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Roasted Butternut Squash & Goat Cheese Lasagna

I love everything about fall— the golden light, shorter days, cooler weather and the food, oh the food.  Provençal beef stew, roasted chickens, Indian curries, porchetta, bread puddings and lasagna. I've embraced homemade pasta and I have to admit, I enjoy making it. Yes, it's more work than dried pasta but there is something meditative about standing at the counter, rolling and cutting pasta. Forget yoga, I'll take my meditation with a side of lasagna.

Of course, I used Sassy Nanny goat cheese, it melted perfectly into the bechamel and the pecorino added a nice salty tang.

Bacon and caramelized onion rounded out the sauce and added an extra layer of layer that really complemented the rich sauce and roasted squash. Nothing but the best for my freshly made lasagna sheets.

Speaking of lasagna sheets, the transformation of a round piece of dough into a silky ribbon of pasta is magical. I pass the dough through the pasta roller eight  times— three times through #1 and then once through # 2 - # 5. I don't go beyond #5 because I like my pasta on the thick side. It's a matter of taste and if you like thin pasta, by all means go to #6 or even #8.

Another tricky part of the fresh pasta process is what do you do with the pasta after it's rolled out but before you are ready to cook it? I don't like to hang it— for some crazy reason, the dogs have a serious thing for fresh pasta and will spend the entire time attempting to leap and snag a mouthful of pasta while I'm busy rolling out the rest of the pasta. Necessity (or badly behaved dogs) being the mother of invention, I coated the sheets in flour and layered them on a sheet tray. One caveat— use lots of flour and dust the sheets evenly. There's nothing worse than a pile of fresh pasta stuck together in a giant mess....it'll make a grown woman weep.

I'm a firm believer in boiling pasta and lasagna noodles are no exception. The no-boil method, at least with fresh pasta, doesn't taste as good. I can taste the raw flour and I prefer the texture of noodles boiled for about a minute (if your sheets are thin, boil them for 30 seconds) prior to assembling the lasagna. An extra 10 minutes yields a superior pan of lasagna, trust me.

Roasted Butternut Squash & Goat Cheese Lasagna (adapted from Fine Cooking)

Lasagna Sheets
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups semolina flour (you can substitute all purpose flour if you don't have semolina)
4 large eggs
1 tsp kosher salt
3 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup water

Lasagna Filling
1 large butternut squash (about 3 lb.), halved lengthwise and seeded
10 - 12 medium cloves garlic, unpeeled
2 sprigs fresh thyme plus 2 teaspoons chopped leaves
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup bacon, cooked and chopped
1 large yellow onion, sliced
8 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3 cups whole milk
1 1/2 cups fresh goat cheese
1 cup Pecorino Romano,  finely grated
1 cup Parmesan, grated

Pasta Preparation
Place all ingredients in the bowl except for the water. Turn the mixer on slowly and add 3 tablespoons of the water. Add more water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the mixture comes together and forms a ball. Knead the dough on a lightly floured board to make sure it is well mixed. Set aside to rest for 30 minutes.

Generously flour your counter top or work area. Cut the dough into 6 pieces and cover with a towel (don’t cover the pasta with kitchen towels if you use a scented fabric softener because the pasta will pick up the scent—use parchment instead). With your hands, flatten and shape one piece of dough into a 1/2-inch-thick rectangle. Dust it lightly with flour and pass it through the widest setting on the pasta machine. If the dough comes out oddly shaped, reform into a rectangle. Fold it in thirds, like a letter, and if necessary, flatten to 1/2 inch thick. Pass it through the widest setting again with the seam of the letter perpendicular to the rollers. Repeat this folding and rolling step three or four times, dusting the dough with flour if it becomes sticky.

Without folding the dough, pass it through the next setting on the pasta machine. Keep reducing the space between the rollers after each pass, lightly dusting the pasta with flour on both sides each time ( I stop at # 5 on the KitchenAid pasta roller).

Generously dust both sides of the pasta sheet and lay on the floured sheet tray. Roll out the remaining dough in the same manner. Cut each strip of dough into 11-inch lengths.

Bring a 10-quart pot of well-salted (it should taste like sea water) water to a boil over high heat. Put a large bowl of ice water near the pot of boiling water. Line a rimmed baking sheet with sheets of parchment and have more parchment ready.

Put 3 or 4 noodles in the boiling water. Once the water returns to a boil, cook for about one minute. With a large wire skimmer, carefully transfer them to the ice water to stop the cooking. Repeat with the remaining noodles.

Drain the noodles and rinse under cold water. Spread them flat on the parchment-lined sheet tray, I layered them on top of each other and they didn't stick but if you are concerned about sticking,  layer the noodles between parchment and set aside until you’re ready to assemble the lasagna.

Lasagna Filling Preparation
Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 425°F.

Put the squash cut side up on a large, heavy-duty rimmed baking sheet. Divide the garlic cloves and sprigs of thyme between the two halves and place in each cavity. Drizzle each half with 1 tsp. of the oil and then season each with 1/4 tsp. salt and a few grinds of pepper. Roast until the squash is browned in spots and very tender when pierced with a skewer, 45 to 50 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool completely.

Discard the thyme sprigs. Peel the garlic and put in a large bowl. Scoop the squash flesh from the skins and add it to the garlic. Mash with a fork until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Melt 3 tablespoons of butter in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add onions and 2 teaspoons of thyme leaves, reduce heat to medium-low and cook until golden brown and caramelized, about 45 minutes. Set aside.

Melt 5 tablespoons of  butter in a 3-quart saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk until smooth and golden, about 2 minutes. Gradually whisk in the milk and cook, whisking occasionally, until thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 15 minutes. Stir in the goat cheese, pecorino, 1 teaspoon salt, and a few grinds of pepper. Season to taste with more salt and pepper.

In a large bowl, add the cheese sauce, the squash/garlic mixture, crumbled bacon and caramelized onions. Stir to combine thoroughly and taste for seasoning.

Spread 1/2 cup of the squash/cheese sauce over the bottom of a 9x13 inch baking dish. Cover the sauce with a slightly overlapping layer of cooked noodles, cutting them as needed to fill any gaps. Spread 1 cup of the cheese/squash mixture evenly over the noodles and sprinkle with the shredded Parmesan. Add another layer of noodles and repeat the layers as instructed above, to make a total of 4 squash layers and 5 pasta layers. Spread the remaining cheese/squash sauce evenly over the top. Sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan cheese.

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Cover the baking dish with foil and bake for 40 minutes. Remove the foil and bake until the top is browned and bubbly, 15 to 20 minutes. Cool for at least 10 minutes before serving.

Make Ahead Instructions You can make the roasted squash mixture up to 1 day ahead of assembling the lasagna. You can assemble the lasagna up to 2 days ahead of baking it. Tightly wrap the baking dish in plastic and refrigerate it. Let the lasagna come to room temperature before baking it.