A PUMPKIN TRADITION

If you read my post of yesterday, you will know where this recipe comes from. The Italian city of Ferrara, an ancient duchy, is known for the use of pumpkin in their traditional food, probably stemming from the vast Jewish population that used to inhabit the region over the centuries. In Italian Jewish food, which is pretty different from the Sephardic tradition, pumpkin is frequently found.

Many Italian dishes which, at their base, have ingredients such as artichokes, pumpkin and many fried staples, originally come from the Jewish tradition. I uncovered fascinating bits of information while researching the subject a few years ago, including some dishes whose recipes are becoming as extinct as the Italian Jewry.

This Pumpkin and Porcini Lasagna is delicious and a much lighter alternative to the Bolognese sauce we typically identify lasagna with – and it will satisfy any vegetarians in your midst. A few pointers:

1. Fresh Porcini Mushrooms are hard to come by, not to mention expensive. A few ounces of the dried ones will be fine – soak them at least three times in warm water and rinse them well to get rid of the grits.

2. I substituted butternut squash for regular pumpkin as I prefer the more delicate flavour.

3. Any lasagna will do: home-made pasta, the sheets you pre cook or the dry one you just layer, uncooked, with the rest of the ingredients.

RECIPE

200 g Fresh Porcini Mushrooms or 6 to 8 oz of dried ones

60 g     Heavy Cream (or 1/2 Cup)

30 c     Butter (or 4 T)

1 Kg     Butternut Squash (or 2 #)Peeled and cut in 1″ cubes

1            Leek, well rinsed and thinly sliced

1            Clove of garlic, peeled

4 T        Olive oil, divided

Lasagna Sheets

Parmesan cheese to taste

For the bechamel sauce

60 g     Butter (or 6 T)

50 g     Flour (1/2 C)

1/2 L   Milk (about 2 1/2 C)

A pinch of nutmeg

Salt and Pepper to taste

1. Sautee leek in 2 T of olive oil on medium heat. Add Squash, cover and cook until tender.

2. Slice mushrooms and sautee in a separate pan with the remaining 2T of olive oil and the garlic clove. When the mushrooms have softened and all the liquid evaporated, discard the garlic and add the mushrooms to the cooked squash. Add salt and pepper to taste and 1/2 c of heavy cream. Mix well. Set aside.

3. To make bechamel sauce, melt the butter in a saucepan over low heat and add the flour. Mix with a wooden spoon until the flour is well incorporated. Switch to a whisk and start adding the milk in a steady flow, constantly whisking, until the sauce thickens. Add nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste.

4. Add some of the bechamel sauce to the squash mixture. You will probably have more bechamel than you need.

5. Butter a casserole and start layering the lasagna (previously cooked if you are not using the dry one), followed by the squash mixture, alternating for about 4 layers. End with the sauce. Brush some melted butter and grate some parmesan on top.

6. Bake in a 350F oven until browned, 10/15 mins.

7. Let cool for a few minutes and serve

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