Discover more from Letters from Tuscany
Lasagna with roasted squash, taleggio, and guanciale
and how we developed the recipe for Cecchi Winery
Ciao, how are you feeling this early Autumn Friday? The world seems a little scarier every day, for us and especially for our children, and for all children. I do not ignore what is happening, I try to read and understand, and then I seek refuge in humble activities, grounding walks, and good food. I hope this space of ours can turn into a corner of serenity and beauty.
I’m wearing socks for part of the day, so it means that Autumn has finally arrived in this corner of Tuscany. Along with socks, a light quilt is now covering the bed, for the happiness of Teo, our shy, rescue dog, who loves nothing more than curling in between us at night.
Today’s recipe was born as a collaboration with Cecchi, a winery in the Chianti region that borders Val d’Elsa, where we live. My relationship with Cecchi dates back to 2012 when I cooked a Christmas lunch here at home for some of their employees, which then became a Christmas series on the blog with a serialized Tuscan Christmas menu paired with their wine.
Since then, we’ve created different content through the years, mainly as recipe developers, one of the aspects of our job that we absolutely love (scroll to the bottom of the email to discover those recipes). That’s why today’s recipe is unlocked for everyone.
I hope this recipe will bring you a sense of warmth and conviviality.
The history of the Cecchi family began in 1893 with Luigi Cecchi, an extremely talented wine taster. The Cecchis soon became famous abroad for their skills. In the 1970s they moved to Castellina in Chianti, in the area historically famous for the production of Chianti Classico, and there they began their wine-making adventure. In the following years, they expanded their production areas to include Maremma, the southern coast of Tuscany.
Cecchi was one of the pioneers of wine production in Maremma, where they make one of the most representative local wines, Morellino di Scansano, and various wines in the appellation (rosé wine made of Sangiovese, a white wine made of Vermentino and Merlot). The new wine introduced in 2023 is La Mora Toscana IGT, a blend of Sangiovese and Merlot.
To celebrate their new wine, we developed a recipe that could complement La Mora Toscana IGT and that well represented the idea of conviviality.
In today’s newsletter, instead of sharing directly the recipe, I’d love to shed some light on the creative process, showing you how I came up with a recipe that could complement La Mora Toscana IGT wine.
This is an aspect of our job that I adore: a pen and a notebook, my favourite cookbooks as inspiration and reference, a deep dive into seasonality and my appetite: I love to write about the things I crave in a season and a moment of my life.
How I came to today’s recipe for lasagna
Everything starts with the tasting of La Mora Toscana IGT.
With an intense ruby red color and violet reflections, it presents a complex aromatic profile reminiscent of ripe red fruits and a sweet spicy note accompanied by hints of cocoa. The palate entry is ample and enveloping. The tasting experience progresses with good freshness, with well- integrated acidity and tannic structure. The finish is savory and persistent.
Ideal paired with cured meats and cheeses, as well as pasta dishes and main courses based on meat or flavorful vegetables.
When we tasted La Mora Toscana IGT, with the help of their pairing notes, I knew it had to be pasta—homemade pasta, as at the moment this is what excites me the most—with plenty of seasonal vegetables and some cheese. I had thus laid the outline of the dish idea, narrowing my research to one course.
Even though eggplants and peppers are still the main vegetables I cook these days, as our Italian summer is stretching well into October—I won’t hide how alarming this climate situation is right now—my mental season is set into autumn, fostered by the warm, oblique light that lights up the countryside during my after-work walk.
Searching for a pasta dish based on flavourful vegetables, my mind and my appetite set on squash, roasted, with nutmeg, taleggio cheese, and maybe some crisp guanciale to match the sweet, spicy notes of the wine.
A change in appetite and season means also a shift in the herbs I use. Basil, parsley, and mint make way for the woody notes of rosemary and sage.
Sage looked especially right for the dish I was assembling in my mind, and Niki Segnit confirmed my assumption in the sage entry of her The Flavour Thesaurus.
