Hello from under the duvet! I know what you are thinking, lazy git/lucky cow. I would too. But before you get all judgmental/jealous I should clarify: this duvet day is not out of choice. Nope. Not surrounded by Heat magazines (which is the creme de la creme of trashy magazines in my humble opinion) and straight-to-DVD, DVDs. No sign of smoked salmon bagels either. You see, after the amazing high of being featured on last week’s wordpress.com homepage (still can’t quite believe it – click ‘earlier’), I have swiftly received my comeuppance. Temperature, sneezing, wheezing, aches in places that shouldn’t ache. Not forgetting the tap dancing in my head. If I were a man I would dub it the flu, but I’m not so it’s just a rubbish chesty thing. My once a year cold, perfectly timed to put me in my place.
What has kept me feeling perkier than I might be otherwise is reading the kind and encouraging comments to the blog. Mostly on the Tamarind and Shiitake Tofu post, but also many of the others. I can’t believe so many of you are raring to give tofu – and me – a go. Like I said a few times in the commenting, I am so grateful for every click through to food to glow. Astounded in fact that of all the zillions of food blogs out there that you found and read (possibly skimmed, I don’t know) my not very razzmatazz effort. So, so humbled. Thank you. Now before I get all sentimental and sappy, and you get bored, onto the recipe bit…
You spell it Lasagna, and I spell it Lasagne. However, if you look at them long enough, they both look wrong…
According to a recent UK YouGov survey for Sainsbury’s supermarket, lasagne came second to shepherd’s pie as top winter comfort food. Unsurprisingly, among 18-35 year-olds polled, lasagne topped the list. And who in their right mind doesn’t love a steaming slab of gooey, cheesy lasagne? Well, although many of us love this stalwart of the Italian restaurant, for the health-conscious it is usually a dish too far. My ‘beef’ (excuse the pun) is mainly due to the stratospheric amounts of saturated fat and sodium in a typical restaurant serving, but the calories are also quite breath-taking. According to livestrong.com, Olive Garden’s Lasagna Classico weighs in at a gut-busting 858 calories. This is without figuring in the soft buttery breadsticks and the dressing-laced salad that are too tempting to ignore. I couldn’t bear to see what the fat content was so you’ll have to look that up yourself.
But not all lasagnes are created equal. You and I both know that the best way to keep lasagne in your life without guilt/new trousers is, of course, to make it yourself. Homemade lasagne can easily be made lower-fat, even those with meat. For starters, slash the oil and choose lean meat (turkey?), draining off the fat after browning it; use lower fat cheese; add in vegetables for bulk and flavour; and try my cauliflower cheese trick with the sauce. Here is some good advice if you want to give your meat lasagne a makeover.
But this is a different proposition altogether: actually setting out to make a healthy lasagne, without compromise. Seasonal butternut squash – steamed to sweet perfection, wilted and nutmeggy spinach, easy homemade marinara, all between whatever pasta sheets you fancy. Doesn’t even have to be sheets of pasta – or pasta, for that matter; I’ve made it with layers of chickpea ‘spaghetti’. What you will notice is the lack of bechamel, that creamy blanket we have come to expect. I’m not a huge fan of bechamel, so it doesn’t feature. If however that’s an exclusion too far, here’s a good-looking olive oil-based sauce that keeps things more traditional. I won’t be offended if you top your lasagne with this.
It’s about time for me to top up my Lemsip and shamble downstairs for more not-working-so-far ginger tea, so here’s the recipe. Let me know if you try it.
By the way, for nutrition information on spinach, here you go, and for tomatoes, here it is. Including the beta-carotene heavy-hitter butternut squash, this dish has an embarrassment of antioxidants (with the latter link, check out #2 of the worst foods!). Lasagne as healthfood. Now that’s a makeover.
WHAT IS YOUR TOP COMFORT FOOD – HEALTHY OR OTHERWISE? DO YOU HAVE ANY ‘HEALTHY TWEAKS’ FOR COMFORT DISHES THAT YOU WANT TO SHARE? PLEASE GET IN TOUCH AND SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS.
Butternut Squash and Spinach Lasagna – Lower Fat and Luscious
This is one of the top requested ‘special occasion’ recipes at the Maggie’s Centre in Edinburgh. I think one of the reasons for its popularity is because it does pack a powerful taste punch in comparison to a lot of vegetarian lasagnes – something people going through taste bud-zapping chemotherapy can really appreciate. It takes a bit of time to prepare, but it’s easy, and you can freeze or refrigerate it for healthy, yummy leftovers. I often make a smaller one to eat immediately and freeze another in a foil dish. You will not use all of the delicious homemade sauce so perhaps have the rest as a pasta sauce later in the week with a tin of tuna added, or chuck it in a labelled bag and freeze for another lasagna. If you can’t be bothered/are too tired to make the tomato sauce (although it’s a cinch) use a best quality supermarket or deli sauce, or even a jar of garlic and tomato passata. Serve this lasagna with a sharply dressed salad, or even just some peas from the freezer. And, dare I say it, a slice or two of homemade garlic bread.
