Roasted Butternut Squash Sage Lasagne

October 4, 2007 at 9:40 pm (B_minus (2.5 stars), Derek's faves, Italian, Necessarily nonvegan, Other, Pasta, Starches)

Below are two different recipes for butternut squash sage lasagne.  The first one is from Sara Moulton and the second is from Giada De Laurentiis.

I’ve tried improvising healthy versions of a butternut squash in a creamy sage sauce lasagna before, with varying degrees of success. Today I decide to try Sara Moulton’s recipe. Against my natural instincts (which recoiled at all that animal fat) I followed it to a T, or at least, to an S ;).

  • 1 large butternut squash, about 3 pounds, peeled, quartered, seeded, and thinly sliced
  • 3 Tbs. vegetable oil (I used olive)
  • salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
  • 2.5 cups whole milk + 2.5 cups chicken or vegetable stock (I used 4 cups 2% milk and 1 cup homemade veg stock)
  • 2 Tbs. dried rosemary (I didn’t have any so subbed 3 large stalks fresh rosemary)
  • 2 tsp. dried sage (I only had about 1.5 tsp. left)
  • 5 Tbs. unsalted butter (I replaced one of the Tbs. with olive oil)
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced (I used 3 huge cloves for about a Tbs. minced, plus one shallot)
  • 1/4 cup + 2 Tbs. all purpose flour
  • nine 7×3.5 inch regular or no boil lasagne noodles
  • 1 cup coarsely grated whole-milk mozzarella (I used about 6 ounces of a mix of aged provolone and gruyere)
  • 1.25 cups freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (I used 2 ounces)
  1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Toss the squash with the oil in a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper and spread out in one flat yaer over the bottom of a shallow roasting pan. Roast stirring gently or turning once or twice, until almost tender, 15 to 20 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, combine the milk, stock, rosemary, and sage in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat. Remove from the heat, cover, and let steep for 10 minutes. Strain, discarding the herbs. Melt the butter in a separate medium-large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and reduce the heat to medium low. Cook, stirring often, until the garlic is tender and fragrant, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the flour and cook, stirring, for 6 minutes. Increase the heat to high, whisk in the strained milk, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Cool slightly.
  3. Reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees Fahrenheit and butter a 13x9x2-inch baking dish. Spread a quarter of the sauce over the bottom of the dish. Cover with 3 lasagne sheets, arranging them so that they do not touch. Arrange half the squash slices on top. Spread a third of the remaining sauce over the pasta and sprinkle on half the mozzarella and 1/2 the Parmesan. Make one more layer in the same manner. Top with the remaining sauce and sprinkle on the reamining 1/4 cup Parmesan.
  4. Cover the dish tightly with foil and bake in the middle of the oven for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for 30 minutes longer or until bubbling. Preheat the broiler to high and set the oven rack about 6 inches from the source of heat. Broil, watching carefully and turning to distribute the heat evenly, until golden, 2 to 3 minutes. Let stand for 5 minutes before serving.

My Notes:

My squash weighed just over 3 pounds. I found the instructions on how to cut it to be a bit confusing, so I cut the bulbous part into very thin circles, and the long part into long thin strips, almost like lasagna noodles but shorter. Three Tbs. oil seemed like an awful lot for roasting it, but I used it anyway. The squash would not even fit on a cookie sheet in a single layer–I don’t know what she was thinking. It would take two cookie sheets to get it in a single lyaer. Even after 20 minutes the squash wasn’t really carmelizing at all, but it was getting pretty cooked so I took it out, figuring it would cook the rest of the way in the lasagna.

When boiling the milk I accidentally let it boil over a bit, so I lost some amount of the sauce, but I don’t think it was that much. I also misread the instructions and put too much of the sauce on the bottom layer, leaving the top layers a bit dry, which might explain why my noodles and squash were both a bit too crunchy. Also, the sauce was pretty thick, which I think is not good when you’re not pre-boiling your noodles. Next time I’d skip the 5 minutes final simmer. I barely added any salt to the sauce, but the cheese was salty enough, and the squash, that the whole dish was quite salty. Also, I think her instructions forget to tell you to add the final 3 noodles.

The lasagna filled out the final dish quite nicely. The flavor isn’t bad, but considering how decadent the recipe is I thought it would be stellar. I actually think my usual lowfat butternut squash lasagna with whole wheat noodles might actually be just as good (although it’s hard to remember without the side by side comparison). I wonder if it’s because I was a bit short on the spices? I can definitely taste the sage, but it’s a dark dried sage taste not a bright fresh sage taste. In any case, I’m disappointed (. Maybe it will be better after sitting for a day and going back in the oven for another 45 minutes, and with some fresh sage added.