“A rugged herb, not to all tastes. Some find it too strong, too bitter, or are put off by the medicinal associations of its camphorous-eucalyptus flavor. (…). Fresh or dried, sage has a particular affinity for dense, sweet-savory foods that benefit from its pronounced flavor and bitter finish—butternut squash, white beans, cooked onions, pork and chicken.” - The Flavor Thesaurus: A Compendium of Pairings, Recipes and Ideas for the Creative Cook, by Niki Segnit
Another important aspect to include in the recipe development process is conviviality.
What food conjures conviviality for you? Is it more a soup, served with a ladle directly from the pot, a tray of roasted vegetables topped with crumbled cheese, where everyone can pick their favourite combination of vegetables, or a shrimp tartare with burrata?
What screams conviviality to me is lasagna, because I can make it in advance and just reheat it before serving, thus meaning I will be part of that convivial scene of people sitting at a table, chatting, and sharing the food, rather than being confined in the kitchen to give the last touches to a dish. Lasagna is also the embodiment of traditional family gatherings around long tables, of a crowd-pleasing food, that delights both those who like the crips corners and those who go for the creamy, buttery central pieces.
So, what food conjures conviviality for you?
This is how I came to the idea of a lasagna made from scratch, with sage-laminated lasagna sheets, taleggio, roasted squash, and guanciale. And here’s the recipe for you.
RECIPE - LASAGNE CON ZUCCA, TALEGGIO E GUANCIALE - Lasagna with roasted squash, taleggio, and guanciale
Don’t get intimidated by the steps and the long list of (easy-to-find) ingredients. Just tackle one step at a time.
Notes on the ingredients
Guanciale. Guanciale is an Italian cured meat product prepared from pork jowl or cheeks. Its name comes from guancia, the Italian word for cheek. Yes, this is what you should be using to make carbonara and gricia. Even though it is harder than pancetta, that comes from the pig belly, it can be easily substituted with the same amount of pancetta, if this is what you can find. For a vegetarian version of this lasagna, skip it or substitute it with pan-fried mushrooms (fresh porcini, dry porcini, or chanterelles).
Taleggio. Taleggio is a cow cheese produced in Val Taleggio, an Alpine valley in the Italian region of Lombardy. The smell is strong—stinkly we could say—with a robust and complex flavour profile. Expect it to be creamy and buttery. It’s great for melting in sauces, gratins, polenta, and savoury tarts. If you cannot find Taleggio, use Fontina or Brie instead.
Butternut squash. Butternut squash—or zucca violina, as it is known in Italy for its violin shape—can be roasted without peeling if the skin is not too thick. This is always my go-to solution as it saves up so much time.
Homemade lasagna sheets. Usually, when I make lasagna at home, I also like to make my own sheets of fresh pasta. Rolling the dough by hand with a pasta machine relaxes me, it is my meditative time. In this recipe, I decided to make them by hand to laminate them with the sage leaves. It gives a surprising flavour note from the first bite. If you don't have time you can use ready-made lasagna sheets.
1 kg butternut squash, seeds removed, cut into 1cm cubes
⅓ cup/80 ml extra virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
2 sprigs of sage
2 sprigs of rosemary
Homemade lasagne sheets
160 grams 0 flour, or all-purpose flour
40 grams semolina flour
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
1 pinch salt
a handful of young sage leaves
60 grams of all-purpose flour
60 grams unsalted butter
1 l whole milk
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
200 grams guanciale, or pancetta, diced
4 sage leaves
250 grams taleggio cheese, cubed (see notes on the ingredients for alternatives)
100 grams Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
30 grams unsalted butter
Prepare the roasted squash.
Preheat the oven to 200°C (400 degrees F).
Collect the cubed squash in a bowl, drizzle with the olive oil, and dress it with salt and nutmeg. Stir to evenly distribute the dressing, then pour the cubed squash onto a large, rimmed baking sheet. Use a spatula to pour all the oil from the bowl.
Shake the baking sheet to distribute the squash, then scatter the top with sage and rosemary.
