Heal Thyself...

Sometimes you have to learn how to say, "No." I have been over-scheduled this month; between Justin's birthday, Dan's funeral, our anniversary, running all over the city for Open House Chicago, and the endless grind of searching for and applying for jobs, I needed a break. And since I decided to throw a Halloween party next weekend as part of my initiative to ward off depression through socializing and entertaining, that break was going to have to happen this weekend.

I had been planning on going on a girl's weekend with some of my former coworkers, but what had originally been touted as a low-key retreat seemed to be turning into a wild bacchanal the further planning progressed. I knew I just wasn't up for any more craziness in my life, so I bowed out at the last minute in favor of staying close to home and spending some quality time with Justin. It turned out to be just what we both needed.

Earlier today, Justin and I took a walk around our neighborhood and strolled along the lakefront, stopping for a while to watch the waves and reflect on the fact that we had done the exact same thing on one of our first dates, nearly two years ago to the day. Then tonight, we took some time to make dinner together, something that we don't seem to do much of these days. With me being home during the day now, I either finish dinner before Justin gets home, or he makes it himself after work in order to give me extra time to work on job applications. We don't have many opportunities for collaboration these days, and it was nice to get into the kitchen together.

I had chosen a recipe for pumpkin lasagne for us, not only because both spinach and pasta were on sale at the grocery store but because we had several expired cans of canned pumpkin puree in our cabinet that needed to be used. In a fit of passion for Katherine's pumpkin muffins, I had gotten a bit overzealous in stockpiling pumpkin a few years back, and I wanted to be rid of the expired cans even though their contents were still perfectly edible. Since I already knew that I liked pumpkin as a base for pasta sauce, I figured that it would work equally well in lasagne.

Taking a cue from my old pasta with pumpkin recipe, I decided to add some spicy sausage to this otherwise meatless dish. I know, I know, we've been trying to eat less meat lately, but we've had more than a few random links of Italian sausage floating around our freezer for God-knows-how-long now (somebody forgot to label it with a date), and for the moment, clearing out the freezer is a bigger priority for me than experimenting with vegetarianism.

Ultimately, though the sausage worked well with the other flavors in the dish, I think it would have been equally good without it. The combination of warm, fall spices, with creamy pumpkin and sharp, salty Parmesan was definitely a winner. Two whole pounds of spinach made the dish feel healthy, almost enough so to overlook all the heavy cream and cheese. This was truly a perfect dish for a brisk, October night, even if it made rather a lot of food for two people. For this kind of lazy weekend though, I'm going to count that as a bonus as well -- more leftovers means less cooking, which sounds pretty good to me right now...

Pumpkin Lasagne
adapted from Food and Wine

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 onions, chopped
2 lbs. fresh spinach, chopped
2 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon dried sage
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
28 oz. canned pumpkin puree
1 1/2 c. heavy cream
1 1/2 c. Parmesan cheese
1/2 c. milk
9 no-boil lasagne noodles (about 6 oz.)
1 tablespoon butter

1. In a large nonstick frying pan, heat the oil over moderately low heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent, about 5 minutes. Increase the heat to moderately high and add the spinach , 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, 1/2 teaspoon sage, and 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg. Cook, stirring, until the spinach is wilted and no liquid remains in the pan, 5 to 10 minutes. 
2. Heat the oven to 400°. In a medium bowl, mix together 2 cups of the pumpkin, 3/4 cup cream, 1/2 cup Parmesan, and the remaining 1 1/4 teaspoons salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, 1/2 teaspoon sage, and 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg. 
3. Pour the milk into an 8-by-12-inch baking dish. Top the milk with one third of the noodles, then spread half the pumpkin mixture over the noodles. Layer half the spinach over the pumpkin and top with a second layer of noodles. Repeat with another layer of pumpkin, spinach, and noodles. Combine the remaining 1 cup of pumpkin and 3/4 cup of cream. Spread the mixture evenly over the top of the lasagne, sprinkle with the remaining 1 cup of Parmesan, and dot with the butter. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 20 minutes. Uncover and bake until golden, about 15 minutes more.  

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