I’m always in search of the perfect lasagna noodles — those that aren’t pasta, that is.
I love finding new ways to separate layers of delicious sauce and melting cheese in a unique, gluten-free way. With two gluten-free eaters in my house, I think this way about a lot of foods I prepare.
When cooking gluten-free, I generally prefer to use a totally different ingredient, than to try to mimic the one I’m omitting. In the case of lasagna, I actually really like brown rice lasagna noodles, however it’s so much more fun and interesting to use other foods that lend themselves to this sort of dish. Foods that not only function as a noodle would by forming layers, but can also bring a lot of additional flavors into the recipe.
Remember the Swiss Chard Vegetarian Lasagna, where the big beautiful Swiss chard leaves were the “noodles?”
In this recipe, the noodles are made with butternut squash that has been sliced thinly and briefly steamed. They’re beautiful and incredibly tasty!
P.S. Please don’t be daunted by the lengthy recipe — this is a great weekend cooking project, and worth the time!
- Olive oil for the pan
- 2 cups thinly sliced red onion
- 2 teaspoons minced garlic (about 3 medium-sized cloves)
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon allspice
- 1-pound ground chicken
- 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomato
- 1 (approximately 3-pound) butternut squash
- 4 cups part-skim ricotta cheese
- 1 large egg
- 3-1/2 cups grated mozzarella cheese
- 2-1/2 cups packed spinach leaves, washed, dried, and stems removed
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Coat the bottom of a large sauté pan with olive oil and place it over medium-high heat. Add the onion and garlic to the pan. Sauté, stirring every so often, until the onions are golden brown, about 10 minutes.
- Stir in the balsamic vinegar, cinnamon and all spice, and sauté for another couple of minutes.
- Move the onion mixture to one side of the pan, and add a bit more olive oil to the empty side. Add the ground chicken to this side of the pan and sauté, stirring and breaking up the chicken into smaller pieces, until it' cooked. Then, mix it into the onion mixture and blend everything together, and continue to sauté until the chicken is golden brown.
- Add the tomato and stir to blend, using a flat-bottomed spatula to scrape any stuck bits of food off of the bottom of the pan.
- Turn the heat to low and simmer until the sauce becomes rich and a bit thicker, 30 to 40 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper -- this will require about 1 teaspoon of salt. (Here's how to season to taste.) Set aside.
- Cut about ½-inch off of each end, and then use a Chef's knife to peel it. Starting at the top, begin cutting downward, just inside the skin. Take the knife all the way to the bottom, and then repeat this all around the squash. If it's easier for you, cut the squash in half horizontally before peeling it -- you'll avoid having to curve the knife as much this way. Now (if you haven't already), cut the squash in half, horizontally. Then use a Mandoline, on a very thin slicing setting, to cut the squash vertically. Make as many slices as possible -- when you get to the seeds, just start slicing the other side. It's okay if some of the slices have the center hole in them -- your slices will not all be the same size and many will be irregularly shaped. (Refer to the image above the recipe for guidance. Also, if you don't have a Mandoline, you can use a very sharp Chef's knife to make thin slices.)
- Put a large steamer into a large pot with the water level just below it. Over high heat, bring the water to a boil and then add the squash slices to the rack. The slices will be overlapping and piled on top of each other. (If your pile of squash slices is super high however, you will have an easier time if you steam them in two batches.) Cover the pot and steam until the slices are tender, but not too tender! They should be bendable, but not soft. This should take about 5 minutes. Cooking times will vary depending on the size of the slices and the pot. Set aside to cool.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, and adjust a rack to the top third of the oven.
- In a medium-sized mixing bowl mix the ricotta with the egg and season to taste with salt and pepper. (Here's how to season to taste.) Set aside.
- Add about 1 cup of the sauce to the bottom of a 9 X 13 X 3-inch baking pan, and spread it out evenly.
- Cover the sauce with an even layer of slightly overlapping slices of squash, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
- Pour about ½ of the remaining sauce on top of the squash and smooth it out.
- Follow the sauce with about ⅓ of the ricotta mixture, and a sprinkling of about ½ cup of the mozzarella.
- Coat this with an even layer of about ⅓ of the spinach leaves -- they should be slightly overlapping.
- Starting with the squash, repeat this layering process once more.
- On top of the second layering, add final layer of the squash, (sprinkling it with salt and pepper), the last of the ricotta mixture, topped with the remaining mozzarella.
- Bake in the preheated 350 degree F oven for 30 minutes. The edges should be bubbling, and the top should be golden brown when it's done. If you notice it's getting too brown during the baking time, cover it lightly with foil. And if after 30 minutes, the top hasn't browned, place the pan under the broiler for about 30 seconds -- just to brown it.
- Let the lasagna sit, covered lightly with foil, for at least 30 minutes before serving.