Spinach & butternut lasagne

Look Ma, no meat! Lasagne is just one of the fine dishes immediately available to the beginner cook. In this case we combine roasted butternut with fresh spinach and herbs, smothered – but not overwhelmed – by a bechamel sauce.

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To make this lasagne for four diners, you will need:
1 whole butternut
1 onion
2 cloves garlic
fresh thyme
10 to 15 leaves fresh spinach
A pack of lasagne sheets
Extra-virgin olive oil
A little salt and coarsely ground black pepper
For the bechamel sauce
50g white flour
60g butter
300ml milk
300ml chicken stock

Right, ready to go. Clear a workspace, locate your ingredients and find all the tools you need.
Peel, deseed and dice the butternut. Peel and thinly slice the onion. Crush, peel and mince the two garlic cloves. Make a decision about the oil. While extra-virgin olive oil is the best and most desired, recent reports in the New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/17/dining/17curious.html) suggest that all good food oils are rendered near-identical under the impact of high cooking temperatures. So if canola is what you’ve got, feel liberated enough to use it. Select a couple of fresh sprigs of thyme from the garden and wash carefully.

With the tip of a sharp knife remove the hard white parts of each spinach leaf, then coarsely chop the remaining green leave. Wash these vigorously under a running tap then shake of the moisture. Place the damp spinach in a saucepan, bring up the heat and let it cook until soft. Don’t add extra water and keep an eye on the proceedings.

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When done, remove, drain, squeeze out the cooking water and reserve under cover.Now for the bechamel sauce. Sift the flour. Mix the milk and stock in a jug. In a small pan, melt the butter. Remove the butter pan from the hob and stir in the flour. Return the butter/flour mix in the pan to the hob and apply gentle heat while slowly stirring in the milk/stock combo. That’s it. You’ve made a bechamel sauce and have become a source of wonder, awe and general amazement to those who can’t.

Flushed with understandable pride, you arrange the diced butternut, sliced onion, thyme and minced garlic on an oven tray. Generously sprinkle the oil of your choice over the vegetables and roast them in a preheated oven at 180ºC for 30 minutes.Remove the roasted vegetables from the oven. In an oven dish, arrange alternate layers of lasagne sheets, roasted butternut and onion, cooked spinach and bechamel sauce. When complete, pour the remainder of the sauce over the layered lasagne and bake in the preheated oven at 180ºC for 45 minutes. Serve to roars of applause, accompanied by a fresh, crisp green salad, grated Parmesan cheese on demand and either a faintly fruity white wine or a decidedly unfruity but emotionally satisfying Windhoek Lager fresh from the fridge.