Overnight, the weather in Chicago dropped from a balmy 75 degrees to the 40’s. Shivering on my way home from my exercise class this morning, all I could think of was hot soup – and how long until lunch. Gratins are another terrific comfort food in cold weather, but we always tend to make them with potatoes. How about a gorgeous combo of butternut squash, goat cheese and crunchy pecans – or a spinach gratin with crisp bacon and Parmesan cheese?
BUTTERNUT SQUASH & PECAN GRATIN WITH GOAT CHEESE (6 servings)
So good, you can serve at Thanksgiving instead of sweet potatoes. Or pair this gratin with a big crisp green salad and you’ve got dinner anytime.
2 tablespoons unsalted butter + more for greasing baking dish
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups heavy cream
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2-1/2 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1/4-inch slices
1-1/2 cups pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped, divided
4 ounces fresh goat cheese, crumbled, divided
Garnish: 3 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-left parsley
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Generously butter a 9 by 13-inch (3 quart) gratin dish or shallow casserole. Set aside.
In a large sauté pan, melt the butter over medium-high heat.
Add onion and cook until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add cream, salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Add the squash and half the pecans and return to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer gently for 5 minutes.
Transfer half of the squash mixture to the prepare gratin dish. Dot with half the goat cheese. Cover with the remaining squash mixture and sprinkle the remaining goat cheese over the top.
Place the gratin on a study baking sheet. Bake until the squash is very tender, the cream is mostly absorbed and the top is golden, about 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with the remaining pecans and the parsley. Let rest for 10 minutes before serving.
CREAMY SPINACH GRATIN (4 servings)
You could make this with fresh spinach but you’d need a pound of it. Then comes the cleaning and the stemming and the steaming. Life’s too short! Frozen chopped spinach is the way I go. You could also be chic and substitute kale.
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided + more for greasing baking dish
1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs
Kosher salt and freshly grated black pepper
1 cup heavy cream
2 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
3 strips bacon
2 boxes thawed, frozen chopped spinach, drained and wrung out in a tea towel
Pinch of grated nutmeg
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano, or a combination of Parmesan and another hard cheese such as Gruyere, Emmental, or aged Gouda
Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Have ready a shallow 4-cup ceramic gratin or shallow casserole dish. Grease the inside of the dish with butter and set it aside.
In a microwave, melt 1 tablespoon of butter; toss it in a small bowl with the breadcrumbs and a pinch of salt and pepper. Set aside.
In a medium saucepan, bring the cream and garlic cloves to a boil over medium-high heat (watch it like a hawk so it doesn’t boil over). Immediately lower heat and simmer vigorously until the cream reduces to about 3/4 cup, about 4 to 6 minutes. Take the pan off the heat; remove and discard the garlic cloves. Let the cream cool slightly, stirring occasionally to keep a skin from forming. Season cream with a pinch of salt and pepper.
Cook the bacon in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat until crisp and browned, about 7 minutes. Transfer bacon to paper towels. Carefully wipe out most of the excess fat in the skillet but don’t wipe it clean. Return the skillet to medium heat, add and melt the remaining tablespoon of butter. Then add the drained spinach and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Add salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste. Transfer the spinach to the gratin dish and spread evenly.
Crumble the bacon over the spinach and sprinkle on the cheese. Carefully pour the seasoned cream over all, and top with the buttered breadcrumbs. Bake until the gratin is brown and bubbly, about 25 minutes. Let rest for 10 to 15 minutes before serving.