Taleggio is a semisoft cheese and I love it. It’s soft and best of all it’s stinky. With a pinky/orange rind it smells like a farmyard, but get it in your mouth and you don’t taste pigsties, you get fermenting fruit and cream.
At this time of year, as the damp cold begins to settle around us, I start to look to foods from colder places. Alpine cheeses remind me of snowy days and warm restaurants that smell like wet boots and log fires. I begin to crave the tang of gruyere, the almost overripe apple of taleggio and the soft stringiness of raclette.
I’ve been thinking of how to take lasagne into winter. My usual go-to is to layer up aubergine, squash and courgette with rich tomato, milky mozzarella and fresh basil (if you like the sound of it you can find it here). It’s a dish that captures the last heady days of summer, when there’s a slight cooling to the evening air. However, it’s not what I want went all I’m dreaming of is snow flurries and blankets.
Therefore this taleggio lasagne is both the product of my winter wants and tinkering in the kitchen. Savoury mushrooms, sweet leeks and roasted squash are lifted by crunchy walnuts and the greenness of kale. Extremely seasonal there’s no tomato, as I think it would fight with the taleggio, losing the comforting creaminess of this dish.
Do not be tempted to take the rind off the taleggio for this dish, you want the alpine tang to permeate the dish (and it will make your house smell like a chalet too). It sounds weird, but it would be awfully bland and not worth eating without it.
You can make the vegetables up to a day in advance and leftovers will keep for a couple of days, covered, in the fridge. Reheat for five minutes per portion in the microwave.
Unfortunately taleggio isn’t vegetarian as it uses animal rennet in production. You could use brie instead, but you will lose out on some of the pungency of this dish.
Taleggio lasagne bianca
Serves 4 – takes 1.5 hours total
Half a large squash cut into 0.5cm circles
5 tblsp salted butter
Two large leeks, green parts removed and cut into 0.5cm coins
400g chestnut mushrooms, diced fine
1 tsp chilli flakes
1 tsp died thyme
400g kale, shredded, remove any thick stalks
Juice of 1 lemon
3 tblsp plain flour
600ml whole milk
1/4 nutmeg, very finely grated
100g walnuts, chopped roughly
200g taleggio, sliced into thin slices (rind kept on)
Dried lasagne sheets
Salt and pepper
Oil for frying and roasting
- Heat the oven to 180c fan and whilst the oven is coming up to heat prep all the veg. One the oven is hot enough place the squash onto a large baking tray in one layer, drizzle with the oil and season (use two trays or bake in batches if you can’y get them all on one layer). Place in the oven and check after twenty minutes – you want the slices soft and slightly browning at the edges. Once they are done take out and keep to the side. Leave the oven on if you’re making this in one stage.
- Whilst the squash is in the oven place a medium frying pan onto a medium-low heat and add two tblsp of the butter. Let it melt, add the leeks and drop the heat to low. Cook the leeks until they begin to become translucent and soft, do not let them brown – this will take thirty minutes (and yes, it’s worth it).
- As the leeks are cooking place a large frying pan onto a medium high heat. Add a glug of oil and the mushrooms, cook until they are beginning to brown and have reduced to a soft mush. Add seasoning, the chilli and the thyme and stir until combined.
- Add the kale and stir round. Squeeze the lemon over the kale and stir again, letting the lemon steam the kale. Place a lid over and cook until the kale stalks have softened (the kale will discolour a little, this is fine). Add the leeks to the kale and mushrooms, stir to combine and place to one side.
- Make the béchamel by putting 3 tblsp of butter in a medium saucepan on a medium heat, as it melts add the flour and combine. Once the butter and flour has made a roux start to add the milk a little at a time, stirring continuously to completely combine before adding more milk. Season to taste and add the nutmeg. The béchamel needs to get to the constancy of double cream (you might need to ahold back or add more milk depending on your flour). This is a little looser than usual, but this helps with the cooking of the pasta in the absence of tomato sauce.
- In an oven dish start to layer your lasagne. I use a 30cm wide round dish and get two layers of pasta in – this isn’t about millions of pasta layers, it’s about holding the sweet, cheesy vegetables together. Place a small spoon of béchamel in the bottom of the dish and add a layer of pasta sheets. Then add the squash, mushroom/kale/leeks/walnuts, more béchamel, taleggio and then another layer of pasta. Repeat reserving enough béchamel, a handful of nuts and four slices of the cheese for the top.
- Place in a 180 c fan oven for half an hour. Check the pasta with a knife, you want it soft all the way through the middle. If it needs a little longer place some foil over the top so the cheese doesn’t catch too much. You want it brown and bubbling, but not burnt.
- This is a rich dish, so serve with a simple lemon and extra virgin olive oil dressed watercress salad.
More squash recipes
Blue cheese and pumpkin pasties can he found here.