This month has been flying by. I can’t believe that November is almost here! My parents were in town last week, so that was a lot of fun to see them again. We went to Gramercy Tavern, which was such a treat! I had always wanted to go there, and my parents made it happen! Their autumn tasting menu was phenomenal. We had some tasty cocktails up at the bar before dinner, and then enjoyed many delicious courses, such as veal with a pear puree and heirloom tomatoes, a crab soup with sorrel, and fettuccine with duck confit and brussels sprouts. Kramer and I were truly in heaven. Each course really was better than the last, and even dessert was phenomenal, which I find is so rare, even in the nicest restaurants. If you are every lucky enough to have the opportunity to go, please do! I hope that we will be able to go back again some day.
The menu at Gramercy Tavern was so wonderfully seasonal that I wanted to do something similarly festive at home. I had always wanted to try baking a lasagna inside of a sugar pumpkin, ever since I saw Tiffani do it during the first episode of season one of Top Chef. I thought she was one of the strongest chefs on the show, and she definitely displayed her talents by baking a sugar pumpkin lasagna during that first episode. It really stuck with me through all of these years, so I finally decided that I needed to give it a try. I made a vegetarian lasagna with warm, autumnal ingredients, such a mushrooms, chestnuts, and, of course, pumpkin. I have to say, this might be one of the best things that I have ever made. The pumpkin shines through, but isn’t overpowering, and the mushrooms made the dish hearty, along with the chestnuts and zucchini. Even my husband, an avid meat lover, enjoyed this meal and ate until he could eat no more, which is always a good sign! The ricotta mixture for this lasagna was truly delicious, with each bite melting in your mouth. I used warm spices, such as cinnamon and ginger, and fresh thyme, to give everything a real “fall” feeling. I would eat this lasagna every weekend, if I could, it really was that good. I promise! Please give this a try, not only is it tasty, but it is presented beautifully and is quite impressive, either to serve to a small group or for a vegetarian option at your Thanksgiving table.
Cut the tops off of both of your pumpkins, and save them for the presentation, if you like (it’s not necessary). Scoop out the seeds and membrane, discard (or save and make roasted pumpkin seeds), and rub the insides with cinnamon, ginger, salt, and pepper.
Saute over medium heat until lightly softened, about 5 minutes, then add 1/4 cup of white wine to deglaze the pan a bit. Allow the wine to cook down over medium-low heat, another 5-8 minutes or so. Remove from heat and set aside until you’re ready to use it.
To the pumpkin puree that you’ve pushed through the sieve, add 1/3 cup of ricotta cheese, your mushroom mixture, your chestnuts, and a pinch of salt, and pepper. You can add some add some dried cranberries, too, but I did that just in mine, because Kramer doesn’t like dried cranberries very much.
Add 1 cup of milk and whisk. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil. Add in a pinch of salt and continue to whisk. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 8 minutes or so, until thickened.
Now it’s time to assemble your lasagna! Start by placing half of a cooked lasagna noodle in the bottom of your pumpkin, followed by a dollop of your ricotta and mushroom mixture, followed by a small dollop of bechamel sauce, then a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese. I did every other layer with the zucchini.
- 2 small sugar pumpkins, about 6-8 inches in diameter
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon (1/2 teaspoon per pumpkin)
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt (1/4 teaspoon per pumpkin)
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper (1/4 teaspoon per pumpkin)
- ¼ teaspoon ginger (1/8 teaspoon per pumpkin)
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1 shallot (or half an onion, but the shallot is so delicious and I highly recommend it), diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 pint Shiitake mushrooms, cleaned and sliced thinly
- 5-6 sprigs fresh thyme
- ¼ cup white wine (or vegetable stock)
- ⅓ cup ricotta cheese
- pumpkin puree (made from the flesh of the roasted pumpkins)
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 12 (or more, depending on how much you like chestnuts) chestnuts, diced
- dried cranberries (optional)
- 1 yellow or green zucchini, washed and sliced thinly
- 10 lasagna noodles, cooked and sliced in half (I always make a few extras in case I make a mistake)
- ⅔ cup Parmesan cheese, grated
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
- 1 cup milk (I used 1% and I wouldn’t recommend using anything with less fat than that)
- ½ teaspoon salt
- Begin by preparing your pumpkins. Pre-heat your oven to 375 degrees F. Wash and dry your pumpkins, then cut off the tops. You can save the tops to use as a garnish when you serve, but it’s not necessary. Scoop out the seeds and membrane, and either discard or keep the seeds to use to make roasted pumpkin seeds.
- Rub the insides of your pumpkins each with ½ teaspoon cinnamon, ¼ teaspoon kosher salt, ¼ teaspoon black pepper, and ⅛ teaspoon ginger. Place on a baking sheet lined with foil or parchment paper and bake for 35-45 minutes, until the pumpkins are soft and the flesh is easy to scoop out.
- Scoop the flesh out of the pumpkins, but leave enough so that the pumpkin remains firm enough to support the lasagna you are going to bake inside of it. You should get about ⅓ cup of flesh per pumpkin. Push the pumpkin flesh through a mesh sieve to make the pumpkin puree smooth and discard any bits of membrane that are left over. Set the pumpkins and the puree aside.
- Now, make your mushroom filling. Begin by melting a tablespoon of butter in a small pot or pan, then add in your diced shallot. Cook over medium heat until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add in the garlic, cook for a minute or two, then add in the mushrooms, and cook over medium heat for another 5 minutes, until softened. Add in the sprigs of thyme, then add in the ¼ cup of white wine and cook over medium heat until the wine has mostly evaporated, another 8 minutes or so. Remove from heat and set aside to cool for a bit.
- When the mushrooms have cooled, remove the stems from the thyme. Place the mushroom mixture in a bowl along with the ricotta cheese, pumpkin puree, diced chestnuts, salt, pepper, and cranberries (if you like, I did in mine but not in my husband’s). Stir to combine and taste, seasoning as you see fit. Set aside.
- Now it is time to make your bechamel sauce and cook your lasagna noodles. Boil your water for the lasagna noodles, and cook them according to package directions. You can leave them in the water, off of the heat, for up to 10 minutes while you are assembling.
- Melt your tablespoon of butter in a small sauce pan over medium heat, then add in the tablespoon of flour and whisk until combined. Do not let the roux brown or you will have to start over. Add in the cup of milk, whisking the whole time, then turn up the heat to medium-high. Bring the mixture to a boil, then add in ½ teaspoon of salt, and continue to whisk while you turn the heat down to medium-low, bringing the bechamel to a simmer. Simmer for 8-10 minutes, until reduced and thickened.
- Now, assemble your lasagna. Start by placing half of a lasagna noodle at the bottom of your roasted pumpkin. Top with a dollop of your ricotta mixture, followed by some sliced zucchini, a teaspoon of bechamel, and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese. Layer another noodle on top, then another dollop of the ricotta mixture, zucchini, bechamel, and Parmesan cheese. Continue until you’ve reached the top of your pumpkin. Be sure to press the mixture down every so often so that you can make as many layers as possible. I did about 4 layers in mine. For the last layer, lay down a lasagna noodle, then top with the remaining bechamel and Parmesan cheese.
- Bake at 400 degrees F for 10 minutes or so, until the cheese is bubbling and the filling has heated through. To remove from the baking sheet, I used two clean oven mitts to transfer the pumpkin lasagnas to the plates. Serves 2-4, depending on how much you plan to eat (I could only eat half of my pumpkin – they slice in half quite easily).