The Best Gratin Stars Butternut Squash

Gratin Crush: teams butternut squash and Yukon Golds. Beyond irresistible.

My gratin love started long ago in Paris.

My first family meal in the home of my soon-to-be grandmother-by-marriage, I tasted my first cauliflower gratin. It was a pivotal moment. French cuisine had grabbed my palate and my imagination. How could anything taste, smell and look so delicious?

There have been many gratins in my life since then, but …

Last week I discovered something that could outshine that bubbling-with-cream-and- cheese cauliflower. Searching for new recipes for an upcoming Thanksgiving story for SCNG Newspapers (Southern California News Group that includes the OC Register and Daily News), I chatted with cookbook author Rick Rodgers about his latest book “The Big Book of Sides.”

Rodgers told me that hands down his favorite recipe in the book is the Butternut Squash and Potato Gratin. So I made it and fell in love, again.

It can be baked 8 hours in advance, covered and stored at room temperature for up to eight hours. Nice.

Try it. You will love it, too.

Thanksgiving. Christmas. Or, anytime.

Butternut Squash and Potato Gratin
Yield: 8 servings
2 tablespoons butter, plus more to grease baking dish
2 large leeks or 3 small leeks, washed, chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme
2 cups heavy cream, plus more if needed
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 butternut squash (with thick neck), about 2 pounds
1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Cook’s notes: I used a 9-by-12-inch oval gratin dish. Another time I needed a large gratin dish because I was very ambitious in the amount of butternut squash that I used; for that one I needed 1 1/2 cups of additional cream.

  1. Position rack in center of oven and preheat oven. Generously butter an 11 1/2-by-8-by 2-inch baking dish (you can use a 13-by-9-inch baking dish, adding more squash and cream. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Melt butter in large skillet over medium heat. Add leeks and season with 1/4 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until tender but not browned, about 8 minutes. Stir in thyme. Remove from heat.
  3. Bring cream, paprika and nutmeg to simmer in medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir in 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Remove from heat.
  4. Cut top (neck) off butternut squash where it meets the bulbous bottom (reserve the bulbous part for another use). Peel squash and cut in half lengthwise. Place flat side down and cut into 1/8-inch wide slices with a sharp, sturdy knife (or use a mandoline or V-shaped slicer). Cut potato into 1/8-wide slices, too. In large bowl, toss squash and potato slices.
  5. Spread 1/3 of squash mixture in prepared dish and top with 1/3 of leeks. Pour 1/3 of cream mixture evenly over vegetables. Repeat with another 1/3 of potato mixture, the remaining leeks and another 1/3 of cream mixture. Finish with the remaining squash mixture. Slowly pour remaining cream mixture evenly over vegetable mixture, moving vegetables with a fork to spread them into an even layer, until they are barely covered with cream mixture, adding more cream if needed. Cover baking dish with aluminum foil and place on large rimmed baking sheet. Bake 45 minutes. Remove gratin from oven. Remove foil. Sprinkle with Parmesan. Lower oven temperature to 350 degrees. Continue baking without foil until gratin is golden brown and tender when pierced in center with the tip of a small, sharp knife and the cream has thickened, about 45 minutes. If top becomes too brown before vegetables are tender, tent the gratin with foil, Let stand 10 to 20 minutes before serving.

Source: “The Big Book of Sides” by Rick Rodgers (Ballantine Books, $30)

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