That title sounds like an oxymoron. The dish actually turned out to be a calculated and highly successful experiment. I’m cooking a “comfort food” luncheon during the holidays, for my family, a group with the craziest combination of food issues, all genuine. They’re based on ethics (vegans and vegetarians), on dietary requirements (gluten-free, dairy-free, low fat, low salt, not spicy) or on staunch preference (meat, white bread and potatoes, nothing green). Add to that my personal preference for foods that are seasonal, local and organic. Oh, and I didn’t mention that the meal is to be finally cooked and served 2½ hours from my kitchen, so it has to be portable too. Whoa. This is just my kind of assignment.
It takes flexibility and creativity in the kitchen to devise a menu for 20+ people that caters to this level of diversity. A cold buffet of meats and vegetables with salads of greens and grains would be a snap, but we decided that hot dishes would be preferable. Soups and chili and sandwiches and salads, maybe. Too informal. So lasagna it will be, except for “Ms. Meat and Potatoes,” who says she’ll bring her own food. For her, we have wonderful ham and bread.
I am making three types of lasagna: chicken and red pepper on fresh spinach noodles, mixed mushrooms, and this one, that uses slabs of butternut squash as the noodle layer, and chard and tofu as the filling. The leeks and mushrooms add texture and a spark of flavor. No compromise here: this is one of the most delicious lasagnas I’ve ever invented. Double this for a 9×13-inch pan.
Non-dairy, Gluten-free, Vegan Butternut Squash and Chard Lasagna
Long-necked butternut squash
Butternut squash seed oil (or substitute a tiny amount of toasted sesame oil)
1 lb organic soft tofu
1 bunch green chard, stems removed
Grated fresh nutmeg
2 small leeks, thinly sliced on the diagonal
A dozen or so cremini mushrooms
Salt and pepper
Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut the base and top off a butternut squash and peel it. If you have a mandoline or a similar slicer, slice the squash lengthwise into slabs that are ¼-inch thick and place them on baking sheets. Lightly brush them with olive oil on both sides and sprinkle them with a little salt. Bake them for 3-4 minutes, flip over and bake for another minute. They should tender but not mushy. Transfer the slabs to a cooling rack and set aside. When nearly cool, brush them lightly with butternut squash seed oil or sesame oil.
Drain the tofu, place it in a colander lined with a tea towel, weight it and let it drain for 15 minutes.
Trim the stems from the chard and set aside for another use. Cut the leaves cross-wise and rinse them well to remove any grit. Shallow boil them in a wide pan with about ½ inch of water at the bottom until tender. Drain and set aside to cool and continue draining. When cool, squeeze the chard dry and combine it with the tofu, mixing thoroughly. Liberally season with salt and pepper and add a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg.
Clean and slice the leeks. Saute them in olive oil over low heat, add a little water and salt and cover the pan. Braise until tender, about 5 minutes.
Clean the mushrooms and cut them into chunks or slices, as you prefer. Place them in a wide, dry sauté pan in one layer and place over medium-high heat. When the mushrooms brown on one side, add a little olive oil and continue to cook, stirring until the juices have fully rendered. Add about ½ tsp of fresh thyme and season with salt and pepper.
Assemble the lasagna. Oil the bottom of a ceramic or glass pan (7 x 10, 9 x 9, or thereabouts). Place one layer of butternut squash on the bottom, side by side. Spread half the chard-tofu mixture on top and sprinkle on one third of the mushrooms and leeks. Repeat. Top with final layer of squash and the remainder of the mushrooms and leeks. This can be made ahead to this point.
Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven until bubbly, about 40 minutes. Let sit for 10 minutes before serving.
Double to serve 8-12 from a 9×13 inch pan.