1 medium butternut squash (about 700-800g), peeled, deseeded and cubed (save the seeds*) – or the equivalent of frozen cubed butternut squash, about 550-650 g)
1tbsp + one tsp olive oil (divided)
3 leeks, finely sliced (divided) OR 1 and 1/2 lg sweet onions
4 garlic cloves, minced (divided)
1 large carrot, finely minced
1 stalk celery, finely minced
3 tsp dried oregano (divided)
2 tsp fresh thyme leaves or 1 tsp dried
2 x 400 g tins best quality chopped tomatoes (I like Cirio)
1 tbsp honey (optional)
salt and pepper
400 g spinach, wilted in a little water, drained well (squeezed of as much water as possible) and chopped OR frozen leaf spinach, lightly cooked, squeezed and chopped
50 g pine nuts, toasted until golden in a dry pan
150 g organic cottage cheese (or fat-free ricotta, or half of each)
1/8 tsp freshly grated nutmeg (a good pinch)
zest of half lemon
1 pack of fresh or dry lasagne sheets (wholemeal if you like)
50 g sharp Cheddar cheese, grated OR 1 ball organic mozzarella, sliced (optional)
a small palmful of cured black olives (optional)
a little grated Parmesan (optional)
First, the sauce: make it by adding 1 tbsp of olive oil to a medium saucepan and heat on low-medium. Add two-thirds of the chopped leeks and half of the garlic to the pan, and soften for five minutes, stirring frequently. Add in the carrots, celery and 2 tsp oregano; sauté gently for a further 10 minutes, until the carrots are softened. Pour in the tomatoes and bring to a fast simmer, then turn it down to a steady simmer, stirring occasionally. If you have the time simmer this sauce for about an hour. Taste the sauce and add a little honey, salt and pepper to balance the flavours, if needed. Allow the sauce to cool a bit before whizzing until smooth with a stick blender.
While the sauce is simmering, steam the cubed butternut squash for 15 minutes, or until quite soft. Mash the squash roughly and set aside. Save some of the steaming water too.
Next, gently sauté the remaining leeks in a tsp of olive oil with the garlic and thyme until softened. Mix the cooked leeks into the mashed squash. Stir in a splash of the saved water to make a loose ‘sauce’.
Onto the spinach filling. Now, you have a choice with the cottage cheese. I whiz it with my hand blender but you can leave it ‘curdy’. Kids eating this may object to the latter so I recommend whizzing or using ricotta. Combine the chopped spinach, cottage cheese/ricotta, lemon zest, nutmeg, vegetable stock powder and toasted pine nuts in a medium bowl and set aside. Almost oven time!
For assembling, spread a thin layer of tomato sauce in a 30cm x 20 cm pan that is at least 7 cm deep, then add a layer of pasta sheets. Spread the butternut squash mix over this layer, before adding another pasta layer. Dot the spinach mixture over the pasta, spreading to cover. Add another layer of pasta sheets and pour over enough tomato sauce to completely cover the top. Sprinkle on the grated cheese or lay on sliced mozzarella, and top with olives, if using.
Cover the dish lightly with foil (spray the foil with oil spray if the cheese might touch the foil) before baking at 180C/350F for about 30 minutes. Uncover the lasagne and bake for a further 15 minutes, or until the sides are bubbling and the cheese is starting to brown. Allow to stand for ten minutes before cutting.
*Roasted Pumpkin Seeds: Rub the seeds away from any orange membrane and place in a small roasting dish with a pinch of paprika or black pepper. Roast in the oven for the last ten minutes of the lasagne’s cooking time, or until a few seeds pop. Cool the seeds for a couple of minutes and then use as a garnish on your side salad. Delicious bonus ingredient.
Make it vegan: replace the cottage cheese with organic silken/soft tofu and, of course, no cheese on top.
More calories: use more oil for the sauce and sautéed leeks – not more than 2 tablespoons total for each. Perhaps instead of steaming them toss the butternut squash cubes in some plain olive oil or rapeseed oil and roast– about 25 minutes at 180C. This makes the squash sweeter, too.
Soft food diet: Take out the pine nuts, or grind them finely (they have good fats in them) and mix in with the spinach.