The next day: Okay, I added another 1/4 cup milk and 1/4 cup vegetable broth over the top, covered it, and cooked it for another 45 minutes or so. The texture of the noodles and squash is much better now, and the flavor has come together a bit more. My biggest complaint is that it tastes greasy, in a dairy-that-coats-your-mouth kind of way, that’s unpleasant. I love pumpkin ravioli, but I never order it anymore when it’s served in a browned butter sauce because I have the same reaction to that sauce that I do to the grease in this recipe. When the pumpkin ravioli is served in a *cream* sauce, on the otherhand, I like it much more. I thought since this is made with a bechamel it would be more like a cream sauce, but it still has that greasy mouthfeel from all the butter and oil I think. Also, the bechamel kind of curdled up–not that it tastes bad, but it’s a bit lumpy in texture now and tastes a bit too flour-y for my tastes. Could it be because I didn’t use whole milk, or because I cooked it down too much so there wasn’t enough liquid left in the lasagna?

The squash here isn’t bad, but I wish it had a more intense squash flavor. Obviously one solution would be to roast it longer. Another might be to use a pumpkin or squash puree that’s really highly flavored, more like the filling of pumpkin ravioli. I would add some sweet spices to it that would really bring out the sweet flavor of the squash, which this recipe seems to mute.

Another flavor might also help this recipe; I found it a bit simple tasting. I’ve seen some versions with hazelnuts, which might be good, some with shiitakes, which sounds intriguing, and others with spinach or other greens, which I can’t quite imagine but would be worth trying. I also saw one recipe on cooking light that calls for a smoky tomato sauce instead of the bechamel. I’m skeptical but curious. Certainly something smoky could be interesting (often non-vegetarian versions call for bacon, which I *think* is smoky), but the tomato combo seems wrong.

Also, just for posterity I wanted to document what I’ve done in the past when I’ve tried to make a lighter version of this dish. I cut the squash similarly but roasted it with much less oil (and sometimes I didn’t roast it at all but just layered it in the lasagna raw, making sure I cut it quite thin). The bechamel sauce I made with only a little olive oil, no butter, and 1% milk. I used strongly flavored cheeses in moderation. It needed work but wasn’t bad. At least it was lower calorie and animal fat!

Recipe #2

A second recipe: butternut squash lasagna by Giada De Laurentiis. This recipe was part of De Laurentiis’s Italian Thanksgiving show, and it got mostly rave reviews on the Food TV website. It’s similar to Moulton’s recipe in that it uses butternut squash, no-bake noodles, and a bechamel sauce. However, the squash is not roasted but cooked on the stove and then pureed with amaretti cookies, and she uses basil instead of sage. I decided to stick with sage but mostly followed the rest of the instructions.

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 (1 1/2 to 2-pound) butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 3 amaretti cookies, crumbled
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 1/2 cups whole milk
  • Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
  • 3/4 cup (lightly packed) fresh basil leaves
  • 12 no-boil lasagna noodles
  • 2 1/2 cups shredded whole-milk mozzarella cheese (reserve 1/2 cup for mixing with the parmesan for the topping)
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan


  1. The squash:  Heat the oil in a heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the squash and toss to coat. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Pour the water into the skillet and then cover and simmer over medium heat until the squash is tender, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes. Cool slightly and then transfer the squash to a food processor. Add the amaretti cookies and blend until smooth. Season the squash puree, to taste, with more salt and pepper.
  2. The bechamel:  Melt the butter in a heavy medium-size saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk for 1 minute. Gradually whisk in the milk. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer until the sauce thickens slightly, whisking often, about 5 minutes. Whisk in the nutmeg. Cool slightly. Transfer half of the sauce to a blender*. Add the basil and blend until smooth. Return the basil sauce to the sauce in the pan and stir to blend. Season the sauce with salt and pepper, to taste.
  3. The assembly:  Position the rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 375 degrees F. Lightly butter a 13 by 9 by 2-inch glass baking dish.Layers:
    1. Layer 0:   Spread 3/4 cup of the sauce over the prepared baking dish.
    2. Layers 1, 2, and 3:  Arrange 3 lasagna noodles on the bottom of the pan. Spread 1/4 of the squash puree over the noodles. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup of mozzarella cheese. Drizzle 1/2 cup of sauce over the noodles. Repeat layering two more times.
    3. Layer 4:  Arrange 3 lasagna noodles on the top of the lasagne.  Pour the remaining sauce over the noodles (about 3/4 cup)
  4. Tightly cover the baking dish with foil and bake the lasagna for 40 minutes. Sprinkle the remaining mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses over the lasagna. Continue baking uncovered until the sauce bubbles and the top is golden, 15 minutes longer. Let the lasagna stand for 15 minutes before serving.

My Notes:

The white sauce: I used sage instead of basil, but I’m not sure exactly how much–definitely a lot. I also added some dried sage to the bechamel sauce for added sage flavor. Instead of blending the sauce in the blender I used a stick blender. If you’re going to use a standard blender, then start the blender going before you add any sauce, then spoon in sauce slowly, without using the lid. This will prevent explosions. Alternatively, wait for the sauce to cool a bit. The first time I made the bechamel sauce I used whole milk, which makes a very rich lasagna. The next time I used the full amount of butter but used lowfat milk instead, and it turned out fine, in fact was still quite rich from all the mozzarella.

The noodles: I used the no-boil noodles and the noodles were cooked well in the alotted time.

