Time to Think About Thanksgiving Recipes
Tall, green leeks stand like soldiers in my otherwise barren garden. Next to them are just a few cabbages (their outer leaves dotted with frost), Brussels sprouts, onions, and carrots holding on through the newly frosted nights and cold, white-dusted mornings.
It’s transition time, and I don’t do well with big change. And yet I choose to live in a place where, at the very least, change happens four times a year. And now it’s time for me to say goodbye to the gardening season, and that’s never easy. So I put on my grungiest jeans and a ripped old sweatshirt and grab a big basket and a few gardening tools and went outside to say goodbye to what may go down as my most prolific garden ever. 2010 was the year of intense summer heat, moderate rain, and a ton of fruits and vegetables. I wish I had counted the number of plump tomatoes I picked this summer and early fall, and the basketsful of garlic, onions, shallots, and leeks. The squash was there when I needed it (and often when I didn’t), the patty pans being the most adorable and juicy of all. I made countless trips to the raspberry patch (my freezer is filled with the ones we didn't devour right away) and our salad bowl has been filled with a combination of greens since early May.
I picked some of the final vegetables and left the others to wait until Thanksgiving, when I will cook them for my gathered family and friend). Out came the shovel to dig up a good size area to plant this year’s garlic bulbs, pushing the cloves into the cool earth and patting them down like a mother tucking her child into bed. I wished the garlic a good winter and hope for another harvest like 2010.
I brought several butternut squash into the kitchen (the rest go "down cellar" for later in the winter) and lined them up on my countertop, admiring their creamy beige color and sexy shape, with their heavy bottoms and long, elegant “necks.” And that gorgeous bright-orange flesh, with its sweet subtlety, calls to me to start cooking.
I started thinking about Thanksgiving and what I might make with those squash for our upcoming feast. I decided to try a new recipe (a rehearsal for the upcoming holidays), creating a butternut squash and potato gratin. A gratin, a classic French recipe, is a dish in which ingredients (generally potatoes, or vegetables) are thinly sliced and layered with cream or milk and dusted with cheese and/or breadcrumbs. It’s a wonderful dish, but one that can be quite rich and heavy. I wanted to lighten it up a bit by layering Yukon Gold potatoes and butternut squash with low-fat milk (and no cream), olive oil instead of butter, and a light dusting of grated Parmesan cheese with no breadcrumbs. The result is a brightly colored dish (the orange from the squash really shines) that is at once sweet, savory, and rich — without ever feeling heavy. It makes a great Thanksgiving side-dish to turkey or can be served on its own with a winter salad and crusty bread.
Butternut Squash and Yukon Gold Potato Gratin
1 1/2 tablespoon olive oil, or butter cut into small cubes
1 1/2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
1 1/2 pounds butternut squash, peeled, deseeded, and thinly sliced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons flour
½ cup finely chopped scallions, white and green sections
1 ½ cups low fat or no fat milk
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Grease the bottom of a gratin dish or ovenproof skillet or shallow casserole (my gratin dish is 14” long by 10” wide by 2” deep) with a teaspoon of the oil or butter. Using half the potatoes and squash, alternate slices of squash and the potatoes forming a solid bottom layer of the vegetables. Sprinkle with half the flour, half the scallions, and a generous dusting of salt and pepper. Drizzle with half the remaining oil or butter. Repeat with the remaining ingredients. Pour the milk on top, making sure to moisten the flour on top of the vegetables. The dish can be covered and refrigerated for several hours until ready to bake.
Place the dish on the middle shelf of the preheated oven and bake for 30 minutes. Loosely cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake another 20 minutes. Remove the foil, raise the temperature back up to 400 degrees, and evenly sprinkle the cheese over the top. Bake another 10 to 15 minutes, or until the potatoes and squash are tender and the milk has been absorbed and the cheese is melted. Serve hot. Serves 4 to 6.