Pumpkin Lasagna Roll-Ups show off the seasonal squash's savory side

  • At this time of year, sweet pumpkin treats abound, but here the season's most famous squash is given the savory treatment in these pumpkin lasagna roll-ups.

    At this time of year, sweet pumpkin treats abound, but here the season's most famous squash is given the savory treatment in these pumpkin lasagna roll-ups. Courtesy of Penny Kazmier

 
Posted10/20/2021 6:00 AM

It's pumpkin time! Yes, I'm one of those people who get excited when the pumpkin doughnuts, coffee and other pumpkin goodies begin to appear. I don't know why I don't eat pumpkin all the time. After all, it is sold in cans 12 months a year. Since my usual pumpkin dishes are typically sweet, I have been looking for something savory to make with the seasonal favorite. I have always been intrigued by the idea of pumpkin lasagna, so my search began.

I have never had pumpkin lasagna, and the internet yielded many different versions of the dish. Some recipes were traditional using tomatoes or tomato-based sauce, and others added green leafy vegetables like Swiss chard. Many recipes received rave reviews, but the combinations didn't appeal to me as a complement to pumpkin. In the end, I decided to combine several recipes, adding a few extra ingredients I really like. This is how I came up with this recipe for Pumpkin, Caramelized Onions, and Mushroom Lasagna Roll-Ups.

 

You will notice that this isn't a recipe for traditional layers of lasagna noodles with layers of cheese in between. Instead, A filling of caramelized onions, mushrooms, pumpkin and a blend of cheeses is spread atop a cooked lasagna noodle that has been laid flat on your work surface and then gently rolled from end to end like a jelly roll. I actually like to use this technique with regular lasagna because it makes it easy to serve and bundles everything into nice little portions.

My first challenge was to decide what flavors would complement, but not mask, the subtle taste of pumpkin. For me, caramelized onions and mushrooms were the answer.

Caramelizing the onions is a must. By cooking them slowly in a bit of oil or butter for flavor and a sprinkle of salt, the natural sugars are drawn out and create a beautiful brown color and a slightly sweet flavor. I think they are delicious on everything, so you may want to make extra.

Mushrooms contain a lot of moisture, which is why, if not properly cooked, they become wet and slippery. I know several people who don't care for mushrooms because of their texture, not their flavor. However, if cooked in a similar method to caramelized onions, the result is beautifully browned mushrooms with wonderful umami flavor and slightly crisp edges.

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The key is to keep your mushrooms in a single layer and allow them to cook for about five minutes without stirring. This allows some of the moisture to be released and the mushrooms to begin to brown. This technique may take a little while, but it will be worth the wait.

Lasagna is not lasagna without cheese, and for this recipe, I used traditional ricotta and Parmesan. I also experimented by adding Gruyère, which had a slight sharpness, and Fontina, which added a very subtle flavor and creaminess. The taste-testers and I liked both, so pick your favorite.

Pumpkin lasagna roll-ups show the popular squash can be savory as well as sweet.
Pumpkin lasagna roll-ups show the popular squash can be savory as well as sweet. - Courtesy of Penny Kazmier

Lastly, the mixture needed seasoning. I found sage with a little bit of nutmeg did the trick, but something was still missing. In some recipes, I noticed a little cayenne pepper was added, so I tried it and couldn't believe how it transformed the flavor without being spicy. Be sure not to omit this from yours.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The sauce pulls it all together and serves as a blanket of moisture over the edges of the noodles ensuring they don't dry out and a sprinkle of extra cheese is the crown on top.

I honestly wasn't sure what to expect when I started on my adventure to make a pumpkin lasagna but was pleasantly surprised with the outcome. I enlisted a couple of friends, along with a few family members, to taste test the recipe and received an enthusiastic thumbs-up. I hope it will win rave reviews in your house, too.

• Penny Kazmier, a wife and mother of four from South Barrington, won the 2011 Daily Herald Cook of the Week Challenge.

Pumpkin, Caramelized Onion, and Mushroom Lasagna Roll-Ups

2 tablespoons olive oil, separated

3 tablespoons butter, separated

3 cups chopped yellow onions

2 teaspoons Kosher salt, separated

1 pound white mushrooms, sliced

1 pound whole milk ricotta

3 cups pumpkin puree, separated

1½ cups grated Parmesan cheese, separated

8 ounces grated Gruyère or Fontina cheese, separated

2 teaspoons dried sage, separated

½ teaspoon nutmeg, separated

2 eggs, beaten

¼ teaspoon ground pepper

1 pound lasagna noodles prepared according to package instructions

2 tablespoons flour

2 cups whole milk

1 cup chicken stock

1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

Caramelized onions: Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and ½ tablespoon butter in large skillet until butter is melted, add chopped onions and ½ teaspoon salt; stir to coat onions and arrange in an even layer in skillet. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally to prevent burning until onions brown and caramelize -- about 20 minutes. Remove from skillet and allow to cool.

Mushrooms: In the same skillet, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and ½ tablespoon butter until butter is melted, add sliced mushrooms and ½ teaspoon salt; stir to coat and arrange in a single layer in pan. Allow to cook over medium heat, but do not disturb for at least 5 minutes. After 5 minutes, stir and arrange in a single layer again. Resist the temptation to stir more frequently -- the mushrooms need to release their moisture before they will brown. Stir, arrange mushrooms in a single layer again and cook for 5 minutes. Repeat this process until browned. Remove from skillet and allow to cool.

Filling: In a large bowl, combine ricotta, 2 cups pumpkin puree, 1 cup Parmesan, ½ of the Gruyère, 1 teaspoon sage, ¼ teaspoon nutmeg, eggs, ¼ teaspoon pepper, caramelized onions and mushrooms. Stir to combine and set aside.

Sauce: Melt 2 tablespoons butter in large sauce pan, add flour and stir until thickened. Add 1 cup milk and cook until warmed and slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and add remaining milk, chicken stock, 1 cup pumpkin puree, ½ cup Parmesan cheese, 1 teaspoon sage, ¼ teaspoon nutmeg, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper. Stir to combine.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

To assemble: Spray a 9-x13-inch pan with cooking spray. Place 1 cup sauce in bottom of pan. Place lasagna noodles, three to four at a time, on work surface. Spread 1/3 cup filling on each noodle, roll them up "jelly roll style" and place seam side down in pan. Repeat with remaining noodles. (You may have more filling and noodles than will fit into your pan, so feel free to repeat in another pan.) Spoon remaining sauce over rolled noodles and sprinkle with remaining cheese. Cover tightly with foil.

Bake in preheated oven until heated through and sauce bubbles, about 40 minutes. Uncover and bake until cheese on top becomes golden, about 10 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to stand for 10 minutes before serving.

Serves 8 to 10

-- Penny Kazmier

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