In my humble(ish) opinion, October is the best month for indulging in all things pumpkin. I know its flavor is more strongly linked to the Hallowed Thanksgiving Dessert category, but I think that by late November we’re all getting tired of the gourd-fest that’s been raging for nigh on 12 weeks. We’re tired. We’ll take one slice of pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving (because it’s the law), but then you need to let us be.
But in October, we’re all still excited to hear the seasons click, and I don’t know about you, but I get super excited to have new flavors to work with in the kitchen. And while pumpkin is not welcome in my coffee, I get all types of revved up to put it in my pasta dough.
Most pumpkin lasagnas out there are layered with actual roasted pumpkin, and I’m not saying that they shouldn’t be. To me, though, it just tastes a little…aggressive. It’s hard to pick out any other flavors when you have such thick chunks of pumpkin vying for all the attention. It feels too heavy, like too much of a good thing.
But then I discovered Domenica Marchetti’s elegant interpretation of the dish, whose sole pumpkin component is adding canned puree to the pasta dough before rolling it out. Add to that the fact that there are no less than four gorgeous-yet-still-affordable Italian cheeses running through the layers, and a bechamel laced with nutmeg to bring the whole thing together? I couldn’t remember the last time I was that excited to reach for the can opener.
But before we fire up the stand mixer and start humming Tim Burton scores, a little business. When I was first looking into making homemade pasta, I heeded a piece of advice that I’m going to pass on to you now: Get comfortable making plain pasta dough before trying to add flavors. The reason for this is that whatever component you add — be it beet puree, spinach, or pumpkin — is going to change the texture of the dough. And when this happens, it helps to feel comfortable with what pasta dough is supposed to feel like so that you can correct it with the right additions of flour and water along the way. If you’d like some more general tips on making your own pasta, I’ve gone into it in a little more detail here.
And since this dish can be made earlier in the day and baked off whenever you’re ready, my final suggestion to you is this: this meal would be an excellent candidate for you to eat on the couch, watching a scary movie and handing out candy on October 31st. Because we all know that Halloween is the real culinary pumpkin celebration of the year.
Adapted from Domenica Marchetti, The Glorious Pasta of Italy
For the pasta dough:
⅔ cup unsweetened canned pumpkin puree
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 ¾ cups all purpose flour, plus more as needed
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
For the bechamel:
3 cups whole milk
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
¼ cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
A few grinds of black pepper
⅛ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (1 large pinch)
For the lasagne:
8 oz fresh mozzarella, torn into smaller pieces
5 oz gorgonzola crumbles
8 oz fontina, grated
1 cup + 2 tablespoons finely grated parmesan
First, make the pasta. Combine the flour, eggs, pumpkin puree and a pinch of salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment. Stir until well combined and a dough forms. Continue to knead the dough with the dough hook, adding flour and water as necessary, until the dough holds together without sticking to the sides of the bowl or your hand as you check it. This process should take about 15 min, but don’t stop until you’ve achieved the texture you want. Remember, it’s very hard to over-knead pasta dough. Once you’ve got it, turn the dough out onto the counter and knead it a couple more times by hand. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and set aside to rest for at least an hour before rolling out.
Once the dough has rested, connect the roller attachment to your stand mixer and set the dial that controls the pasta thickness to zero. Turn the dough out onto a floured countertop and cut it into 4 equal pieces. Take the first piece and flatten it a little with the palm of your hand. Turn the mixer on low speed and gently start feeding the dough through the machine. Once it’s through, run it through twice more on the zero setting, then increase the setting by one each time you roll it through. Once you’ve rolled it through the number three setting, cut the sheet i half and set it aside on a floured surface until you’re ready to assemble the lasagne. Repeat the process until you’ve rolled out all your pasta dough.
Next, make the bechamel. In a medium saucepan, heat the butter over medium heat until completely melted. Add the flour and whisk constantly for one minute. We want to cook out the raw flour taste, but we don’t want the mixture to take on any color. Next, add the milk (this part will come together easier if you start out with the milk room temperature). Let the mixture come up to a simmer, stirring occasionally. The sauce won’t begin to thicken until the mixture starts to simmer, but once it does this process goes very quickly. You’ll know it’s ready when it’s thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Add the salt, pepper and nutmeg and remove from heat.
Now, assemble the lasagne. Preheat your oven to 350°F. Ladle about ½ cup of bechamel into the bottom of a 9×13 pan. Tilt the pan so the sauce covers the bottom in a thin, even layer. Next, layer two pasta sheets onto the bottom. It’s okay if they overlap a little on the center, but trim the ends to fit the pan with kitchen shears. Ladle another ½ cup of sauce onto the noodles, spread it gently to make an even layer and top with the mozzarella cheese. Layer another two pasta sheets in the same manner as before, top with another ½ cup of sauce, and top with the gorgonzola cheese. Layer 2 pasta sheets, top with sauce, and finish with the fontina cheese. Layer more pasta, sauce, and top with the parmesan cheese. Drizzle the top lightly with olive oil to help with browning and cover with foil. Bake for 20 minutes covered, then take the foil off and bake for another 15 minutes uncovered (if it still hasn’t browned enough, feel free to switch the oven to broil and broil for one minute. Don’t walk away!). Rest the lasagne at least 20 minutes before carving.
Serve with more parmesan at the table if desired.