A creamy, savory, oh-so-unique roasted butternut squash lasagna with no-boil noodles!
Hi hi! Happy belated Thanksgiving!
What was the best thing you ate over the weekend? I’d have to say my faves were these crispy honey mustard Brussels sprouts I took to the extended family feast or the classic can’t-go-wrong Libby’s pumpkin pie our immediate family devoured in a matter of hours.
When I asked my kids what their favorite Thanksgiving food had been, though, I bet you’ll never guess their answer.
Lasagna at Thanksgiving, you ask? Wait, what?
In my husband’s New York Italian family, there is no occasion that doesn’t involve lasagna–including Thanksgiving. Every year his mom or grandma brings a giant tray of homemade lasagna, which, to former Brooklynites, is just as critical a part of the meal as the turkey. It’s a gooey, meaty, cheesy concoction that sticks to your ribs.
As for me, though I’ve been a part of the Garone family for 17 years (and of course I love lasagna), I can’t quite get into it as a Thanksgiving food. Something about red sauce and ground beef just doesn’t go with mashed potatoes and stuffing in my book. That said, I could get on board with a lasagna that incorporates Thanksgiving-esque flavors–like this roasted butternut squash lasagna with no-boil noodles! (And no shade on my mother-in-law’s lasagna. It really is delicious; just not my personal fave at Thanksgiving.)
This unique, fall-flavored lasagna starts out with roasted butternut squash sprinkled with garlic, shallots, and fresh thyme. Mash up this mixture for your savory filling, which contrasts nicely with a cooler, milder second filling of spinach and cheese. And though there are several steps involved in putting together this pasta masterpiece, no-boil noodles eliminate some time and effort.
If you’re looking for something a little different (but just right for fall), this is it!
Butternut Squash Lasagna with No-Boil Noodles
- 8 c. butternut squash, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
- 1 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1/2 tsp. pepper
- 1 medium shallot, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 Tbsp. fresh thyme leaves
- 2 c. milk, divided
- 2 c. ricotta or cottage cheese, divided
- 1 egg
- 3 c. fresh spinach, chopped
- 2 1/4 c. shredded mozzarella cheese
- 9 wide no-boil lasagna noodles
- 1/2 c. grated Parmesan cheese
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Spread cubed butternut squash on a large rimmed baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Stir. Roast 15 minutes, then add the shallot, garlic, and thyme and stir. Return to the oven and roast an additional 20 minute or until squash is soft.
- While squash roasts, prepare the spinach filling. In a medium bowl, combine 1/2 c. milk, 1 1/2 c. ricotta, egg, chopped spinach, and 1 3/4 c. mozzarella.
- Reduce oven temperature to 400 degrees. Place roasted squash mixture in a large bowl and mash until mostly smooth. Add 1/2 c. ricotta and 1/2 c. milk and stir well.
- Assemble the lasagna. In an 11 x 7 baking dish, spread about 1/2 c. spinach mixture. Cover with three lasagna noodles, followed by 1/3 of the squash mixture, then 1/2 the remaining spinach mixture. Repeat with another layer of noodles, 1/3 of the squash, and the last 1/2 of spinach. Finish off with three more noodles, the last of the squash mixture, and a final sprinkle of mozzarella and Parmesan.
- Cover the lasagna tightly with foil and bake 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake another 15 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes before slicing.
I’ll level with you. Although this recipe calls itself “Thai” Peanut Chicken Pasta, I’m really no expert on determining what defines Thai food. I’ve never been to Thailand, and my experience with Thai cuisine has been limited to a few very tame menu choices at a local chain of Thai restaurants. For all I know, people in Thailand don’t even eat chicken. Or pasta. Or peanuts. (In fact, according to the Internet, peanuts are more of an Indonesian ingredient.)
You’ve probably heard how, when Asian people come to the U.S., our “Asian” food is unrecognizable to them. I can attest that the two times I’ve eaten truly authentic Chinese food, it was NOT your run-of-the-mill sweet and sour pork. We’re talking beef tendon, tilapia peppercorn soup, and basically a real-life version of this scene from A Christmas Story. Truth be told, probably the only reason I finished was to not be rude to my gracious hosts.
So, again, an Asian food expert I am not.
What I do know, though, is that this recipe is a winner of a chicken dinner. With whole grains for fiber, chicken for protein, carrots and cabbage for veggies, and a sweet peanut sauce, it’s the whole package. It came to the rescue this past Monday night when our family was running around like crazy with various busy-busy December activities. A one-dish meal that gets on the table in 30 minutes? Exactly what I need this time of year–don’t you?
So whether it’s truly Thai or just truly tasty (and easy and quick), I’m a fan. I think you will be, too.
Thai Peanut Chicken Pasta
- 14 oz. thin spaghetti
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/4 c. honey
- 1/4 c. smooth peanut butter
- 1/4 c. low sodium soy sauce
- 3 Tbsp. rice vinegar
- 1 Tbsp. grated fresh ginger
- 1 Tbsp. sriracha sauce
- 2 Tbsp. sesame oil, divided
- 1 1/2 c. carrots, cut into 1/8-inch by 2-inch matchsticks
- 2 c. cabbage, thinly sliced
- 8 green onions, sliced
- 2 c. cooked diced chicken (I used rotisserie chicken)
- 1/2 c. peanut pieces (optional garnish)
- 1/4 c. sesame seeds (optional garnish)
- 1/4 c. green onions, sliced (optional garnish)
- Cook pasta according to package directions.
