I adore traditions! The memories, feelings and scents they hold – the tastes, familiarity and comfort. For me, all of those things wrapped up in a tradition.
But what do you do when you or your life’s circumstances have changed and you can no longer “do tradition” as you used to? Such was my dilemma this pre-Thanksgiving holiday. I’ve been mostly vegetarian for the past five years now (I eat a little wild-caught fish once in a while) and lean toward veganism now and again. No biggie, easy to heat up a “fake turkey” for myself and provide a real one for the rest of the family. The usual side dishes happily remain the same in our home.
However, I’ve recently become soy-free. So, how to do Thanksgiving without even a Tofurkey? And this year we went to friends who have become vegan for health reasons, although they do eat soy. How was I going to please us all without anyone feeling cheated out of a “real” Thanksgiving main course?
I sat and reflected a long while on flavor profiles, which is what I usually do when developing a recipe: Autumn, warmth, spice, abundance, gourds, richness, savory, herbal and satisfying. As I thought, I jotted down food items that came forward: butternut squash, sage, nutmeg, pumpkin, mushrooms, brown-rice pasta, spinach, thyme, sauce, leeks and rosemary. And before I knew it, the idea and recipe for my Harvest Lasagna with Pumpkin Béchamel was created!
As I cooked the different components of the Harvest Lasagna, the house filled with the smells of Thanksgiving and I absolutely knew that this dish would become a yearly tradition in my home. This is a hearty, creamy, delicious comfort-food lasagna!
What nailed it as my new Thanksgiving holiday dish was when my friend, who had said she was going to have a little bit of actual turkey, commented, “who needs turkey?” as she helped herself to seconds. As we both picked at errant little pieces in the serving dish, I smiled to myself. A new and delicious tradition was born this year. And so it goes.
Harvest Lasagna with Pumpkin Béchamel
Please note: this dish is a labor of love. It is not a quick dish to whip up on a moment’s notice. It takes time and patience and love to cook the different components. Although it may appear daunting, it really isn’t. And once you taste it, you will know it is so worthwhile making!
You can prepare the different vegetable layers a day or two ahead and keep them refrigerated until the final assembly. You may also prepare the Pumpkin Béchamel a day ahead and keep it refrigerated, although it may need some additional almond milk if it thickens too much overnight. Bring everything to room temperature before proceeding with the recipe.
In my experience, the lasagna noodles should be cooked, rinsed gently with cold water and drained just before you need them to prevent sticking together. Then it’s easy to assemble the layers and pop it into the oven to bake.
You may also assemble this a day before, refrigerate, bring to room temperature and bake in oven until it is heated through.
The key is to be organized and to read the recipe over at least once before starting. It’s not as intimidating as it may look, I promise!
10 ounces (about 3 cups) sliced white button mushrooms
10 ounces (about 3 cups) sliced cremini mushrooms
10 ounces (about 3 cups) sliced oyster mushrooms, or any other variety of your choice
2 tablespoons dried thyme
6 Tablespoons olive oil, divided
salt to taste, after sautéing
Butternut Squash – Leek Layer:
3 leeks, cleaned and white and light green parts sliced into thin rounds
2 pounds butternut squash, cut up into ½-inch pieces
2 teaspoons dried rubbed sage
2 teaspoons dried rosemary, crumbled
4 tablespoons olive oil
salt to taste, after roasting
1 pound bag (16 ounces) frozen chopped spinach, thawed
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups Daiya dairy-free/soy-free “cheese” mozzarella shreds, DIVIDED – one cup will be needed to assemble the lasagna layers
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons Earth Balance soy-free buttery spread
3 tablespoons potato starch (not potato flour)
1 cup unsweetened pumpkin puree (Pacific brand makes a pourable one or use canned and whisk well)
4 cups unsweetened almond milk, at room temperature
2 pinches ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
2 boxes (10 ounces each) Tinkyada brand brown rice noodles
(I prefer this brand because it is made from brown rice flour and rice bran. You may use whichever brand you prefer)
How To Make Harvest Lasagna with Pumpkin Béchamel:
For the mushroom layer:
In a medium mixing bowl add in the sliced mushrooms, thyme and drizzle in 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Toss well.
