Before we get to the food today, I just want to talk a bit about the horrible situation in France. The damage done is forever and my heart goes out to all the families of the victims, but I'm trying to focus on the positive--the humanity that so many have shown and continue to show in these difficult days: the heroism of the rescue workers, the generous Parisians opening up their homes and businesses to people in need of shelter, even Americans here, offering up a couch to people stranded by the flight cancellations. It's good to see people sticking together and gives me at least a little bit of hope. The only charity I've found so far that actually gives your donation directly to France is the French Red Cross. The site is in French but you can hit translate and donate any amount you want.
Now back to what we usually do around here--talk about food!! Last week, I promised more great Thanksgiving recipes and here's one that would make a beautiful addition to your holiday table. Thin slices of butternut squash are layered between a garlicky spinach mixture and topped with freshly grated Parmesan cheese on top that gets all browned and crispy. Not only is it pretty to look at and a little different from the usual Thanksgiving fare, but it can also be made the day ahead and finished off when you take the turkey out of the oven! Have I done a big enough sell? Oh, yeah, it tastes fantastic too!
There are some things we don't mess with in our family, like my mom's turkey---it's out of this world good and one of these days, I've got to get her to teach me how to make it, but when it comes to Thanksgiving sides, I always like to try at least one new one a year. My whole family loves butternut squash, so when I saw this recipe, it was a no-brainer and sure enough it did not disappoint--even when I cut out a large amount of the heavy cream. Not that I really believe in counting calories on the holiday, but I don't feel good when food is too rich and besides, lighter dishes leave more room in your tummy for other goodies! Good logic, huh?!
You start by thinly slicing a butternut squash.
Next you combine spinach with some sauteed onions and garlic, spices, milk and a dash of cream.
Then you begin the layering process, starting first with a layer of the squash and then topping it with the spinach mixture and so on, until all of the ingredients have been used up.
You finish things off by sprinkling grated Parmesan over the top and dotting the whole thing with a bit of butter.
When it emerges from the oven, it's all bubbly and golden brown and smells wonderful. The combination of the sweetness of the butternut squash and the slight bitterness of the spinach really works well and the crunchiness of the cheese on top, adds another zing of flavor and texture.
Gotta love those Turkey Day sides!!
Butternut Squash and Spinach Gratin
Serves 8-10 but if you're having a lot of other sides, you could stretch it 12 smaller servings
Prep Time: 1 hour; Bake Time: 1 hour and 20 minutes
3 ten-ounce packages of cut leaf spinach, thawed and squeezed well by small handfuls to remove as much moisture as possible
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for greasing the pan
1 small onion, finely chopped
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup milk (I used 1%--it would be creamier if you used whole)
4 pounds (approximately) butternut squash, peeled, quartered and seeded (I used 2 medium ones)
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1. Cut squash to separate wide bottom section from the narrower neck section and use a sharp knife to cut into thin slices. Set aside. Place the spinach in a large mixing bowl. Set aside.
2. Melt 3 tablespoons of the butter in a large heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring for 3-5 minutes, until they're softened. Add the mixture to the spinach in the bowl as well as the salt, pepper, cream and milk and stir well to combine.
3. Preheat oven to 350ºF and butter a 13x9 baking dish. Beginning and ending with the squash, layer the squash with the spinach mixture until all have been used up. Sprinkle the top with the Parmesan and dot with the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter. Cover the dish with foil and cook for 1 hour or until squash is tender and filling is bubbling.
4. Turn the heat up to 400ºF, remove the foil and bake for another 15-20 minutes, until top is browned in spots.
5. Serve immediately.
6. If you want to make this the day before, do everything through Step 3. Then let cool to room temperature and refrigerate overnight. Take the dish out of the refrigerator about an hour before you're ready to finish it off. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Place covered dish in oven for 15 minutes, then turn to 400ºF, remove the foil and cook for 15-20 minutes more.
Note: Recipe adapted from a 2006 issue of Gourmet Magazine.