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Squash's image improves in white-sauced lasagna

Squash season’s start also kicks off months of meals bound to confound my kids.

I’ve tried sneaking pureed butternut squash into their boxed macaroni and cheese, assuming they were too young to notice. More recently, I’ve tossed roasted spaghetti squash with actual spaghetti and marinara. I’ve even tucked cooked squash into crispy pastry for my interpretation of samosas. All attempts have been met with mild protest.

The most promising recipe so far this fall has been a butternut squash lasagna with bechemel sauce. The dish did have a bit of ground meat to redeem the squash and sautéed greens. But my kids ate it with surprising acceptance and couldn’t quite cleanly separate the squash from other bits they savored.

I was actually less impressed, given the lasagna’s undercooked noodles, most likely from lack of moisture. I favor no-boil noodles for lasagna and had yet to be disappointed in their performance when immersed in tomato sauce.

But while I covered the bottom of the pan with sauce to begin my squash lasagna and finished the top with the remainder, I didn’t separately sauce each layer, as this recipe indicates. For that reason, it’s important not to skimp on the batch of bechamel, so there’s plenty. Or you can just play it safe and boil a traditional box of lasagna noodles.

Even better, buy a sheet of fresh pasta, if you can find it at your grocer, and cut it to fit the dimensions of your pan. Feel free to substitute another type of hard-shell squash for the acorn variety in this recipe from Tribune News Service.

Acorn Squash and Kale Lasagna

1 medium acorn squash

1 cup ricotta cheese (whole milk or part-skim)

2 tablespoons butter

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

4 cups whole milk

1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more for kale mixture

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 1/2 cups grated Parmesan cheese, divided

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced

2 cups chopped kale

3 tablespoons chopped fresh sage

15 no-boil lasagna noodles (from 1 box)

1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 375 F.

Halve the squash lengthwise, discard seeds and roast until tender, for about 30 minutes. (Alternatively, peel and cut squash into chunks and roast until tender.) Let cool slightly, then scoop out flesh into a medium bowl and mash with a fork. Stir in the ricotta cheese.

Reduce oven temperature to 350 F.

While squash is roasting, make bechamel sauce. Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. When it bubbles, add the flour and cook, stirring continuously to prevent burning, for 1 minute, until flour no longer smells raw.

Slowly add the milk along with the nutmeg, salt and pepper, whisking continuously. Taste and add more seasonings if it tastes bland.

Reduce heat to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until sauce has thickened enough to coat back of a spoon, for about 8 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in 1/2 cup of the grated Parmesan.

Heat the olive oil in a medium saute pan over medium heat, then add the garlic. Cook for about 30 seconds (be careful not to burn it) then add the kale, sage and a pinch of salt. Cook until kale is softened, for about 4 to 5 minutes.

Now, assemble lasagna. Spread 1/2 cup sauce on bottom of a 9-by-13-inch lasagna pan.

Lay 5 of the lasagna noodles on top. They will overlap slightly, and you will have to carefully break fifth noodle so it fits into end of pan. Spread half of squash mixture on top of noodles, then 1/2 of kale mixture, followed by 1 cup sauce. (You want to cover noodles.) Sprinkle some grated Parmesan on top.

Repeat with a second layer of noodles, squash mixture, kale, sauce and grated Parmesan. Add a third layer of noodles and top with remaining sauce. Sprinkle remaining grated Parmesan and the 1 cup shredded Parmesan over top.

Bake on center rack in preheated oven until bubbly and slightly browned on top, for about 35 to 40 minutes. Cool for at least 10 minutes before serving, or lasagna will fall apart when cut. Lasagna is delicious warm, but also pretty good at room temperature.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Tribune News Service