Sunday, October 31, 2010


Last night it rained buckets.

Charlie pulled out his rubber boots, trudged out to the wood pile and built us our first fire of the season. We turned down the lights, turned up Neil Young and sat there for what seemed to be hours watching the flames roar until the embers began to spit and crackle and fall in a glowing pile under the andirons. As Charlie says, we're "fire people" and we love any opportunity to gather our little tribe around the hearth.

This morning, the sun was shining so brightly through my passenger side windshield that I could barely see through Carly's toe print smudges...evidence of last week's 90-degree barefoot weather. Fall in Marin County is officially here and even with its split personality, I love everything about it!

I love the smell of the driveway after the first drizzle and the mad dash to unearth last winter's rain gear. I love the look of surprise and delight on Willy's face when he dons his old jacket, holds up his arms and proudly exposes his lanky little wrists...a sure sign that the escalating Sharpie marks on our makeshift door jam grow chart do not deceive.

I love the neighborhood "fire tree," as we have named it, that we observe every morning on our back road trek to school. As maple trees go, it's actually not that impressive. Not so tall and not so grand, it stands alone amongst a row of evergreens, shouting out loud like an angry little red-headed man with an inferiority complex. Tracking its transformation from the first day of school until the last leaf has fallen has become a morning tradition...watching it turn from lush green to flaming red then stark and bare.

I love the new season of fall shows on TV. Yes, it's true, and I'm not particularly proud to say it, but we do love our TV in the Christensen household. Even though we have a million more choices than when we were kids, I still get a little bit excited about the promise of a fresh dose of our favorite drug of choice (we are so going to miss LOST and "24" this winter)!

Remember when the three (yes, there was a time when there were only three) networks had their Saturday morning fall cartoon previews? We'd gather around the TV to see what was in store, knowing that all too soon summer would be over, the first day of school would come and Saturday mornings would again actually matter.

Saturday mornings were sweet but we also had our precious prime time, complete with new episodes of the Brady Bunch and Partridge Family. Remember the season the Brady men showed up with perms? That was the year they went to Hawaii with Mike on his big architectural gig, I think, and they had all that trouble with the ancient idol. Oh...that Bobby...what a rascal!

Cindy,on the other hand, had nothin' on me...I rocked her pigtails. But do ya think someone might have noticed the whole bow tie thing as I posed for my first school picture! I'm still scarred by this fashion faux pas.

But...I digress...

I love the way our porch looks in the fall...

...and especially how it looks on Halloween...

I love the little paper Jack-O-Lanterns the kids cut out and tape to our stair lights.

And, speaking of Halloween, I love that Charlie carves pumpkins with the kids every year, even if he does use power tools...

...and teaches my son how to make his pumpkin puke...

But, you know one of the things I love the most, permission to eat all of that cozy fall food that seems politically or practically incorrect to eat during the heat of summer. Braised stews, home-baked breads and my favorite sweet and starchy fall vegetables, I love it all with butternut squash at the top of the list. I kind of think of these foods as the "white pants"of the epicurean world: God-forbid you use them out of season.

So, in honor of Halloween and our SF Giants I thought I'd share a recipe that's good and orange...Roasted Butternut Squash Lasagne with Rosemary and Garlic (it also happens to be my most-requested recipe)! happens to be vegetarian too...but no one will even notice since it's so decadent and delightful.

Happy Halloween and GO GIANTS!!!

Gather your ingredients:

Peel your butternut squash with a sharp peeler or paring knife. 3 1/2 pounds is about 2 medium squash but it will vary.

Cut into 1/2" cubes. This is the most time-consuming part of the recipe. If you want to cheat, have at it. Trader Joe's sells cubed butternut squash ready-to-go but it's quite a bit more expensive. I timed myself and estimate it took about 15 minutes, uninterrupted to peel and cube two make the call.

Toss your cubes in oil and roast in a hot oven for about 14 minutes, tossing and seasoning with salt 1/2 way through. This is what they should look like. Don't overcook them...they'll  shrivel up!

While the squash is roasting, make your cream sauce. Don't freak out if you've never made a cream sauce. There's really no big mystery. You basically make a roux* then whisk in milk until it becomes cream sauce.

Start by bringing your milk to a simmer with the rosemary for about 10 minutes, then straining it into a large measuring cup with a spout.

Then melt your butter over moderate heat in a large heavy saucepan, soften your garlic in the butter (for this recipe, not all cream sauces), add an equal amount of flour and cook it until it darkens and thickens a little (don't burn it!) and it starts to smell great. *You've just made a "roux"...the basis of your cream sauce.

Next, take the pan off the heat, add your milk in a stream in batches, whisking in between to keep out the lumps. Cook about 10 minutes or so until thickened to the consistency of melted ice cream.

Add the roasted squash and season with salt and pepper.

Butter your Pyrex and begin to build your lasagne in this order: start with a cup of sauce (it will not cover the worries), layer three sheets of pasta, add half of the remaining sauce, 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese, three more sheets of pasta, the rest of the sauce, 1/2 cup more of Parmesan, three more sheets of pasta...

...then, yes it's true, whip 1 cup of heavy cream with 1/2 teaspoon of salt to soft peaks and spread it over the top with no apologies. Sprinkle with 1/3 cup more Parmesan.

Tent with foil and bake at 375° for 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake for about 10 more minutes. Let stand for 5 minutes and enjoy!

Roasted Butternut Squash Lasagne
with Rosemary and Garlic

Preheat oven to 450° and oil 2 rimmed baking sheets.

Toss and roast in the two pans for 7 minutes:
  • 3 1/2 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cubed into 1/2" chunks.
  • 3 Tbs. vegetable oil or olive oil
Season with salt, toss, switch racks and roast for 7 more minutes. Remove from oven, set aside then lower oven temp to 375°.

While squash is roasting, add to a small saucepan and simmer for 10 minutes:
  • 4 cups milk (I used 2% but whole is probably better)
  • 1/4 cup loosely packed fresh rosemary or 2 Tbs dry
Strain through a fine sieve into a large measuring cup with a spout.

In a large heavy saucepan over moderate heat melt:
  • 4 Tbs butter
Add and soften:
  • 1 Tbs minced garlic
Stir in and cook for a few minutes:
  • 4 Tbs. all-purpose flour
Take the pan temporarily off the heat and add rosemary milk in a stream in batches, whisking till smooth. Put back on heat and cook until thickened, stir in the roasted squash and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Layer lasagne as described above using:
  • prepared sauce
  • 9 sheets dry no boil lasagne (7" x 3 1/2")
  • 1 1/3 grated or shredded Parmesan cheese
Then whip to soft peaks and spread over the top of the lasagne:

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 tsp salt
Bake as directed above. Serves 6 hearty main course portions.

Adapated from Gourmet Magazine December 1995