Evidence of cheese making dates back to 6,000 BCE, so the recent study likening a cheese addiction to that of heroin really didn’t worry me too much. I don’t smoke, rarely drink, eat a vegetarian diet and live a healthy lifestyle overall, so if cheese is my drug of choice, so be it.
Even the evocative smell of cheese is a powerful thing, bringing up memories of younger years and past travels. Those recollections of incredible cheeses are tied to experiences with fabulous friends, family, luscious wines and some far-off places. Whether sitting on a deck of a chalet in Switzerland with my brother eating a stinky Stilton after a good day of skiing, digging into a big baked brie over the holidays with my family, or sitting in a charming town square in a French village sharing a glass of wine and a cheese plate with my husband as part of a romantic dinner, I adore cheese.
On a recent trip to California, visiting the Cheese Store of Beverly Hills was on my “to do” list. Opening in 1967, this gourmet boutique is an institution of the creamy, stinky, cultured dairy sorts. The ripe aroma hits you at the opening of the door into this small world of traditional and artisanal fare. A lovely French Pont l’Eveque, Camembert de Normandy, or an Italian Taleggio and more, can all be found here. Purveyor, Norbert Wabnig and his staff of “cheese people” are more than happy to dole out samples and answer questions and they even offer a Master Grilled Cheese class among others. We left with a pungent white truffle goat cheese, water crackers, specialty imported vinegars and spices to bring home.
Later in the week back in our “birdhouse” in Boulder, I made this hearty fall dish combining three cheeses with spinach, butternut squash and onions into a rich lasagna with a Béchamel sauce. While there is nothing extraordinary about the cheeses that I’ve used in this recipe, they play well with the sweetness of the roasted squash and onions. Serve with a light salad and a glass of wine for a lovely lunch or dinner.
|Roasted Butternut Squash, Red Onion & Sage Lasagna|
- 1 butternut squash (2 to 2-1/2 pounds), seeded, and cut lengthwise into 8 wedges
- 1 medium to large onion, sliced ⅛ inch slices cutting from the top to bottom (not horizontally)
- 16 ounces pre-washed spinach
- 3½ cups milk, heated to just below the boiling point
- 12 lasagna noodles, cooked to a firm al dente - don't overcook!
- 1½ cups grated Fontina cheese (Gruyere can also be substituted)
- 1 cups grated Colby jack (Cheddar can be substituted if you’d like a sharper flavor)
- 1½ cups finely shredded or grated Parmesan cheese
- ¼ cup all-purpose flour
- ¼ cup butter (1/2 stick)
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 scant tablespoon fresh sage. minced
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- ¾ tablespoon pepper
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
- Lightly oil a sheet pan.
- Place squash on one end of the prepared baking pan and brush with oil. Toss the onion slices with one tablespoon of oil and scatter on the other end of the baking pan.
- Roast the veggies for 20-25 minutes or until squash is tender and the onions are browned a bit, stirring once or twice. Remove from oven.
- Allow the veggies to cool and then cut the skins off the squash and dice (You can also peel and dice the squash when it is raw if you prefer).
- Reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees F.
- Place one tablespoon of olive oil in large saucepan over low heat.
- Add two cloves of garlic that have been minced or pushed through a press. Sauté the garlic for 30 – 60 seconds, stirring constantly.
- Add the spinach by handfuls, adding more as it cooks down. Cook the spinach until it is all wilted and then place in a colander to drain. Squeeze out excess moisture with your hands. Set aside while you make the béchamel sauce.
- Using the same saucepan that you used for the spinach, heat the butter over low-medium heat until melted. Add 2 cloves minced garlic and flour and stir into the butter.
- Pour the hot milk into the butter and flour mixture in a steady and slow stream while whisking briskly. Cook the mixture, stirring often, until it begins to thicken – about 10 minutes.
- Add in the sage and ½ cup of both the Fontina and Parmesan cheeses. Cook over medium until cheeses have melted.
- Lightly grease a 13x9x2-inch baking dish or 3-quart rectangular casserole.
- To assemble, spread about 1 cup of the sauce in the prepared baking dish. Layer 4 of the noodles lengthwise in the dish over the sauce.
- Scatter half of the butternut squash, onions and spinach over the noodles.
- Sprinkle half of the remaining Fontina and Colby Jack cheeses over the vegetables.
- Season with some salt and pepper.
- Pour one third of the remaining sauce over the veggies and cheese.
- Repeat another layering of noodles, veggies, cheese and sauce.
- Top with a layer of noodles and spread the last of the sauce over the top.
- Sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan cheese.
- Bake uncovered for 35- 45 minutes.
- Let stand for 10 -15 minutes before serving.