This luxurious lasagna is comfort food at its Italian finest: A play on the traditional Bolognese, it’s rich, unctuous and warming on a cold day. But if you feel like skipping the flour-based carbs, it’s easily modified to be a winter squash casserole by eliminating the pasta and adding more varieties of roasted squash—perfect for a Thanksgiving side dish. To make it vegetarian, use heaps of sautéed mushrooms in the besciamella in place of the pancetta, or slip a layer of chopped wilted spinach or Swiss chard into the mix for some added green. It’s versatile and easily adapted to your favorite fall flavors.
3–4 pounds winter squash, peeled and seeded
Extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
5 cups milk
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1 bay leaf, fresh or dried
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bunch sage
10 whole peppercorns
½ pound pancetta, diced
½ stick butter, cubed
1⁄3 cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 pound fresh pasta sheets
2 cups freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
Preheat oven to 425°F. Using a sharp knife, slice the winter squash into as many ½-inch slabs as you can—size does not matter but thickness does. Brush each slab with olive oil and season well with salt and pepper, then arrange on parchment-lined baking sheets. Roast in the hot oven 20–25 minutes or until softened all the way through and caramelized around the edges. Remove from the oven and set aside.
While the squash roasts, season the milk for the besciamella. Heat the milk until steaming in a heavy saucepan along with the garlic, bay leaf, thyme, a few leaves of sage and the peppercorns, being careful not to walk away from the stove (the milk will overflow if it comes to a boil and make a huge mess!). Turn the heat to low and allow to steep until you are ready to make the sauce.
Heat an enameled Dutch oven to medium and add 1 tablespoon olive oil and the diced pancetta. Sauté until crispy and the fat has been released, then remove from the pot with a slotted spoon and set aside. Reduce the heat to medium-low and add the butter to the pancetta fat, stirring to melt. Strain the seasoned milk into a pitcher, then add the flour to the butter-fat mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until toasted and lightly browned (the flour will seize up and then relax as you stir). Switch to a whisk and slowly pour in the hot milk, whisking as you go, until you have a thick sauce. Return the crisped pancetta to the pot, then taste for seasoning and add salt if needed and the nutmeg. Remove from the heat and set aside.
When you’re ready to assemble the lasagna, butter the inside of a 9- by 13-inch oven-safe/freezer-safe casserole dish and spread a thin layer of besciamella on the bottom. Line the bottom of the dish with fresh pasta sheets, cut to fit and cover the entire space, then add a layer of roasted squash strips followed by a few dollops of besciamella spread over the top and some scattered sage leaves. Sprinkle with grated Parmigiano Reggiano, then repeat the process until all of the ingredients are used up, with besciamella as the top layer, sprinkled heavily with Parmigiano Reggiano, some cracked black pepper and any remaining sage leaves in a decorative pattern.
From here, you can either bake the dish straightaway in a preheated 350° oven for about 50–60 minutes, or until bubbly. Or you can allow the dish to cool completely at room temperature, then wrap it tightly with plastic wrap and foil over the top (or a lid, if your container has one), and freeze for up to 3 months. To serve, remove from the freezer and allow to thaw in the fridge, then bake in a 350° oven for 50–60 minutes or until bubbly. (If you want to bake it from the frozen state, add about an hour to the cooking time.)
Sarah Blackburn is a home cook, recipe developer, soccer mom, Italophile and managing editor at Edible Boston. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.