Italians – wow they know how to transform fresh produce into a dish fit for a King. It was on a trip to Italy a couple of years ago that I discovered an Italian dish that had hit the nail on the head when it comes to serving pumpkins. Pumpkins have somehow always eluded me. I love their colour. Their quirk, folksy shapes appeal. They look like they’re brimming with the good stuff. I really want to get to know pumpkins and feel as though we could have a beautiful relationship – but somehow their flavour overpowers the whole meal and I just haven’t learned to love them in a way I feel I should.
Sweet pumpkin pie…roasted pumpkins…pumpkins soup….regardless of method the overbearing taste of pumpkin always slams through and puts me off this wholesome looking vegetable. Until that is I had the good fortune of attending a friend’s wedding in Italy. On the buffet-table was a plate of pumpkins wrapped in a fine filo pastry. They tasted divine. What had the chef done that I had not to transform a rough, in-your-face, flavour into a culinary master-piece?. The chef was not around to ask and, in any case, I wasn’t sure if it was appropriate at a friend’s wedding to head into the kitchen to unearth his or her secret.
When I got home I decided ricotta was the secret ingredient. Result. The combination of ricotta and pumpkin is truly a match made in heaven. It is so worth a try and very, very simple to prepare. An alternative to layering the pumpkin puree in lasagne is to squeeze the puree into cannelloni and bake them in the oven in a cheese sauce. Or to spread them in a plain wrap and bake in the oven.
I think it is also only fair to point out at this stage that strict adherents of a traditional diet spurn pasta. Yes. Hard to believe but they do. Probably for good reason. Most pastas are made from unsoaked or unfermented durum flour – a form of flour that is brilliant for pizza dough’s and pasta but one which is high in protein. That all said if you eat pasta only once or twice a week and mix it with plenty of other fresh produce it is probably unlikely to cause too much harm. Eating pasta every day for a long period of time, tempting though that is, may cause problems for those sensitive to high-gluten grains.
But let’s not get bogged down with whether pasta is or is not the devil’s own invention …. just enjoy this warm, delicious bake that pleases the family.
2 butternut squashes (or any small pumpkin).
1 pot of ricotta.
Salt & Pepper
For the béchamel sauce
A large pat of butter.
1-2 table-spoons of either arrow-root or plain flour.
1 litre of milk.
Place the butternut squashes in a baking-tray and bake in an oven for around 60-90 minutes (until soft).
Once they are soft scoop out the flesh of the butternut squash and discard the skin and seeds.
Fry the finely cut onion in some butter and olive-oil and add the flesh of the butternut squash.
Add the ricotta cheese and stir into the mix.
With a hand-held blender whisk the mixture into a fine purée.
When ready prepare the cheese sauce.
When the sauce is ready, spread half of the pumpkin and ricotta purée into a baking dish and layer the top with spinach lasagne. Over the pasta pour half of your cheese sauce. Repeat the process one more time. Let the layering begin…
Sprinkle grated cheese over the top of the cheese sauce and place in a pre-heated over at around 180 degrees centigrade for 30-40 minutes.
Serve with a fresh green salad and sour cream dressing.