The squash: I used extra squash for this recipe, doubling it to 4 pounds instead of 2 pounds. I tried it just cooking it on the stovetop as instructed, but found it a bit watery when adding a full 1/2 cup of water to it. I think only 1/4 cup or less is needed to start it cooking, since once it starts cooking the squash releases a lot of it’s own water. I also tried roasting some of the squash, to add more texture, since the puree makes quite a soupy lasagna. It’s quite a bit more work, and I’m not sure it’s worth the hassle though. In order to get the squash to the level of sweetness I wanted, I had to add more cookies than called for since I used more squash. The cookies are hard for me to obtain, so I think next time I’ll just try adding cookies and almond flavoring or marzipan instead.

This is a decadent lasagna, that many people, including Derek, really love. I find it a bit dull, and needs something else (besides fat) to make it truly spectacular.  I want to try adding garlicky shiitake mushrooms but Derek is opposed to the idea.

The original author says that fresh spinach lasagna sheets can be used instead of the no-boil noodles, but I haven’t tried this yet.

Update March 2010: I made this using 4 pounds of butternut squash and using 4 ounces of mini amaretti cooks.  Whoops!  It was way too sweet and amaretti tasting.  I added some sweet potatoes to try to tone it down a little.  They helped but it was still too sweet.  The sweet potatoes didn’t add a lot of flavor of their own.

Update Feb 2011:  I made this using 4 pounds of butternut squash and 6 large amaretti cookies (about 2 ounces).  I thought it was just a tad too sweet.  Next time I’d try just 4 or 5 cookies.  Or maybe I’ll try just using sugar and almond extract. (But note that my amaretti cookies contain no almonds–just apricot kernels).  Six large amaretti cookies contain 42g of sugar, 4g of protein and 6g of fat.  There are about 12.6g in a tablespoon of sugar, so that’s about 3.33 Tbs. of sugar.  Given that it was just a tad too sweet, I think that if I use sugar I’d try 2.5 – 3 Tbs.

I used half buffalo mozzarella and half regular store-bought shredded mozzarella.  I added the sage to the squash (*after* pureeing) instead of the milk, which was a mistake because it didn’t get pureed and the lasagne ended up with very little sage flavor.  Next time I’d add more sage or add some dried sage, and add it to the milk.

I baked the squashes instead of boiling them, because I didn’t feel like peeling them.  But getting the flesh out of the skins was actually hard, as the skin was so soft it just fell apart.   One advantage of baking was that the puree didn’t end up so watery this time.

The lasagne turned out fine.  It held together well, had the right consistency, reasonable balance of flavors…  My only complaints were not enough sage flavor and a tad too sweet.  But Derek wasn’t that excited about it.  Somehow it didn’t seem as rich and decadent as that first time (despite all the milk fat!)

Rating: B


  1. Maria Gatti said,

    I’m wondering how some butternut squash would do in with stale (but not too stale) tortillas to make what you call migas or chilaques. I’m looking for recipes for such things that aren’t too heavy, as even the vegan reasons tend to be. A bit of cheese it ok, but I don’t want to use too much for health reasons.

  2. captious said,

    Personally, I wouldn’t put squash in chilaquiles because it’s too
    sweet. Chilaquiles are about savory, not sweet. Now, if you want to
    make a squash / tortilla type dish, fine, could be interesting. But
    it wouldn’t be chilaquiles.

  3. Maria Gatti said,

    I wound up simply making tacos with roasted sweet potato – I’m simply eating the roasted squash as is. I added about a spoonful of black beans per taco and a bit of shredded cheese (to make it stick together better) but vegans can of course omit the cheese. It is very satisfying somehow.

  4. captious said,

    Sounds a lot like the sweet potato black bean burritos I make often. The only difference is that the black beans are seasoned, there’s nutmeg in the sweet potato, and in addition I add scallions.

  5. Scott said,

    I read the editorial on S. Moulton’s “decadent” dish, so i scanned the ingredients. But the list is healthful — unless you are a little food phobic or are in a cuting-back mode.

  6. captious said,

    Perhaps you are right Scott, but it’s certainly a lot more animal fat than I would normally use in one dish. I guess I am usually in a cutting-back mode, either that or an overdoing-it mode. I have yet to find that holy grail we all seek: moderation.

  7. Kath said,

    To make a great easy cheesy sauce, which goes brilliantly with butternut, bring 1 cup of stock to the boil (we have a great brand here in Oz with no animal product, I use half a cube to 1 cup water) and add half a container of Tofutti Better than cream cheese. Stir it for a while, off the heat, it’ll look gross, but then it’s OK. Then make a slurry of 2T cornflour with a bit of water, mix that in and return to the heat. Stir it and stir it until it looks good. The first time I made it for my family I put turmeric in it (they were new to my veganism) and it went down really well – everybody wanted more! It goes really well on lasagne, so you could cut back your animal fat.

  8. A lasagna for every season « The captious vegetarian said,

    […]  Butternut squash sage lasagna. Veggie is butternut squash.  Herbs are sage and […]

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