Butternut Squash Gratin with Goat Cheese

This is a great dish for a chilly November evening.  Butternut squash is baked with leeks and goat cheese to make a very rich-tasting gratin.  Toasted pecans provide some crunch and all of the flavors complement each other.  This would be a nice side dish for Thanksgiving (or a main dish for vegetarian guests).  We enjoy it frequently through the Fall and Winter months.

The recipe comes from the November 2007 issue of Bon Appetit.  That recipe called for more butter and a cup of cream; each time I make the dish, I reduce the fat a little more, but it is still full of flavor with a wonderful creamy texture.  I usually top the gratin with pecans, but you can use hazelnuts or whatever nuts you like best.

Butternut Squash Gratin with Goat Cheese, adapted from Bon Appetit

3 – 3 ½ pounds of butternut squash (about 2 medium or 1 large)
2 tablespoons olive oil
Coarse Kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 ½ tablespoons butter + 1 ½ tablespoons olive oil
3 cups sliced leeks, (white and pale green parts only, from 2-3 leeks)
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme or ¼ teaspoon dried thyme
5 ounces soft fresh goat cheese, broken into pieces
½ cup half & half or milk
½ cup pecans, toasted in a dry skillet and chopped coarsely

Preheat the oven to 400° while you peel and chop the squash.  I find the best way to do this is to cut the squash into two pieces—the long neck, and the round bulb part with the seeds.  Cut off the top and bottom ends of the squash. Then using a heavy sharp knife I cut away the skin while holding the squash end down on a cutting board.  It goes relatively quickly this way.  Cut the bulb part in half and scrape out the seeds with a spoon.  Then chop the squash into 1-inch cubes and put them in a large bowl.

Toss the squash with 2 tablespoons olive oil, some coarse salt and freshly ground pepper.  Spread the squash cubes out on a large baking sheet and bake until tender and beginning to brown, stirring occasionally, about 35 minutes.  After taking the squash out of the oven, reduce the oven temperature to 375°.

While the squash is roasting, sauté the leeks in the remaining olive oil and butter in a nonstick skillet.  Add the thyme and some salt and pepper to the leeks, and cook them over medium-low heat until tender but not brown, about 15 minutes.  Spread about half the leeks in a 2-quart casserole dish.  Top the leeks with half of the roasted squash cubes and half of the goat cheese.  Add another layer of leeks, squash and goat cheese.   Pour a half cup of milk or half-and-half over the gratin, and sprinkle with the chopped pecans.  Bake uncovered for 30-40 minutes.  Makes about 6 servings.


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