In a large frying pan over medium-high heat: add about a tablespoon of olive oil and sauté the mushroom mixture in several batches (I use 2 frying pans at a time).
It’s important not to crowd the mushrooms in the pans; otherwise they will steam instead of lightly crisp and turn a golden-brown color. This may take 4 or 5 batches to complete. (That’s why I have 2 pans going at a time)
Continue until all the mushrooms are sautéed. Remove to dish and salt to taste.
For the butternut squash-leek layer:
Preheat oven to 375° F.
In a medium mixing bowl add in the sliced leeks, butternut squash, sage, rosemary and olive oil. Toss gently to mix well.
Divide amongst 2 rimmed cookie sheets. Roast in oven until browned, crisped and tender, about 25 minutes, turning once about halfway through.
Remove from oven; place on a dish and salt to taste.
For the spinach layer:
Place thawed chopped spinach into a colander in the sink and drain well, pushing against the colander to remove as much liquid as possible.
Then take a handful of the drained spinach and squeeze well to remove even more liquid. Place this dry spinach into a medium mixing bowl. Continue until all of the spinach is in the mixing bowl.
Add in the minced garlic, Daiya mozzarella shreds and the salt and pepper. Mix with a fork to combine.
For the pumpkin béchamel:
Into a medium saucepan over medium heat, add in the Earth Balance spread. When it has melted, add in the potato starch, whisking constantly for about a minute or two to cook out the starchy taste.
Next, add in the pumpkin puree, and combine this well, whisking constantly to eliminate any lumps. Slowly drizzle in one cup of the almond milk, whisking away to eliminate lumps. Keep adding the remaining almond milk slowly while whisking.
When the liquid in incorporated, add in the nutmeg and salt.
Now is the time for patience. And trust. You must whisk this béchamel constantly. Do not take your eyes off of it or stop whisking. It will feel like you’re doing it forever and it’s not thickening. Trust me, it will thicken. Patience; it may take 10 minutes or more.
When the béchamel thickens enough to coat the back of a metal spoon, it is ready.
For the brown rice lasagna noodles:
Fill a very large pot 2/3 full with cold water and a teaspoon or two of salt. Bring to boil.
Add in the lasagna noodles, stir gently and bring water back to a boil. Boil gently for 2 minutes. Cover pot and remove from heat.
Let noodles stand in the hot water for about 8-10 minutes, until they still retain some texture and are pliable. You do not want mushy noodles.
Gently pour noodles into a large colander and rinse with cold water.
Assembling the Harvest Lasagna with Pumpkin Béchamel:
Preheat oven to 350° F.
Lightly oil a glass 13×9-inch Pyrex baking dish along the bottom and the sides. I like a glass baking dish so you can see the different layers of color. If you only have a metal one, use that.
Into the baking dish you layer:
1. A ladle or two of the pumpkin béchamel just to lightly cover the bottom of the pan.
2. A layer of the lasagna noodles – it is perfectly fine if they tear, just layer and patch until the bottom of the dish is covered.
3. Add another light layer of pumpkin béchamel.
4. Top with the mushroom mixture.
5. Top lightly with some Daiya mozzarella shreds (from the additional cup).
6. Add another layer of noodles.
7. Add another light layer of pumpkin béchamel.
8. Top with the butternut squash-leek mixture.
9. Top lightly with some Daiya mozzarella shreds.
10. Add another layer of noodles.
11. Add another light layer of pumpkin béchamel.
12. Top with the spinach mixture.
13. Add final layer of noodles.
14. Top with a generous layer of pumpkin béchamel, allowing it to sink down along the inside edges of the layers in the pan.
Note: You will have about one cup of pumpkin béchamel left over. It is delicious atop poached eggs on steamed spinach or kale. It’s also great with any gluten-free pasta with sautéed onions and peas. Lucky you!
15. Top lightly with the remaining Daiya mozzarella shreds.
Now you are ready to bake this beauty!
Line a cookie sheet with foil. Place the lasagna pan on the cookie sheet and bake in a preheated oven for 30 minutes, or until heated completely through and golden.
Remove from oven and allow to stand for about 5 minutes and then slice into generous squares.
Makes 8 – 12 servings