- While pasta cooks, make the peanut sauce: In a small bowl, whisk together garlic, honey, peanut butter, soy sauce, rice vinegar, and ginger.
- Drain pasta and toss with 1 Tbsp. sesame oil to keep from sticking. Set aside.
- Wipe out pasta pan and heat the other 1 Tbsp. sesame oil on medium heat. Add carrots and saute until tender, about 5 minutes. Add cabbage and green onions and saute another minute or two until the cabbage begins to soften.
- Add the pasta back to the pan, along with the chicken and peanut sauce. Stir well to combine and continue cooking on low until heated through.
- Garnish with additional green onion slices, peanut pieces, and/or sesame seeds. Serve immediately.
Sometimes I think it’s a scandal that sun dried tomatoes don’t cost more. I’ve never made them myself (though, living in the Phoenix area, we’re certainly not short on sun…or dryness…or tomatoes), but I do have a dim sense of how much time and effort go into the end product of these shrivelly red strips. The process goes something like this: 1. Pick tomatoes 2. Wash tomatoes 3. Cut tomatoes 4. Season tomatoes 5. Dry tomatoes in the sun for days on end 6. Package tomatoes. Seems like an awful lot of work–and an awful lot of tomatoes, seeing as how they lose around 90% of their original weight and shrink down to less than half their original size upon drying.
Yet there they are, a whole bag of them for only $3.00 at Trader Joe’s. Isn’t our food system strange?
Despite the seemingly inverse relationship between cost and effort in sun dried tomatoes, I for one am quite thankful for their relative inexpensiveness, because I adoooooore them. Chewy, brightly colored, and tangy-sweet, I happen to think they bring their A-game to any dish they grace.
And wouldn’t you know it, they make a pretty spectacular main ingredient in pesto.
This Sun Dried Tomato Almond Pesto Pasta with Chicken took its place on our family’s weeknight dinner plan last week, and it’s definitely an entree I’ll be making again. Whole grain spaghetti, olive oil, tomatoes, and almonds place it squarely in the Mediterranean Diet category–a category I’ve been known to harp on relentlessly for its many health benefits. (By the way, didja see the new U.S. News and World Report ranking of diets for 2017? The Mediterranean Diet comes in at the top of nearly every category they analyzed.)
Health benefits aside, this chicken pasta boasts excellent taste and can be whipped up in about 30 minutes. Add it to your meal plan this week!
Sun Dried Tomato Almond Pesto Pasta with Chicken
For the pesto:
- 1 1/4 c. sun dried tomatoes (dry, not packed in oil)
- 1/2 c. slivered almonds
- 1/2 c. extra virgin olive oil
- 3 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
- 2 garlic cloves
- salt and pepper, to taste
For the chicken and pasta:
- 8 oz. whole wheat spaghetti
- 1 Tbsp. olive oil
- 5 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, pounded to 1/2-inch thickness
- 1/2 tsp. dried basil
- 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1/2 tsp. pepper
- 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
Make the pesto:
- Add tomatoes, almonds, olive oil, lemon juice, and garlic to the bowl of a food processor. Process until nearly smooth, then taste and add salt and pepper to your liking. Set pesto aside.
Make the pasta and chicken:
- Make the spaghetti according to package directions.
- Meanwhile, season chicken on both sides with basil, oregano, salt, pepper, and garlic powder.
- In a large nonstick skillet, heat 1 Tbsp. olive oil over medium-high heat. Add seasoned chicken and cook about 4 minutes per side or until internal temperature reaches 165 degrees F.
- Serve immediately: assemble entree with any combination of spaghetti, pesto, and chicken you like!
Today, in addition to bestowing upon the internet the gift of an amazing Broccoli Three-Cheese Lasagna that might just become your family’s new favorite vegetarian pasta dish, I’m trying a little something new on the blog. For kicks, and because as a nutritionist I care about providing (reasonably) healthy recipes, I’ve decided that moving forward, I’d really like to include nutrition information with my recipes. Also because I’m curious. So today, for this lovely lasagna, I’ve included a nutrition facts label for your perusal.
Adding up actual counts of calories, fat, sodium, etc. can feel like a bit of a peeking-through-your-fingers potential train wreck, like “oh nooooooo, I’m eating WHAT? Why did you have to tell me that?”
But I do (usually) want to know what I’m putting into my body–and I want YOU to know, too.
I’m starting with this particular Broccoli Lasagna recipe because, in its original form via Real Simple, this homemade comfort food classic contained a whopping 833 calories, 56 grams of fat, and 1,500mg of sodium–even with vegetables in place of meat. I shudder to think about the nutrition facts for restaurant lasagna. Actually….let’s go there. Olive Garden’s Lasagna Classico will set you back 930 calories, 53 grams of fat, and 2,070 mg of sodium! (For reference, your daily intake of sodium should be below 2,400 mg. Good luck only eating 300 mg of sodium in the entire rest of your day!)
