If you know me in real life, you have probably heard me speak in hushed, wondrous tones about my undergraduate advisor. For brilliant-school-reasons, of course,
but mostly because she has this kind of magical aura of peaceful wisdom. The cardinal example in my mind: one time she made this a lasagna based on carrot puree and it was so good and strange and new and she was like "oh, yes, I learned how to make this on a fellowship in Rome" and I knew right then that I wanted to be an academic. Not for the international travel, but in order to have the free time and gentle disposition to cook mysterious dishes like lasagnas based on bechamel. After years of fantasizing about this carrot lasagna, I decided to copy it with the sweet potatoes that were kicking around my house. If you make your own ricotta, this is incredibly cheap and delicious.
SWEET POTATO LASAGNA
+ 3/4 lasagne noodles (not no-boil)
+ ricotta cheese (a tub, or however much a half-gallon of milk makes)
+ 2 sweet potatoes
+ 4 cups of milk
+ cracked black pepper
+ parmesan cheese, grated (1/2 a cup? As much as you have or want)
+ a clove of garlic, minced
+ 5 T butter
+ 4 T flour
-- Boil the lasagna noodles until al dente then fish them out and try to lay them on paper towels so they don't stick to each other. YEAH RIGHT.
-- Microwave or bake your sweet potatoes until they are done, then take the skins off and mash them.
-- Preheat the oven to 375.
-- Now start making a bechamel sauce. Yes! Maybe this is old-hat to "real cooks" but to me they are just kind of magical, kind of like the carrot lasagna itself. One time my friend Adam's mom made us Hollandaise sauce in a hotel suite and my heart just melted. Strong, brilliant women cooking elegant food with love makes me so happy to be alive.
-- Anyway it's totally not hard, even though it does seem kind of mysterious. Heat up the milk with garlic in the microwave or another saucepan. Melt the butter in a pot on the stove and add the flour a little bit at a time, whisking until it's smooth. Let it get kind of toasty and brown, about 6 minutes. Then add the hot milk a little at a time, again making sure everything is smooth and not doughy or gross. Once you have added about half the milk you can just dump in the rest, but keep whisking (or stirring. I don't have a whisk actually. Bootleg) Let it simmer/cook for 10 minutes, stirring & making sure that the milk doesn't get cruddy on the bottom. It should look really thick and creamy, which is also kind of awesome given that you can make this with skim milk. Then remove from heat and season with salt & pepper & nutmeg. I think a lot of black pepper really makes it. Foux de fa fa, you made a classic white sauce!
-- Now layer the lasanga noodles, the mashed sweet potatoes, the cheeses, and the bechamel sauce in a pyrex or whatever. Bake for about 45 minutes until the top is bubbly and your house smells like melted cheese in the best possible way.