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Who's Cooking: Alexandra Bilinski, Riverhead

Alexandra Bilinski developed her butternut squash lasagna to

Alexandra Bilinski developed her butternut squash lasagna to take advantage of in-season veggies. (Oct. 2, 2013) Photo Credit: Randee Daddona

A teaching assistant in special education at Eastern Suffolk BOCES, she lives with her husband, Jerry, in Riverhead.


When did you start cooking?

I didn't start cooking seriously until I was in my 40s and my kids were grown. Then, I had time to enjoy it. I came from a family where my mother was a wonderful cook. I guess it just took a while to sink in.

What did you feed your kids when they were growing up?

They were easy, they wanted mac and cheese with peas every night. Depending on how much I had to do, I would either make my own or serve Kraft.

What was the impetus for your cooking renaissance?

At that time, I was a vegetarian, and I was getting a divorce. I realized that I really liked coming home from work and cooking for myself. I found it very relaxing.

What were some of your vegetarian successes?

I really liked creating my own veggie burgers and pasta dishes using in-season vegetables.

Are you still a vegetarian?

I'm kind of a pseudo-vegetarian now. My husband and I eat vegetarian four nights a week, then we eat some fish, some chicken, occasionally red meat but not too much. But vegetables are still the mainstay.

Do you buy local vegetables?

Living in Riverhead, we are surrounded by vegetables. I love to hit the local farm stands to buy what's in season. It's very inspiring. For example, I was planning on making a vegetable lasagna, and I saw this beautiful local butternut squash. So I made up a squash-lasagna recipe, and it came out really well.

Any other ideas for winter squash?

I roast it until it's tender then put it in a blender with vegetable or chicken stock, some half and half, salt and pepper. That is a delicious fall soup.

 

Butternut Squash Lasagna

1 butternut squash

Olive oil

Salt

Pepper

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons flour

2 cups half and half

8 ounces ricotta cheese

1 egg

8 ounces shredded mozzarella

1/4 cup grated Parmesan

1 9-ounce package no-boil lasagna noodles (or regular noodles, cooked)

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Peel squash with paring knife, then cut into 1/2-inch chunks. (Most markets sell peeled, pre-cut squash; it's fine to use but you may have to cut the pieces a bit smaller.) Place squash on a baking sheet, coat with olive oil, season with salt and pepper. Bake until squash begins to brown, about 15 minutes.

2. In a saucepan, melt butter over medium heat; whisk in flour and cook, stirring, for about 1 minute. Gradually whisk in half and half and cook, whisking constantly, until bubbling and thickened, about 5 minutes. Set sauce (bechamel) aside.

3. Beat together ricotta and egg and add all but a few spoonfuls of mozzarella. Set aside.

4. Spoon a third of the bechamel into a 9 x 11-inch baking dish. Top with half the lasagna noodles, then half the ricotta mixture, then half the squash. Repeat with another third of bechamel and the remaining noodles, ricotta mixture, squash. Spoon the final third of bechamel on top. Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Remove foil, top with remaining of mozzarella and the grated Parmesan and bake until bubbling and lightly browned, about 5 minutes.

5. Allow lasagna to rest for at least 15 minutes before serving. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

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