When the oven is hot, transfer the baking sheet into the oven and bake for about 1 hour, until the squash is golden, glistening with oil, and cooked through. Set aside. This can be made in advance and kept in the fridge for up to 2 days.
Make the homemade lasagna sheets.
Pour the all-purpose flour and the semolina flour on a wooden working surface and shape them into a mound with a large well in the centre. Crack in the eggs, then pour in the olive oil and add a pinch of salt.
Using a fork, stir slowly, starting from the centre and gradually picking up more flour from the edges, whisking as if you are beating eggs for an omelette. When the dough turns crumbly, switch to kneading with your hands.
Continue kneading the ball of dough until the gluten starts to develop, as this will render the sheets of pasta stronger. When the ball of dough is smooth, silky, and no longer sticky, wrap it in plastic wrap, or cover it with a bowl, then let rest for 30 minutes at room temperature before using it.
Prepare the béchamel sauce.
Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. When melted, spoon in the flour and whisk for a few minutes until golden. You should smell a nice toasted aroma. Pour the cold milk in a thin stream, stirring constantly with a whisk to avoid lumps.
Cook the béchamel sauce for a few minutes, still stirring constantly, until thickened. Your whisk should leave visible trails in the sauce.
Season with salt and grated nutmeg. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside.
Now prepare the lasagne.
Preheat the oven to 200°C (400 degrees F).
In a large pan, collect the guanciale and the sage leaves, then cook on medium flame until the guanciale is golden and crisp. Set aside.
Roll out the dough into paper-thin sheets of pasta. If you want to laminate the lasagna pasta sheets with sage, to enhance the aroma, follow the procedure illustrated in this post on the blog. Leave the pasta sheets on a tablecloth dusted with semolina flour.
Have all the other ingredients ready nearby. If the béchamel sauce is cold, reheat it until warm. Grease a 20x30cm (11- x 15-inch) baking dish with butter.
Spread some of the béchamel sauce across the bottom of the baking dish, just enough to make a thin, even layer.
Now we’re going to make 4 layers, so mentally divide all your ingredients into 4 equal parts. Line the bottom of the baking dish with enough sheets of pasta to cover it. Spoon some of the béchamel sauce over the pasta sheets and spread it into a thin, even layer. Scatter the roasted squash, guanciale, and taleggio on top of the béchamel, then sprinkle with grated Parmigiano Reggiano. Cover the béchamel sauce with more sheets of pasta, and repeat for three more layers.
Distribute a few slivers of butter over the top.
Bake for about 45 minutes or until golden brown and bubbling.
Serve immediately, or better yet, let it rest for a few hours, or even better, until the next day, and reheat just before serving.
Any leftovers can be kept in the fridge for up to three days. It freezes well, so you can even make the lasagna in advance and freeze it in a try once baked. Thaw in the fridge overnight and reheat it thoroughly in a moderately hot oven before serving.
More recipes we created with Cecchi
Here you can find other recipes we’ve created in the past few years to be paired with Cecchi’s wines.
Stewed Guinea Fowl. Faraona in salmì, stewed guinea fowl, is a dish that has a strong sense of family, of festive days worth celebrating, a recipe whose aromas are very close to game meat, but that is at the same time accessible and easy to make.
Pollo alla Cacciatora. Chicken cacciatore is a traditional recipe born in the Italian countryside, with a robust taste and a thick, rustic sauce.
Ossobuco alla Fiorentina, Braised veal shank. Ossobuco is a dish representing the Tuscan cucina povera: a cheap cut of meat, braised in tomato sauce with patience and care, which becomes highly satisfying.
Lasagne alla bolognese, with ragù Bolognese, béchamel sauce and Parmigiano Reggiano. A classic, traditional meat sauce, made with mixed ground meat, not only beef but also pork, for a good amount of fat. Cook it slowly, on the lowest flame, and let it simmer gently for hours.
Caldaro, a Tuscan fish soup from the coast of Maremma. Caldaro is a Tuscan fish soup from the Maremma coast with octopus, cuttlefish, bony fish, mantis shrimp, and clams. Add toasted bread rubbed with garlic.