One often turns to the delicious comforts of certain foods when the cogs on the life train are moving just a little too fast, or the train seems to be powering towards Vladivostok instead of the Costa del Sol, or it has derailed completely. I’ve had a week of eating convenient, quick and comforting things, some yummy, some not so much. Mostly all unhealthy. And when in a period of upheaval and sadly, loss, most of those around you want nothing more than to feed you. If you are not eating, then the situation must be even more dire than suspected, well, certainly for well-meaning Greeks anyhow.
Home alone and with my two boys away for another week and a half, I decided yesterday that it was time to nurture myself a little, despite protests from the body to give in to cooking up scrambled eggs on toast yet again. I hauled myself off to the supermarket on my lunch break and bought those brightly-coloured, fresh, crunchy things known as veggies, hell-bent on making a veg dinner delight. I got home that evening and locked myself away from the world. I put on my ‘serious’ trackies (loose-fitting trousers with elasticised cuffs, for the non-Australians) and followed a nice lady on YouTube who guided me through yoga poses apt for someone in my condition. I then got to work on my no-fuss lasagne, all the while pondering why us non-Italians pronounce it ‘lasagn-a’ when it is often spelt ‘lasagn-e’. Deep.
Incidentally, today is ‘R U OK?’ day here in the land of Oz. I have been asked today by a couple of kind souls if I am in fact, OK. I think I am, although these ramblings would suggest otherwise. I shall absolutely be OK enjoying another piece of lasagne/lasagna goodness tonight. Make some if, like me, you find mashing bright-orange pumpkin therapeutic and your soul needs a little warming. Hope you’re all OK, too.
500 g pumpkin (preferably Kent or Japanese)
½ teaspoon nutmeg
250 g good quality ricotta cheese
150 g frozen spinach (2/3 bunch if fresh)
good handful fresh basil
100 g freshly grated parmesan or grana padano
approx. 9 lasagne sheets (I used Barilla sheets with no pre-cooking required)
400 g can Italian diced tomatoes
half a bunch asparagus
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
extra virgin olive oil
Preheat your oven to 180°C. Peel and cut the pumpkin up into small chunks, removing all seeds, and place into a medium-sized pot of salted cold water. Boil on a medium heat for about 15 minutes, or until tender. If you have time and can be bothered, roasting the pumpkin with olive oil, nutmeg and seasoning makes it even tastier.
While the pumpkin is cooking, prepare the ricotta mixture. Cook the spinach in either a microwave or boiling water, then drain off as much water as possible and allow to cool for a few minutes. Mix the spinach with the ricotta in a small bowl, adding about 80 g of the grated cheese, 2/3 of the basil, roughly chopped, and season to taste. You can go crazy and add pine nuts, dill and/or a bit of grated lemon rind to this mixture, but I kept mine pretty simple this time around. Set aside.
Prepare the asparagus by washing and chopping the woody ends off, then cutting the pieces into thirds. Halve any of the chunky pieces lengthways.
When the pumpkin is cooked, mash it well in the pot or baking tray. If boiling your pumpkin, add a drizzle of oil to help with the mashing, season to taste and add a little nutmeg.
Add the canned tomatoes to a small saucepan over a medium heat. Once heated through, season well and add the remaining basil, then turn off the heat.
Assemble the lasagne in a medium-sized baking tray, about 3 cm deep. First, add a drizzle of olive oil and a thin layer of the tomato sauce. Then, add lasagne sheets to cover. I was able to fit two horizontally and one vertically, but of course this depends on your tray. Spoon the pumpkin puree over the sheets and spread out evenly. Add another layer of lasagne sheets, then the ricotta mixture. I added a little extra grated cheese on top for more comfort, but please add to taste. Another layer of lasagne sheets is placed on top of this layer and then the remaining sauce. Add the asparagus pieces in any way you wish and then the remaining cheese on top. Place into the hot oven and cook for about 20 minutes, or until the top is crispy and the sheets are tender when you pierce them with a fork.
Drizzle a little olive oil over the top before serving, if you wish, and enjoy the happy feelings that I hope will be yours with each mouthful of this nourishing goodness!