My editor/publisher/good friend Matthew Lore at The Experiment tipped me off to this lasagna from The San Francisco Chronicle Cookbook, Volume II, by Chronicle writer Tara Duggan. Only recently did I get around to making it, and wow, I really shouldn’t have waited so long because it is right up my alley. I love everything about California cuisine, but especially that of the Bay Area. Flipping through these Chronicle cookbooks—the first volume came out in 1997, and the second one in 2001, and it appears the latter is now out of print—as well as staying abreast of all of Heidi Swanson’s food adventures, really dramatizes how different the food of the Northeast is from the West coast. There’s such inventive vegetable love out there!
When I first read the title of the recipe, I immediately felt satiated: lentils and squash together, a combo I’ve enjoyed in other contexts, along with sweet caramelized onions, a rich béchamel sauce, and a slight dusting of Parmesan. It sounded so unique, so hearty—and so simple!
And while sure, it’s simple, it’s not exactly easy. Okay, it’s kind of a lot of work—about a 2-hour job before it even goes into the oven, and you’ll probably dirty every pot you own. There’s the squash that needs roasting, lentils that need simmering, onions that need caramelizing, milk that needs steeping, and béchamel that needs . . . béchamel-ing.
Deeply caramelized onions are very important here—their sweetness amps up that of the squash, and if the onions are only partially caramelized, the finished lasagna just won’t realize itself. And on that note, what I know about caramelized onions is that you can’t rush them. The flame shouldn’t be any higher than medium, ideally medium-low; if they begin to burn, turn it down. Watch closely, stir periodically, and taste often. I’ve caramelized onions that have taken me an hour and a half, and I didn’t end up regretting a second of it.
But after all that prep, assembly is a breeze. If you’re a kitchen hermit like me, you won’t mind at all, but even for those who aren’t: dirty dishes will be something to scoff at after you get a taste of this.
Lentil and Squash Lasagna with Caramelized Onions
Adapted from The San Francisco Chronicle Cookbook, Volume II
I tweaked the recipe, primarily to scale it down for a 9 x 13 pan—the original is intended for a proper lasagna pan, which would give me more leftovers than I’d know what to do with. I’ve also substituted French green lentils (sometimes labeled as “Lentils du Puy”) with black beluga lentils, and butternut squash with a combination of butternut and 2 small acorn squashes. I’ll bet that kobucha would be great here, and next time I try it, I might also find a way to add some greens, like spinach, chard, or kale.
- 3 pounds winter squash (butternut, acorn, kobucha, or a combination thereof)
- 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 3 onions, divided
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 1-1/2 teaspoons roughly chopped fresh thyme
- 1 celery stalk, cut into 2 or 3 pieces
- 1 small carrot, cut in half
- 2 bay leaves, divided
- 1 teaspoon salt, divided
- 1 tablespoon Kosher salt
- 1/2 pound lasagna noodles
- 3 cups milk (1 or 2%)
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 3 tablespoons flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan