Friday, October 10, 2008

Butternut Squash Lasagna, the Economy, and Grocery Shopping: a Study in Wha..?

When I was coming up with ideas for this post, I seriously considered a joke about packing a bindle and taking up residence in an empty train car. Then I realized that it wasn’t funny, as I might actually have to DO that if the economy continues to worsen. Then I realized it DOUBLY wasn’t funny, because that empty train car would most likely be slightly nicer (and certainly larger) than my current apartment. Then I realized it TRIPLY wasn’t funny, because I don’t even own a bindle. I’d have to buy one, and probably put it on credit. And that’s how this mess got started in the first place.

So … economically speaking, how is everybody? I hope you’re all doing well, and the Dow Jones’ sudden descent into double digits hasn’t affected your retirement funds too badly. My 401K’s taken a 13% hit the last week, but I’m not quitting my job for another 35 years. Ma, on the other hand, who’ll be in the workforce only for the next decade, has been affected more. Much more, I suspect, but I’m afraid to ask.

It may seem lame to discuss food in times like these, but it could be one of the ways we, as ‘mericans, get back on track. I’m serious. How we shop, cook, and eat determines a lot of our expenditures, and can be indicative of our larger spending habits. And if we can reform our approach to something as simple as grocery shopping (planning more, being frugal, going DIY, etc.) who’s to say we can’t apply those lessons to bigger things? It won’t fix the crash, but it’ll give our families the means to survive it, and maybe even prosper.

Which, naturally, brings me to lasagna. (Huh? Yeah, let's go with it.)

I’ve made Weight Watchers’ Butternut Squash, Raisin, and Pine Nut Lasagna twice this week. The first time, it was far too noodley, and there were some issues with the directions (which have been rectified, and are reflected below). The second time around, I think I nailed it. Sweet, hearty, and a gigantic departure from tomato-based lasagna, this will be served in my house more than once over the coming months. And when I do hitch a ride on that train, it’ll be in my bindle.

P.S. The lasagna may appear very orange in the picture. I promise - we weren't attacked by traffic cones, and no school buses crashed into the oven. It's just kind of an orange food.

Baked Winter Squash, Raisin and Pine Nut Lasagna
6-8 servings
Adapted from Weight Watchers.

1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cup fat-free evaporated milk
2 medium garlic clove(s), minced
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/8 tsp table salt, or to taste
1/8 tsp black pepper, or to taste
9 dry lasagna noodles, cooked al dente
10 oz cooked winter squash, thawed if frozen
1 cup part-skim mozzarella cheese, shredded
3/4 cup golden seedless raisins
2 Tbsp pine nuts, chopped

NOTE: for the butternut squash, you can either buy it pre-cooked OR purchase your own, cut it in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds, and roast it for 35-40 minutes in a 400°F oven (until it’s easily pierced with a knife). The latter (which is what I did) will be cheaper.

1) Preheat oven to 350°F. Prep a 9x13-inch baking dish or metal pan.

2) Add flour to a small saucepan. Slowly whisk in milk. Add garlic. Stir. Place pan on stove and warm over low heat, stirring constantly. When it simmers and starts to thicken to a sauce-like consistency, kill the heat and remove pan from burner. This could take anywhere from 3 to 15 minutes, so WATCH CAREFULLY. Stir in parmesan, salt and pepper.

3) "Spread 1/4 cup of cheese sauce over bottom" of your baking dish. Then, layer the following way:
-3 lasagna noodles
-1/2 cup of squash
-1/2 cup of cheese sauce
-1/2 cup of mozzarella cheese
-half of the raisins
-3 lasagna noodles
-remaining squash
-1/2 cup of cheese sauce
-remaining raisins
-last 3 lasagna noodles ("pressing sheets firmly down")
-any remaining cheese sauce
-pine nuts and remaining mozzarella

4) Bake about 25 or 30 minutes, until lasagna is bubbly and top is slightly browned. Remove from oven and let cool a minute or two. Serve.

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price Per Serving
PER SERVING (TOTAL/6): 417 calories, 9.6 g fat, $1.15
PER SERVING (TOTAL/8): 313 calories, 7 g fat, $0.86

1/4 cup all-purpose flour: 114 calories, 0.3 g fat, $0.02
2 1/2 cup fat-free evaporated milk: 500 calories, 0 g fat, $1.18
2 medium garlic clove(s), minced: 9 calories, 0 g fat, $0.04
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese: 144 calories, 9.5 g fat, $0.90
1/8 tsp table salt, or to taste: negligible calories and fat, $0.01
1/8 tsp black pepper, or to taste: negligible calories and fat, $0.01
9 dry lasagna noodles, cooked al dente (about 8oz): 840 calories, 4 g fat, $0.72
10 oz cooked winter squash, thawed if frozen: 114 calories, 0.3 g fat, $0.98
1 cup part-skim mozzarella cheese, shredded: 320 calories, 20 g fat, $1.25
3/4 cup golden seedless raisins: 328 calories, 0.5 g fat, $0.54
2 Tbsp pine nuts, chopped: 135 calories, 13.7 g fat, $1.25
TOTAL: 2504 calories, 57.5 g fat, $6.90
PER SERVING (TOTAL/6): 417 calories, 9.6 g fat, $1.15
PER SERVING (TOTAL/8): 313 calories, 7 g fat, $0.86


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