Monday, December 21, 2009

Squash and Potato Gratin

In honor of the first day of winter - the official season of podge - I hereby present the gentle reader with this delightfully starchy, homey casserole, invented to answer the burning question of what to do with some beautiful delicata squash, picked up on impulse at the local health food store a few weeks ago. At the time, I wasn't sure what their fate would be, but they looked so pretty that into the cart they went.

I then became really busy with end-of-semester stuff, and didn't lift a hand in the kitchen to make anything more time-consuming than tea for about a week. At that point, having turned in the last thing I'll have to write for another month or so - YESSSS! - I announced, "I want to do something weird with squash." My partner responded with an expression best described as simultaneously uncomprehending and mildly anxious, but was instantly reassured upon hearing that potatoes would form part of the picture (that man sure does love his spuds).

What I had in mind was something along the line of the old-school scalloped/au gratin potatoes that used to appear on my childhood dinner table, only with squash. It took a little while - mostly because I kept tinkering with the sauce, so you don't have to! - but it was worth the wait, and the finished product turned out really well. This recipe would easily lend itself to the inclusion of other vegetables; I'm thinking of subbing mushrooms and leeks for the squash next time. This would make a nice side dish for a big "Sunday lunch" sort of meal, or you could do what we did and just eat it all by itself; add a salad to provide some greenness and you've got a very filling dinner for a chilly winter night.

Squash and Potato Gratin
~ 4-5 good-sized potatoes, sliced into 1/8" rounds
~ 2 medium sized or 1 large squash, cubed (I had delicata, but acorn or butternut would be fine)
~ 1 large onion, chopped (about 2 cups)
~ 2 tbsp. canola oil or vegan margarine
~ 2 tbsp. flour
~ 4 cups plain, unsweetened soy or other non-dairy milk
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, thyme, tarragon, parsley
~ Black pepper to taste
~ 1/4 cup vegan parmesan substitute
~ 1/4 cup nutritional yeast (use a 1/2 cup if you don't have vegan parm)
~ 1 cup panko crumbs
~ Paprika for garnish

~ Preheat the oven to 425 degrees fahrenheit
~ Slice and chop the potatoes, squash, and onions and set aside while you make...

The Sauce
~ In a heavy-bottomed saucepan on medium heat, saute 1 cup of the chopped onions in the oil or margarine until softened, about 5 minutes.
~ Slowly add the flour, stirring to make a roux; add a splash of water to prevent sticking if necessary.
~ Gradually pour in the soy milk, stirring constantly with a whisk to prevent clumps.
~ Add the seasonings, vegan parmesan and nutritional yeast, making sure to combine thoroughly.
~ Lower the heat to simmer and cook another 5 minutes or so, until it reaches the consistency of an Alfredo sauce (you can add a bit of water or some more milk if it thickens up too much).
~ Remove from heat and set aside while you turn to...

The Assembly
~ Coat a 9 x 13" casserole with cooking spray and scatter 1/4 cup of the panko crumbs across the bottom.
~ Make an overlapping layer of half the potato slices; be sure not to leave any spaces!
~ Sprinkle 1/2 cup of the remaining chopped onions and some kosher salt and black pepper over the potatoes.
~ Ladle on about a cup of the cream sauce, topped with another 1/4 cup of panko.
~ Arrange the cubed squash in a single layer and pour on another cup of sauce (try to distribute it somewhat evenly, but it's not an exact science).
~ Add the rest of the potato slices in an overlapping layer, then scatter the remaining chopped onion over the top.
~ Pour on the rest of the cream sauce, then press the top of the casserole firmly with a spatula, to make sure it oozes down between the layers.
~ Top with the last 1/2 cup of panko and some extra paprika and parsley for garnish.
~ Cover with foil and bake at 425 degrees for about 40 minutes, until the squash is tender.
~ Remove the foil and press with the spatula again to further compress the layers.
~ Bake uncovered for another 20 minutes or so, until browned and bubbly.
~ Allow to sit for 10-15 minutes before slicing.

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