Dairy-Free but Still Decadent: Butternut Squash and Kale Lasagna

As soon as I made my butternut squash soup last week, I knew that it was destined for greater things. As a soup it was gratifying– creamy and hearty, yet healthy, but combined with pasta, kale, herbs and cashew ricotta to create a lasagna, it would be ambrosial.

So two days later, I got to work. In the morning, I took a container of raw cashews, placed them in a bowl, and covered them with water. These would be the base for my “ricotta.” Later, in the evening, I drained the cashews and placed them in the food processor. I added some water, the juice and zest of one lemon, a dash of sea salt and blended it all until it was the right, creamy consistency.

Then, I chopped up garlic, crushed some red chiles, and then added them to a pan with olive oil. To those, I added chopped kale and basil and cooked just until it was all wilted. I added the garlicky greens to about 1 1/2 cups of the ricotta mixture and mixed it until it was all evenly incorporated. Then I began layering my soup/sauce, noodles, and kale ricotta in a casserole dish, and baked it all until it was bubbling. I served with an herbed garlic bread for a dairy free but decadent winter meal.

IMG_0022Butternut Squash Soup/ Sauce

Butternut squash is naturally rich, so it creates a creamy sauce without the addition of cream. This is great as a soup, but also delicious as a non-tomato based sauce for pasta, so make extra! 

INGREDIENTS

  • Olive Oil
  • 1/2 Vidalia (sweet) onion diced
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 1 garlic clove, smashed and minced
  • 1 green apple, peeled and diced
  • 1 butternut squash, cubed (4-5 cups)
  • 4-5 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 sprigs fresh time, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons ground sage
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • Sea salt to taste

Add a small amount of olive oil (just to lightly coat the bottom) to a large soup pot . Place over medium heat and add the diced onion. When the onion starts to get translucent, add the carrots, garlic, and apple. After a few minutes, add the cubed squash, broth and herbs. Bring to a boil, and then reduce the heat and cook until the squash is tender, about 30-40 minutes. Use an immersion blender to purée, or, let it cool slightly and purée in small batches using your blender or food processor. Salt to taste, and enjoy as a soup, or use as a sauce for a winter lasagna or your favorite pasta.

Cashew Ricotta

I’m not vegan. I love real, fresh made ricotta. I spent a year in Rome, and if I close my eyes, I can still taste my favorite sandwich of grilled eggplant, basil, and house made ricotta on freshly baked bread. But, I’ve realized that although I love cheese, my tummy does not (at least not in large quantities), and so I’ve been trying to find satisfying substations for dairy. For me, most fake cheeses, like daiya, don’t cut it. But this cashew ricotta is creamy, and delicious in its own right. Add garlic and herbs to make it savory, as a spread for sandwiches or crackers, or mixed in with pasta. Or add agave, honey or sugar to make it sweet, as a baked ricotta, cheese cake, or cannoli filling.

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 cups raw cashews
  • Water
  • Juice and zest of one lemon

Place the cashews in a bowl, and cover with water. Soak for at least 3 hours. Overnight or all day is best. Drain the cashews, and add them to the food processor. Add 1 1/2 cups of water, and the lemon juice and zest. (I like a lemony ricotta, but you could also sub a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar for the lemon juice, and omit the zest.) Process until creamy, slowly adding additional water until it reaches the desired consistency.

Butternut Squash and Kale Lasagna

This is a delicious winter lasagna. Adjust spices to your taste, and sub ingredients according to your dietary needs or preferences. If dairy isn’t a concern, but nuts are you can use real ricotta instead of cashew. If gluten is an issue, sub brown-rice pasta for standard noodles. 

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 package lasagna noodles, cooked according to the box’s instructions
  • 3-4 cups butternut squash soup/ sauce (recipe above)
  • 1 1/2 cups cashew ricotta (recipe above)
  • Olive oil
  • 4-5 garlic cloves, smashed and minced
  • 1-2 teaspoons crushed red chiles (or to taste)
  • One bunch of kale, rinsed and chopped
  • 1/2 bunch of basil, rinsed and chopped (reserve a little basil for garnish)
  • Dash of nutmeg (for garnish)

Preheat the oven to 375. Coat a large sauté pan with olive oil and place over medium heat. Add garlic and chiles, and let cook for one minute. Add kale and basil, and toss with the oil mixture. Let cook just until kale starts to wilt.

In a medium sized, mixing bowl, toss the kale with the cashew ricotta, mixing until evenly incorporated.

Ladle the butternut squash sauce into a casserole pan. Arrange a layer of noodles on the bottom of the pan, coating with the sauce. Spoon the cashew ricotta-kale mixture over the noodles. Coat additional noodles with sauce, and layer them on top of the cashew ricotta-kale mixture. Continuing layering until pan is full. You should still have a little ricotta mixture left– save this. Ladle additional sauce over the entire mixture and bake, covered for about 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and dot some of the reserved ricotta mixture on top. Place back in the oven, uncovered for 10-15 minutes, or until just browned and bubble. Sprinkle with nutmeg, garnish with basil, and let cool a few minutes before serving. Enjoy!

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