Butternut Squash Gratin
(This post appears courtesy of Food Junta.)
It occurs to me that my last post in this space was a gratin also. Well, what can I say? The gratin is a mighty fine dish: It looks impressive, is pretty hard to mess up, and is generally super easy to make, although I confess that this one is a little fiddly and involves some pre-cooking. It’s not complicated, but the instructions do go a bit beyond “dump everything in pan and bake” kind of recipes that I love so much.
It comes from my beloved Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone and is a great use for squash beyond roasting or a simple puree.
Winter squash is everywhere these days, and it’s one of those vegetables – zucchini is the most famous – that people with gardens are always trying to rid themselves of. It’s not that squash isn’t delicious, but it grows so maddeningly well, that people are inclined to sneak into one another’s homes and hide squashes in their cupboards.
Or at least that’s what Garrison Keillor says. But you, like me, don’t live in Lake Wobegon, so you’re probably forced to actually buy your own squash. A tip on that after the jump.
Do not – I repeat, do not – go out and buy the largest squash you see. I bought a five pounder at the market, and it was a gorgeous specimen. But I almost sliced my arm off trying to cut through it. Bigger squash are tougher to prep, and trying to shove a dull knife through a particularly large and difficult one is a terrific recipe for a trip to the emergency room. Start small.
To prep, peel the squash with a vegetable peeler or paring knife, and then cut the thinner neck from the bulbous body. The neck can be cut into 1/2 – 1 inch slices longwise (that is, from the top of the squash where the root was down to where the neck connected to the body), then each slice can be cut into 1/2 – 1 inch square sticks, and then each stick can be sliced into cubes of the same size.
The base is a bit more of a bitch to deal with. Slice it in half and scrape out the seeds with a spoon. Then do your best to repeat the same process you used on the neck. I’ve never been able to reproduce the perfect cubes that recipes suggest, but it always seems to work out just fine. Chop up everything into equal chunks to the best of your ability, remembering that it’s better to err on the side of smaller so that you don’t wind up with hunks of uncooked squash.
Prepping the squash is actually the hardest part of this recipe, so if you get past that, you’re good to go. I do have one major caveat, though, which is that if you are not making your own bread crumbs (Kudos to you if you are. I certainly didn’t.), you should halve the amount called for. Store-bought bread crumbs are much, much finer than homemade and a whole cup will form an impenetrable crust on the top of the gratin. And nobody, but nobody, likes an impenetrable crust.
Deborah Madison’s Butternut Squash Gratin
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 4 cups thinly sliced onions
- 4 thyme sprigs
- 2 TBSP chopped sage (or 2 tsp dried)
- salt and freshly milled pepper
- 6 cups butternut squash, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
- 1/2 cup flour
- 2 TBSP chopped parsley
- 1/2 cup grated Gruyere or Fontina
- 1/2 cup plus 2 TBSP heated whole milk
- 1 cup fresh bread crumbs (Or one half cup store-bought!!!)
Preheat the oven to 350 and butter a 2-quart gratin dish.
Heat half the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, thyme, and sage and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are lightly caramelized, about 15 minutes. Season with 1/2 tsp salt and pepper to taste. Spread in the gratin dish, return the skillet to medium heat, and add the remaining oil.
Toss the squash in the flour, letting the excess fall away. Add it to the pan and cook until it begins to brown in places on both sides, about 7 minutes. Add the parsley, season with salt and plenty of pepper, and cook for one minute more. Layer the squash over the onions, cover with the cheese, then add the milk. Cover and bake for 25 minutes, then uncover, add the bread crumbs, and bake until the top is browned and the liquid absorbed, about 25 minutes more.
(350 is not very hot, and my bread crumbs were not particularly brown after 25 minutes. So I threw the whole dish under the broiler for an extra two minutes. Perfecto.)