This week the bloggers of I Heart Cooking Clubs are saying goodbye to Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall the featured chef for the last six months. He’s a British celebrity chef, Guardian columnist and advocate for sustainable food practices. Since we’re on the same page as far as sustainability goes, I’m saying au revoir rather than goodbye to Hugh with his squash and fennel lasagna.
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This is one of those typical casseroles where everything is cooked first, then assembled to form the final dish. Not to worry, a few shortcuts will have you eating in just over an hour.
The star of the dish in my opinion is the bechamel sauce. The milk is heated with vegetables and spices and allowed to steep briefly before being used to make a thick white sauce. Talk about a facepalm why-didn’t-I-think-of-that moment! Hugh recommends whole milk but you could certainly use cream or half and half to increase the richness. If the idea of adding mustard to the sauce turns you off, you can omit it, but it really adds a nice flavor.
You can buy precut winter squash (usually butternut squash) in many stores. There’s nothing wrong with taking advantage of the prepared veggie and/or frozen food section of the grocery store. You could also plan ahead and reserve a couple cups of roasted squash from a cooking session for this recipe, which is what I did. I just reheated it on the stove along with some seasoning before assembling the lasagna.
If you’re not a fennel fan, substitute caramelized onions. Those can also be prepared ahead of time (see how to do it in a slow cooker).
Finally, I used the ready to cook lasagna sheets. They only require a brief soaking before cooking.
The recipe has been halved and will serve two to four people, depending on appetites. Since there’s so much going on in the lasagna I served it with a plain mixed salad drizzled with olive oil and vinegar.
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 medium onion or ½ a large onion, cut into large pieces
- 1 celery stalk, cut into large pieces
- A few black peppercorns
- 4 tablespoons butter (a half stick)
- 4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) all purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard, or to taste
- salt and pepper to taste
- 2 cups winter squash, cut into small cubes
- 1 large garlic clove, finely chopped
- 2 - 3 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves (use less is you have dried thyme)
- 1 fennel bulb, a little bit bigger than a fist, trimmed and sliced thinly
- ⅓ cup blue cheese, goat’s cheese or cream cheese (I used goat cheese and felt it took over, use your best judgment)
- As many ready to cook lasagne sheets as needed to make two layers in your baking dish, prepared according to the package directions
- ½ cup (two nice handfuls) grated cheese, (I used a pasta blend)
- salt and pepper to taste
- olive oil as needed
- Bring the milk, onions, celery, bay leaf and peppercorns to a simmer over medium heat. Remove from the heat and let stand until ready to make the sauce.
- Meanwhile, prep the veggies.
- Drizzle the squash with olive oil and roast in a 350F/180C oven until tender, about 30 minutes. Toss with the garlic and thyme leaves. Season with salt and pepper, set aside.
- Alternatively, saute already prepared squash in a little olive oil along with the garlic until heated through. Add the thyme, season with salt and pepper, set aside.
- Saute the fennel in a little olive oil until tender and beginning to change color, about 20 minutes. Set aside. You can do this on top of the stove while the squash is roasting to save some time.
- If using ready to cook lasagna noodles, start soaking them now. Prepare an 8 or 9 inch square baking dish or equivalent with baking spray and make sure the oven is heated to 350F/180C
- Strain the veggies and seasoning from the milk. Reheat the infused milk in order to make it easier to prepare the sauce.
- Melt the butter in a sauce pan and add the flour. Cook for a few minutes to allow the flour to cook though. Reduce the heat if necessary to prevent overcooking.
- Add the milk a cup at a time, stirring well each time to prevent lumps. Stir in the mustard and continue to simmer and stir for several minutes until the sauce has thickened. Sometimes it take a while.It should cling to the spoon, but still be pourable. You can add more milk to thin it out or cook it longer to thicken it up.
- Now you're ready to assemble the lasagna.
- Spoon about ⅓ of the sauce over the bottom of the dish and arrange a layer of lasagna noodles over top.
- Cover the noodles with the squash, a handful of grated cheese and another ⅓ of the sauce.
- Add another layer of noodles followed by the fennel and the blue cheese and the rest of the sauce.
- Top with another handful of grated cheese.
- Bake for 20 - 30 minutes until the lasagna is warmed through and bubbly.
The recipe was halved on purpose because I didn’t want a big pan of lasagna sitting around but it was worth the effort to make. Delicious comfort food and one serving was very filling.
It should be possible to modify the recipe for other eating styles.
Let’s start with the bechamel sauce: Here’s a vegan recipe which uses flour and non-dairy milk. This one is both grain and dairy free. If you like the flavors of these ingredients you’ll probably like making the substitutions for your lasagna. Whichever you choose, don’t forget to infuse the milk and add the mustard when making the sauce.
The lasagna sheets can also be substituted for lower carb options, probably the best solution would be some type of crepe. Like these made with zucchini. Or these, which are vegan and low carb. Or maybe these very thin omelets would work for you as lasagna sheets.
I was willing to try the zucchini crepes but Rick’s lip curled when I mentioned it. Since we’ve been eating (mostly) low carb for close to two months now, I was happy to make something without eggs. The compromise was to make a small lasagna, at two sheets per person the carb count is higher than keto levels but still within the range of other low carb diets, even when the vegetables are included.
No matter, squash and fennel lasagna (or some variation of it, ha!) is sure to become a hit!
Be sure to drop by I Heart Cooking Clubs to see how the other bloggers have chosen to say goodbye to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.