As delicious as the original version of this recipe might have been, it really didn’t need to be so heavy, and with a few changes to slim it down, it’s still plenty rich. With a bit less cheese and a more portion-controlled 5 servings instead of 4, this lighter incarnation contains 586 calories, 12 grams of fat, and 1,245 mg sodium. High in sodium, yes, but with fat and calorie counts I can feel good about with a one-dish-meal dinner. Especially one that combines the Italian nirvana of tender pasta and ooey-gooey stretchy cheese with the nutritional powerhouse of broccoli.
Broccoli Three Cheese Lasagna
- 6 c. broccoli florets, fresh or frozen
- 1 15-oz. container low-fat ricotta or cottage cheese
- 1 1/4 shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
- 1/4 c. Parmesan cheese, divided
- 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
- generous 1/4 tsp. dried oregano
- generous 1/4 tsp. dried basil
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1/4 tsp. black pepper
- 20 oz. marinara sauce
- 3 Tbsp. half and half
- 8 no-boil lasagna noodles
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees. If using fresh broccoli, steam in a microwave-safe dish by adding a few tablespoons water, covering with a lid, and microwaving 2-4 minutes until bright green and crisp-tender. If using frozen, thaw and squeeze out as much liquid as possible. Place steamed or thawed broccoli in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until finely chopped (but not pureed).
- In a large bowl, mix chopped broccoli, ricotta, 1 c. mozzarella, 2 Tbsp. Parmesan, garlic powder, oregano, basil, salt, and pepper.
- In a medium bowl, stir half and half into marinara sauce.
- Assemble lasagna: in an 8-inch square baking dish, spoon a thin layer of sauce. Top with two noodles, a quarter of remaining sauce, and a third of the broccoli mixture. Repeat twice. Top with the remaining two noodles and sauce. Sprinkle the top with remaining 1/4 c. mozzarella and 2 Tbsp. Parmesan.
- Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake 35-40 minutes. Uncover and bake an additional 10-15 minutes.
Quick nutrition question: what do you know about omega-3 fatty acids? My guess is there are a few bits of info that probably come to mind when you think of omega-3s:
- they’re found in fish, walnuts, certain oils, and other foods
- alternatively, you can take them in pills that are pretty pricey and can tend to give you fishy burps
- they’re somehow supposed to be good for you, despite how unappealing the term “fatty acid” may sound
But have you ever wondered what exactly they are and why they’re good for you?
Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat. They are referred to as “unsaturated” because of their chemistry: the carbon in the fat is not “saturated” with hydrogen molecules surrounding it (as in, it contains less than the maximum number of bonds possible–when the maximum number of bonds are attached, it becomes “saturated”). Also, fun fact: like other unsaturated fats, omega-3 is liquid at room temperature, so if you could buy it in pure form at the store, you’d find it alongside the oils. Fill the carbons up with those hydrogen bonds, though, and you’ll get solid-at-room-temperature saturated fat, as in butter.
The reason these particular fats have the name “omega-3” is also chemistry-related. There is a double bond between carbon and hydrogen on the carbon molecule third from the end (called the “omega”–you know, like “the Alpha and the Omega,” i.e. “the beginning and the end”) of the chemical chain. So, if it helps you, think of omega-3s as the “third from the end” fats. I do!
So, what are these fatty acids supposed to do for us, and why should we care? Evidence-based research shows that omega-3s help reduce inflammation in the body–always good for protecting our hearts from heart attacks and our brains from strokes, among other benefits–and may also lower blood pressure and triglycerides. Some studies have also shown them to have a cumulative positive effect on cognition.
For my part, I’d rather get my omega-3s through tasty foods than through pills (though there’s certainly nothing wrong with taking them in pill form). The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020 recommend eating 8 oz. of fatty fish each week, which breaks down to about two servings. And I’ve got a recipe for one for you right here.
This Mediterranean-inspired Spaghetti with Tuna, Basil, and Lemon is a delicious source of those all-important 3s, as it’s packed not only with tuna, but a good dose of olive oil. And, like any other meal, this one is a sum of multiple nutrition parts, which includes whole grains in the spaghetti, immunity-boosting raw garlic, and a respectable chunk of calcium in the form of Parmesan cheese. Not only that, but it’s a super easy, flavorful dinner that can be thrown together in 30 minutes or less with inexpensive ingredients.
I’d say that’s a good deal for your heart, your brain, your stomach, and your wallet!
Spaghetti with Tuna, Basil, and Lemon
- 12 oz. whole wheat spaghetti
- 1/3 c. olive oil
- zest of 1 lemon
- 3 large garlic cloves, minced
- 1/2 c. Parmesan cheese, grated, shredded, or shaved
- 2 6-oz. cans albacore tuna
- 1/3 c. basil leaves, torn into strips
- Cook the spaghetti according to package directions. In a large bowl, toss with olive oil, lemon zest, minced garlic, Parmesan, tuna, and basil. Serve immediately.