Skillet Lasagna with Basil, Italian Sausage, and Butternut Squash
My brain is telling me I should be eating light and healthy meals. My body is saying, comfort food and carbs please! This Skillet Lasagna with Basil, Italian Sausage, and Butternut Squash satisfies them both. A one-pan easy and healthy dinner recipe, it’s both what I feel like I “should” be eating and what I WANT to be eating.
This recipe is sponsored by McCormick.
I believe passionately that enjoying a healthy, balanced diet should never EVER leave you feeling deprived. What inspires my recipes here (and every recipe in my upcoming cookbook) is creating nutritious meals that taste so fabulous, you forget that what you are eating is “healthy.”
This Skillet Lasagna with Basil, Italian Sausage, and Butternut Squash is the perfect example. Every forkful delivers the kind of wrap-you-up, grandma’s-cooking comfort that we seek from lasagna, but the ingredient lineup is shockingly good for you (just like in this Sweet Potato Pasta).
We’re talking lean protein, whole grains, and (GASP!) hidden veggies (a lot of them).
Here’s how the healthy skillet lasagna magic happens!
How to Make Healthy Skillet Lasagna That Tastes Like the Real Deal
The key to making a slimmed-down skillet lasagna that doesn’t skimp on a morsel of flavor is simple swaps. These are swaps you can apply to any recipe, not just lasagna, and are some of my most frequently used tips and tricks to cook more healthfully at home.
- Use Italian Turkey Sausage or Italian Chicken Sausage. One of my favorite ingredients! While you might notice the swap if you were eating only a plain Italian sausage on a bun, when you use Italian sausage in a recipe that has other elements like this tasty skillet lasagna, you won’t notice one bit. It also has oodles more flavor than standard ground chicken or ground turkey and (this is key) it does not taste dry AT ALL.
I opted to make this a sweet Italian sausage recipe, but you can certainly swap spicy Italian sausage if you are craving some extra heat.
- Herbs and Spices. These ingredients deliver mega flavor without adding to the calorie count. For this skillet lasagna, I used McCormick Basil and McCormick Parsley. The basil especially gives the lasagna a true classic Italian flavor.
- Whole Wheat Pasta. Another trick I love to keep up my sneaky-swap sleeve. Whole wheat pasta is higher in fiber than regular white pasta. This skillet lasagna recipe calls for no-boil (oven-ready) noodles to save on time.
If your store doesn’t carry oven-ready whole wheat noodles, they are available online. You can also parcook regular whole wheat lasagna noodles and then use them in the recipe as directed.
- Fully Flavored Cheeses. Since cheese is a more indulgent ingredient, I like to use less of a cheese that has a stronger flavor so that the net taste is the same as if I’d used a larger quantity of a more mild cheese.
In this skillet lasagna recipe, my pick is fontina, an idea I picked up from (ironically) the Pioneer Woman.
If you can’t find fontina, a mild provolone or a mild gruyere are good alternatives. If all else fails, mozzarella is classic, so you can certainly use it here too.
- Hidden Veggies. Believe it or not, the sauce in this recipe is nearly half butternut squash! I sautéed, mashed, and then mixed the squash together with regular marinara sauce.
Not only is the flavor combination of the squash and marinara lovely (the sweetness of the butternut squash offsets the acidity of the tomatoes), you could not even tell the squash was there! Instead, it tasted like a particularly delicious tomato sauce.
I also added a full pack of frozen spinach to the sausage mixture. Its flavor is so mild, you can’t taste it, though it does look green. If you have picky eaters who won’t touch the lasagna with green visible, you can omit it.
This skillet starts out on the stove, then finishes in the oven. I tested a no-bake version but found that it took so long to cook through on the stovetop completely that it was worth popping in the oven to save time.
You can make this a cast iron skillet lasagna if you have a skillet that’s large enough (heads up, it will be heavy!). I used the 3.5-quart braiser you see pictured. Any deep, ovenproof dish with a lid will do nicely.
