Friday, November 11, 2011

Lasagna With a Difference

I love lasagna. You can't really go wrong when you have a meal with layers, that shifts from rich and meaty to mild and creamy. Not only that but ir's incredibly adaptable. First of all, everybody has their own recipe for the usual lasagna, which are always totally different. Secondly, you can get creative and turn it into something entirely different by changing the type of meat (or vegetables) that you use, the herbs and spices, even the white sauce. So this week's lasagna is chicken and butternut in a slightly tangy tomato sauce, with a white sauce made with only a little cheese, half normal milk and half buttermilk. However if you're a stickler for the traditional I have another lasagna recipe for you to try right here. I have also learnt this week that both 'lasagna' and 'lasagne' are correct: the word refers to the sheets of pasta and the last letter changes to an 'e' to indicate plurality. My spellchecker wants to change it to end in an 'e' but I really would rather to stick to the way that I have always spelt it.

Butternut and Chicken Lasagna

1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion
3 garlic cloves
2 chicken breasts
1 butternut squash
2 cans tomatoes
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 teasoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon cornflour
1 cube/teaspoon chicken stock
Salt and pepper

3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
3 cups milk
100 grams grated cheese (any kind you like, I would generally use cheddar of some kind)
Salt and pepper

Dried instant lasagna sheets

From the list of ingredients above and the knowledge that this dish involves layers one might think that to make a lasagna is a difficult task. In reality it's actually quite simple and it's so yummy, you won't regret making one. The meat sauce is the first step, so you need to begin by chopping up your onion and crushing (or slicing if you like) your garlic. For the chicken you have a couple of options. You could bake or grill your chicken beforehand, or use leftover cooked chicken, or dice the uncooked chicken breasts up into small pieces and cook it along with the onion and garlic. The butternut squash needs to be diced into small pieces (take the skin off first).

Now that you have everything chopped and ready, heat the oil in a large pan and add the onion and garlic. Give this a bit of a stir until they are soft and translucent, then add the chicken and keep on stirring it all about until the chicken is cooked. If you have pre-cooked the chicken then of course you can immediately proceed to adding the butternut and the tomatoes. Then take one of the cans, fill it with water and add this too. In a small bowl or measuring jug mix the chicken stock, cornflour and oregano with the balsamic vinegar to make a paste (add a bit of water if you need to) and then pour this over the chicken and vegetables. Give it a stir and turn the heat down so that the sauce can simmer away while you make the white sauce. At this point you may also want to turn the oven on to 180 degrees celsius.

For the white sauce, take a heavy-bottomed, medium sized saucepan and melt the butter over medium heat. You could use olive oil instead if you wanted. Add the flour and stir it to make a dry-ish paste, then keep stirring it over medium heat for just one or two minutes. After which you can begin to add the milk very slowly. You needn't use buttermilk like I did, I just had some in the fridge that needed to be used up.

Add the milk about a half-cup at a time, after each addition stirring vigorously, or whisking, until the sauce is smooth and thick. As you add more milk you will have to wait longer after each addition for it to thicken, but just keep it on medium heat (or lower if you have the patience to wait) and keep stirring. When all the milk is in add about half of the grated cheese and stir until it is melted.

Now you are at the point where you need to taste both of  your sauces and season them with salt and pepper as needed. Then you can begin to layer everything into a very large lasagna dish. Generally you begin with a layer of meat sauce, but this lasagna has a rather chunky sauce so I actually began with the lasagna sheets. Lay down a single layer, then spoon the meat sauce over top to cover it. Spoon the white sauce on top of this and then repeat. You should make three layers, ending with white sauce, over which you can sprinkle the rest of the cheese. If your dish is not big enough use two, and maybe put the dish on a big oven tray to catch anything that spills over (because mine always spills).

The lasagna needs to bake for about 40 minutes, then if you like it can be ready to eat immediately. However, you will find that it is very runny at first. The thing about lasagna is that it is best to make it well ahead of time, leave it to sit for at least a couple of hours and then reheat it. This allows the sauces to really thicken up and you will have a lasagna that holds it's shape and layers. Of course if you can't wait, there's nothing wrong with a slightly sloppy meal!

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