Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Day 22: Winter Squash Gratin

Today was a busy day, and dinner was a bit late.  Usually I plan my menu on Sunday, make a shopping list, and buy groceries so I'm all ready for the next week of cooking.  I didn't do that this Sunday.  And I didn't do it Monday.  So, you got it -- had to do it all today, along with the bill paying, and paper shredding, and, well, the day just got away from me.

So we didn't eat until 7:30 tonight, and suffice it to say everyone was hungry.  Which was good, because I don't think any of us were that impressed with the tonight's dish, Winter Squash Gratin.  It's not a very pretty dish, but everyone agreed they really liked the...uh...sauce.  And the cheese.  Ouch.  Well, nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?  I served the dish as a side to Adelle's Roasted Garlic and Gruyere Cheese Chicken Sausage.

I was surprised how flavorful the sauce was since there was not much seasoning used.  I think that's the big lesson this book has taught me.  Restraint of seasoning does not mean a bland dish.  The recipe gave the choice of using cayenne or paprika, and Fontina or Gruyere.  I used the cayenne and Fontina.  I also used canned diced tomatoes which I strained, and then after cooking for 25 minutes I used the immersion blender to break down the tomatoes in the sauce.  Paul was getting tired of all the Butternut Squash I've been cooking so I used Acorn Squash instead.  (I didn't see any Banana Squash or Sugar Pumpkins in the store.)

There have been two dishes I've prepared during this exercise that I really disliked, and both of them came from  The Greens Cook Book.  Regardless I can still say this is easily my favorite cook book.  The instructions are stellar, the header notes are very informative, and I appreciate the serving suggestions, substitutions, and variations they give.  Sometimes they even list wine pairings!  I've learned so much from this book.

Winter Squash Gratin
The Greens Cook Book
Yield:  Serves 4 to 6

2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 small onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon thyme or 4 to 6 thyme branches
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper or 1/2 tsp paprika
1 pound tomatoes, fresh or canned, peeled, seeded, and finely chopped
Sugar, if necessary
1 winter squash (butternut squash, banana squash, or sugar pumpkin), weighing 2 1/2 to 3 pounds
Oil for frying
4 ounces Fontina or Gruyere cheese, sliced
Fresh herbs:  parsley or marjoram, thyme, finely chopped.

     Heat the olive oil and add the onion, garlic, thyme, bay leaf, and a little salt.  Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the onion is soft; then add the wine and let it reduce by half.  Add the cayenne or paprika and the tomatoes.  Cook slowly for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is thick.  Taste, add a pinch of sugar if the tomatoes are tart, and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
     While the tomatoes are cooking, prepare the squash.  Cut it open, scoop out the seeds and strings, and then, with the flat cut surface resting on the counter, shave off the skin.  (Butternut squash can be easily peeled with a vegetable peeler before it is cut in half.)  Another method is to cut the squash into pieces and then remove the skin from each piece.  This takes more time, but you may find it easier.
     Slice the peeled squash into large pieces about 3 inches long and 1/4 inch thick.  Heat enough oil to generously coat the bottom of a large skillet, and fry the squash on both sides, so that it is browned and just tender.  Remove it to some toweling to drain; then season with salt and freshly ground pepper.
     Preheat the oven to 375.  To form the gratin, put a few spoonfuls of the tomato sauce on the bottom of individual gratin dishes, or use it all to cover the bottom of one large dish.  Lay the squash on top in overlapping layers with slices of the cheese interspersed between the layers.  Bake until the cheese is melted and the gratin is hot, about 15 minutes, and serve with the fresh herbs scattered over the surface.

Tomorrow night:  Pasta with Sweet Potato and Roasted Red Pepper, and Wilted Spinach Salad (looks like another recipe make-up day!)

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