Don’t own a skillet that’s large enough to hold all of the lasagna layers? You can cook the squash and sausage in a smaller skillet on the stove, then layer the lasagna in a regular baking dish instead.
What to Serve with Skillet Lasagna
- Salad. A tasty salad like this Antipasto Salad would pair nicely.
- Veggies. Serve a healthy side dish like Roasted Brussels Sprouts or Roasted Zucchini.
- Appetizer. Start your meal off with these easy and delicious Pesto Pinwheels.
Other Tasty Lasagna Recipes
I am SO excited for the scrumptious and healthy recipes that I have in store for you this year. This Skillet Lasagna with Basil, Italian Sausage, and Butternut Squash feels like an especially wonderful way to begin.
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil - divided
- 4 cups 3/4-inch-cubed butternut squash - about 1 small 1 1/4 pound squash
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt - divided
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper - divided
- 2 teaspoons dried basil
- 1 teaspoon dried parsley
- 1/3 cup water
- 1 24-ounce jar good-quality marinara sauce - I used a roasted garlic basil variety
- 1 pound ground Italian chicken sausage or Italian turkey sausage - sweet or spicy
- 1 10-ounce package frozen spinach - thawed and drained with as much water pressed out as possible
- 1 cup part-skim ricotta cheese or low-fat cottage cheese
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese - divided
- 1 cup shredded fontina cheese - divided (if you can't find fontina, swap mild provolone or mild gruyere (better), or mozzarella (still good))
- 6 no-boil oven-ready lasagna noodles - whole wheat if possible (see Notes if you cannot find oven-ready)
- Place one rack in the center of the oven and one in the upper third. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
- In a large ovenproof skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium heat. Add the squash, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, basil, and parsley. Stir to coat, then add in 1/3 cup water. Cover and cook until the squash is softened, about 15 minutes.
- Once the squash cubes are completely tender, remove them to a large mixing bowl (a large spoon works well for this). Discard any water that remains in the bottom of the pan. With a fork or potato masher, mash the squash well. Stir in the pasta sauce.
- Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil in the same skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sausage, remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Cook, breaking apart the meat so that it is in small bits. Cook until golden and cooked through, about 4 minutes.
- Add the spinach to the sausage and break it apart so that it is mixed up with the meat. Let cook until any remaining liquid has evaporated (this should only take a minute or two), then remove the skillet from the heat. Transfer the sausage-spinach to a second large bowl and set aside. Stir in the ricotta and 1/4 cup Parmesan.
- Lightly coat the skillet with nonstick spray or drizzle with a bit of additional olive oil.
- Assemble the lasagna in the skillet: Spread 1 cup of the squash-marinara mixture back into the bottom of the skillet (it will be very thick). Cover with 2 lasagna noodles. Next, spread half of the sausage-ricotta mixture on top of the noodles, then sprinkle with 1/3 cup of the fontina. Add another layer of 2 noodles, the remaining sausage-ricotta mixture, half of the remaining squash-marinara mixture, and the next 1/3 cup remaining fontina. Top with the remaining 2 noodles, then the remaining squash-marinara and fontina. Sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan.
- Cover the skillet with a lid or piece of aluminum foil. Bake in the center of the oven for 20 minutes, then uncover and continue baking until the sauce is hot and the pasta is tender, about 5 to 10 additional minutes. Check at the 10-minute mark. If the edges seem dry, drizzle 1/4 cup water around the edges of the skillet, then re-cover and continue baking as directed.
- Turn the oven to broil and transfer the uncovered lasagna to the rack in the upper third of the oven. Broil until the cheese is extra bubbly and lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Watch it carefully and do not walk away so that it doesn't burn. Let rest 5 minutes before serving.
- If you cannot find oven-ready lasagna noodles, you can use regular lasagna noodles. Precook them in boiling water according to package instructions, for 1 to 2 minutes less than the cook time, since they will continue to cook in the oven. The noodles should be very chewy and a bit harder than al dente when added to the lasagna.
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