerful antioxidants, fighting free radical damage and inflammation in the body.
New research reveals that the special polysaccharides, called pectins, found in the cell walls of the butternut squash have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, as well as anti-diabetic and insulin-regulating properties.
Although we may think of butternut squash as being rather impenetrable when it comes to pesticides, it is one vegetable we should consider purchasing organic if possible. Here’s why: recent agricultural trials have shown that all winter squash is particularly good at cleaning contaminated soils. The squashes act almost like sponges, effectively soaking up Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are unwanted contaminants. Sometimes farmers will plant winter squashes not as a food crop, but to improve the soil quality in between seasons and/or crop rotations. The squashes that are grown for food in contaminated soil may contain harmful substances even if they have not been sprayed. Since certified organic foods are grown in soils that are far less likely to contain undesirable levels of PAHs, it is recommended to add butternut squash to your list of best-to-buy-organic!
Seeing as this is a lasagna, there are of course a few elements involved. If you’re short on time, buy beans in a can instead of cooking them yourself. Since you will be pureeing them, it’s allowed. You can also roast the butternut squash a day or two ahead of time.
I served this lasagna with a side of massaged kale, apples and walnuts. The salad complimented the lasagna really well. In fact, next time I may actually put walnuts in the filling, or sprinkle them on top. This was a delectable autumn meal that will most certainly be repeated. Perhaps not weekly, but doesn’t that make it all the more special? Indeed.
Butternut Squash Lasagna
Butternut Squash Sauce
2 kg / 4.5 lbs. butternut squash
3-4 cloves garlic
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. lemon juice
salt to taste
1. Cut butternuts in half lengthwise and scoop out seeds. Rub with a little coconut oil and a sprinkle of sea salt. Roast in a 400°F / 200°C oven until soft, about 40-60 minutes (cooking time depends on the size of the squash/es). Remove from oven and let cool.
2. Scoop out flesh from the butternut squash and place in a food processor with the remaining ingredients. Season to taste.
600g / 1.3 lbs celeriac
1. Begin by peeling the celeriac. Because there is so many knotted roots on the bottom half of the vegetable, it is easiest to use a knife for this job.
2. You can either cut the round celeriac into a brick shape, or leave it round. Cut the root horizontally into very thin sheets (sharpen your knife before doing this!)
3. Braise celeriac sheets in simmering vegetable broth for 3-5 minutes depending on their thickness. Cook just until al dente – not mushy. Drain and set aside until ready to use.
2 heaping cups butter beans (or any white bean)
nutmeg, grated to taste
1 tsp. lemon juice
1 Tbsp. olive oil
pinch salt if needed
¼ – ½ cup water
1. Cook beans according to your tastes. If using canned, drain and rinse very well.
2. Put all ingredients except for water in a food processor. Add water with the motor running until a creamy sauce results, to the consistency that you like. Make as smooth as possible. Season to taste.
In a 8″ x 10″ (20 x 25cm) casserole dish, layer the following:
butternut squash sauce
baby spinach leaves
celeriac noodles…and so on…
This recipe made enough for two full rounds of the above, plus one extra layer of celeriac and a final topping of the butternut sauce. I sprinkled fresh thyme on top with some cracked black pepper. It could also be nice with dried chili flakes, rosemary or sage.
Bake until warmed through. Serve immediately.
This would be a fabulous main dish at any holiday party, or even Christmas dinner. You may be surprise just how yummy a tomato-free, dairy-free, pasta-free lasagna can taste anything but flavour-free!