Strolling through our Friday market yesterday, I felt like making something with pumpkin. As usual, I bought the pumpkin first and thought about a recipe later. I acquired a quarter of a musque de Provence pumpkin (apparently also known as calabaza pumpkin), then went on to the Italian stall.
They had plain – as in unsmoked – Scamorza cheese, which isn’t always available in that form. In addition I bought a piece of what the owner called country cheese, which I’ve had before and which tastes a tad like blue cheese but milder and without the blue veins. I mixed these two cheeses and loved the taste – the Scamorza had a slightly sour-ish touch but was perfect combined with the country cheese.
I hardly ever make béchamel sauce myself but decided to do so today using Delia Smith’s recipe and exchanging her bay leaf for thyme sprigs. I usually have no patience for the constant stirring and try to use shortcuts; I quite enjoyed making this béchamel sauce, though, as sticking to the recipe it all came together beautifully.
For the pumpkin I used sugar, chilli, and dried cinnamon flower. I know I’ve raved here before about those cinnamon flowers but they really enhance this dish because you don’t expect that flavour. However, if you can’t get dried cinnamon flowers, please do not replace them with ground cinnamon because that would ruin this dish. Just leave it out and it’ll still be fine.
As for the chilli, you can take it or leave it. I grew up in a household that had a chilli on the table for almost every meal. Even as a child, I adapted my dad’s way to make sure it had heat: cut it open and put your tongue to it. For this lasagne, I used half a large chilli that I grew on my balcony this summer; I neglected to taste it before adding it, and it turned out it had hardly any heat at all. If you do use chilli, make sure to use it in moderation because you don’t want to kill all the other flavours with the heat.
When I took this pumpkin lasagne out of the oven – beautiful in my new black pie dish – I couldn’t wait to get the picture-taking over with and dig in. And oh my… this is my new favourite recipe! HEAVENLY, if I say so myself! It really is the combination of the sugar, cinnamon flower and the cheeses that makes this dish a little magic for me. What a great result for an impromptu recipe.
I’m having friends over for dinner later this month, and I’m definitely going to make this!
425 ml milk
3 small thyme sprigs
3 rasps of nutmeg
10 whole peppercorns
1 slice onion, 5 mm thick
40 g butter
20 g plain flour
approx. 1.5 tsp salt
freshly ground pepper
Place milk, thyme, nutmeg, peppercorns and onion slice into a small saucepan, then place over a low heat and let it come very slowly to simmering point – takes approx. 5 minutes. Once it simmers, remove from heat and strain the milk into a jug, discarding the flavourings.
In a saucepan, melt the butter without letting it brown. As soon as it melts, add the flour and stir vigorously over a medium heat [I used a slightly rounded silicone spatula] to make a smooth, glossy paste. Start incorporating the milk bit by bit, then switch to a balloon whisk and keep whisking briskly. Turn heat down to lowest setting and let the sauce cook for 5 minutes, whisking every now and then. [The original recipe says 5 mins but it took a little more for me to get the sauce to thicken a bit.] Season with salt and black pepper.
¼ musque de Provence / calabaza pumpkin
1 onion [I used the remains of the onion from the béchamel]
1 small garlic clove
2 tsp raw cane sugar
approx. 10 dried cinnamon flowers, roughly crushed in a mortar
1 tsp salt
1 ball of Scamorza cheese
approx. 50 – 100 g of country cheese
1 small chilli, finely chopped
Remove skin from pumpkin, cut into smaller pieces and grate into sticks over a mandolin slicer. Finely chop onion and garlic.
Heat butter in a frying pan, add cane sugar, and fry the onion and garlic for a few minutes. Add the grated pumpkin, salt, chilli and crushed cinnamon flowers and fry for about 5 minutes. [If you have liquid in your pan after frying, remove the pumpkin with a slotted spoon.]
In the meantime, grate the cheeses and put aside.
Slightly butter your lasagne dish, then start layering the ingredients: béchamel sauce – lasagne pasta – pumpkin – béchamel sauce… Finish with a layer of lasagne pasta, then spread the cheese mix on top.
Bake for 20 minutes on the middle shelf in a fan oven at 200°C / 400°F (non-fan 220°C / 425°F), then turn the dish and bake for a further 20 minutes.