I am probably not the only one who is sad that there are no new CSA vegetables this week. I will miss my weekly trips to the CSA barn, not to mention all the lovely vegetables in my kitchen. I suspect that I’m also not the only one, though, whose CSA share will last at least a few weeks into the future. Scattered around my kitchen are bags of miscellaneous root vegetables; a bowl of sweet potatoes sits on the table beside several butternut squash. My refrigerator still holds slightly too many 2 lb bags of carrots, but I’ve slowly been making my way through the surplus of lovely leeks by making multiple batches of potato-leek soup. First, I made it plain, then enhanced with a bit of celeriac for flavor and most recently, with celeriac and carrot both. It’s not exactly just potato-leek soup anymore, but it’s a lovely light orange from the carrot and makes for a satisfying dinner, especially on a cold night.
People who are more organized than me may know exactly what will be on your Thanksgiving table already, but for those who may still be frantically searching through cookbooks and websites for a recipe for just one more side dish, I have a suggestion for you. The recipe for this butternut squash and creamed spinach gratin was first published in the late, lamented Gourmet magazine in 2006. I ate it several times that year. (A colleague made it for a potluck, and I decided I had to try it myself immediately.) But somehow, I forgot about it until I realized that I had a surfeit of butternut squash and needed to make something festive with them. You know you’re on the right track when you bring your dining companion a plate, and before you’ve even gotten back to the kitchen to get yours (we were eating by the fire the other night when it was freezing out), he starts exclaiming, “Oh my god, what is this? Is there more?”
This would work as a side dish and would also be a fabulous thing to serve the vegetarians at your table. They will not miss the turkey (that they probably weren’t missing in any case) if this is one of their options.
The most time consuming part of this recipe is cutting the squash up. It needs to be very thin. If you have a food processor with a slicing attachment, this is the time to use it. I used my mandoline for a while until I got tired:
And then I used a knife and tried to slice as thinly as possible, with mixed results. If your squash is on the thicker side, know that you might need to cook it a bit longer.
Meanwhile, you cook your spinach. I streamlined the original recipe a bit. It wants you to wilt your spinach first, then chop it and add it to your onions and garlic. Instead, I washed and chopped it first and then added it to the onions and garlic to cook down. (I also used a mix of spinach and chard, which is what I had on hand.) Once it was all cooked, I added the cream directly into the pan, saving another bowl from having to be washed.
And then you start layering your squash and spinach into a buttered pan.
I’ve realized, though, that there is an easy solution to this problem of excess squash. I plan to make another batch, and just in time, as the first one is already gone.
Butternut Squash and Creamed Spinach Gratin
adapted from Gourmet magazine and Epicurious
- 3 pounds fresh spinach, stems discarded, or 3 (10-ounce) packages frozen leaf spinach, thawed (Can also use chard or other greens)
- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter plus additional for greasing pan
- 3/4 cup finely chopped onion (1 small) (Feel free to up this a bit if you want more onions.)
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 3/4 teaspoon black pepper
- Rounded 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (I used less than this–I love fresh nutmeg but too much is overpowering.)
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 4 pounds butternut squash (2 large), peeled, quartered, and seeded (See note above about excess squash)
- 1/2 ounce finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (1/4 cup or more to taste)
- Put oven rack in upper third of oven and preheat oven to 400°F. Butter a 3-quart shallow baking dish (13 by 9 inches; not glass).
- Cut squash to separate bulb section from solid neck section, then cut pieces lengthwise into 1/8-inch-thick slices with slicer (or food processor, mandoline or knife).
- Melt 3 tablespoons butter in an 8-inch heavy skillet over moderately low heat, then cook onion and garlic, stirring, until softened, 3 to 5 minutes.
- Meanwhile, take the stems off of the spinach or chard, wash well and chop roughly.
- When the onions are soft, add the spinach or chard. Stir together and then cover until wilted. (If you’re using both spinach and chard, add the chard first and let it cook for a few minutes before you add the spinach.)
- Once greens are wilted, remove onion-spinach mixture from heat
- Add salt, pepper, nutmeg, and cream and stir to combine.
- Layer squash and spinach mixture in baking dish, using about one fifth of squash and one fourth of spinach for each layer, beginning and ending with squash. You can add Parmesan or Romano cheese in each layer as well if you want more cheese. Sprinkle top layer of squash evenly with cheese and dot with remaining 2 tablespoons butter, then cover directly with a sheet of parchment or wax paper. Bake until squash is tender and filling is bubbling, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove paper and bake gratin until browned in spots, 10 to 15 minutes, or broil 3 inches from heat, 2 to 3 minutes.
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