The recipe I’m sharing today is one I made for Christmas. I wish I could get my act together and actually post the things I make within a reasonable period of time, but, alas, I’m just not that good.
Many of my family members don’t eat meat regularly if at all, and my contribution to the dinner table on Christmas was a meat-free entrée. It took me about 5 minutes to decide I wanted to make something involving butternut squash since I’d never worked with it before and had always wanted to try it. Something about the squash’s vibrant orange color, sweet sturdiness and its seemingly endless possibilities intrigued me. All of those factors, plus the fact that the squash is hearty and very reminiscent of winter and warm, comfort food, sent me googling for the perfect dish. The recipe I chose, from Bon Appetit, was a Butternut Squash Gratin.
The list of ingredients is unusually intriguing. Roasted butternut squash mingles with butter sautéed leeks and fresh sage. It’s then topped with soft, creamy goat cheese, and toasted hazelnuts. This mixture is layered twice and then, finally, sprinkled with heavy cream. The combination is astounding and subtly luscious. While the flavors and textures combine marvelously, there’s still a clear distinction between the ingredients. They’re all individually recognizable and maintain their proper shape, texture and flavor. Married together in the gratin, though, the combination is perfect.
The gratin is very simple to make and manages to add a novel dimension to any ordinary Christmas dinner. You can actually put together the entire dish (minus the heavy cream and hazelnuts, which you’ll add right before putting the gratin in the oven), a day before you eat it. Then, just cover it in aluminum foil and give it a spot in the refrigerator overnight. It’ll be perfectly fine.
Bon Appetit suggests you drizzle an entire cup of heavy cream over the top of the gratin, but this amount really isn’t necessary. You can add half a cup and the dish will still have a rich, creaminess throughout. Imagine the combination of sweet roasted squash, tender, slightly oniony leeks, tart, creamy goat cheese, the occasional crunch of a toasted hazelnut and then a touch of velvety cream. Imagine all of that with a light layer of warm steam billowing out of the casserole dish as you pull it out of the oven. That’s some good food right there.
One note in case, like me, you’re not familiar with preparing butternut squash: Before you start peeling and cutting, put the squash in the microwave for 5-10 seconds to make it slightly tender. This will make it easier to cut. Then, cut off the round bulb part so you have a better grip on the squash when you peel it with the knife.
Butternut Squash Gratin
Yield: 8-10 servings
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour, 20 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour, 50 minutes
2 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded, cut into bite sized cubes
2 tbsp. olive oil
4 tbsp. (1/2 stick) butter, divided
3 cups sliced leeks (white and pale green parts only)
1 1/2 tsp. fresh sage, chopped (if you only have dry, use about ¾ tsp.)
1 5.5-ounce log soft fresh goat cheese
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup hazelnuts, toasted, skin removed, coarsely chopped
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
Put the butternut squash and olive oil in a large bowl and mix them together well. Toss the squash with salt and freshly ground pepper, coating each piece well. Spread the butternut squash onto a baking sheet and roast it in the oven until the pieces turn brown and they are tender, about 35 minutes. Stir occasionally while the butternut squash roasts.
In the mean time, melt 3 tbsp. butter over medium-low heat in a heavy bottomed skillet. Add the leeks, sage and a pinch of both salt and pepper. Saute the mixture until tender but don’t let it brown too much. This will take about 15 minutes.
Take your casserole dish (it should be about 11x17 and coat it with the remaining tbsp. of butter to keep the gratin from sticking. Cover the bottom of the dish evenly with half of the leek mixture and then top with half of the butternut squash and half of the goat cheese (You can dot the cheese throughout the casserole dish; it’ll spread out once it melts.) Then repeat this again. First the rest of the leeks, then the rest of the butternut squash, finally the rest of the goat cheese.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Pour the cream over the gratin evenly and sprinkle with toasted hazelnuts right before putting the gratin in the oven. Bake the gratin, uncovered, in the oven for 30 minutes (if you had previously refrigerated it, bake for 40 minutes.) It’ll be done when the top browns slightly and the cheese begins bubbling.
Adapted from Bon Appetit