There are moments during the late winter when all you want is something warm, gooey, and cheesy to eat. I don’t know why I feel this way? And I am sure I am not alone in feeling this way. Maybe it is the very few hours we have of daylight? Well, when you get up in the wee early hours of the morning with no sunlight in sight it is easy to understand. In my opinion with it still cold out in the late winter, days are super short, the nights long and so dark, a dish that comforts the dismal end of winter blues must be satisfying. Something maybe like a Butternut Squash Gratin!?! I have made a potato gratin before, but never tried it with any other vegetable. It was time for this culinary creation to take place.
Earlier in the week I had taken a walk to Pike’s Place Market and picked up some produce. A butternut squash was among the many goodies I purchased with no real plan for it, but now a plan was in place. The great thing about this dish is there is no real recipe, just simple guidelines to make this dish bake up beautifully. Those guidelines being: slicing your butternut squash thinly, having a cheese that melts nicely, a baking dish with a rim no more than 2 inches deep, half & half or cream to poor over it all, and some onion or shallot if you wish. Layer all these things together and bake them until it bubbles and oozes in perfection. Out of the oven comes a dish that is cheesy, comforting, and indulgent.
In this dish the butternut squash remains nutty and slightly sweet. It bakes up nicely and the slices become fork tender nestled between layers of cheese. The cheese melts uniformly, and without an oily mess. I choose to use sliced shallot amongst the cheese. I felt that the sharp and bright flavor of the shallot was just what the cheesiness and sweet butternut squash needed for some distinction. I topped the whole dish with some bread crumbs so that while the dish bakes together, the bread crumbs create a crunchy and crisp topping above the soft and tender filling. What is not to like in this dish? How could you not make it with the late winter hanging over us? I promise you this is just what winter dinner calls for.
Butternut Squash Gratin
Note: this is an easy dish that can be made ahead of time and reheated (while covered) before serving.
Butternut Squash, peeled and thinly sliced (about ¼ inch thick)
Grated Cheese; Swiss, Emmentaler, Gruyere, or Provolone
Onion, or Shallot; thinly sliced
Cream or Half & Half
Sea Salt and Fresh Black Pepper
First, preheat you oven to 400 degrees. Butter your baking dish and place on a baking sheet. Starting with your Butternut Squash, place and even layer across your baking dish (slightly overlapping). Lightly season the squash with sea salt and black pepper. Over the top of the squash scatter some of the onion or shallot. On top of that, sprinkle and even layer of your grated cheese.
Next, you will want to repeat the process above at least two more times. (Making a total of at least three layers.)
Then, take your half & half or cream and pour it over your layers until you can see it rise up until it is almost to the top of it all. Gently sprinkle your bread crumbs over the top of your dish and place a few pats of butter over the top of it.
Finally; with your dish still on the baking sheet place it all in the oven for about 40 minutes (This will depend on the size of your dish and how thick your layers were). Bake it all until the cheese is bubbly & melted, and the topping all crispy. Check its doneness by piercing the squash with a knife, if the squash is tender then it is ready. Remove from the oven and let cool about 15 minutes to let it all settle before serving.