november 10, 2017
Each year at Thanksgiving, folks divide up into two camps. Sweet potato and no sweet potato. For the sweet potato lovers, further subdivision yields the sweet sweet potato side dish aficionados (marshmallow people, I’m talking to you) and those who insist on savory sweet potato dishes at the holiday table, like my Ginger Scallion Sweet Potatoes. Me, I like it all. I grew up with what my parents referred to as candied yams, sweet potato chunks swimming in a sweet glaze and more of an afterthought to the meal. It was our duty to serve them, but no one was clamoring for their presence. And if memory serves, they were canned and not fresh, an oddity because of the global availability of sweet potatoes in autumn.
Today’s recipe will satisfy the sweet potato avoidance camp and still provide a creamy helping of beta carotene, visually appealing and tasty with cheddar and a buttered crumb topping. I’ve been making a yellow squash casserole from this recipe template for clients of The Good Eats Company, and with the recent weather change I’ve simply substituted local butternut squash. If you’re daunted by the notion of peeling this hard-skinned squash, there seems to be a plethora of already peeled and cut versions in most grocery stores. Fresh and frozen chunks and diced pieces are all available, so if you’re pressed for time, here is a convenience food untreated with chemicals and ready when you get the urge to cook. If you like fresh butternut squash, learn how to peel it here.
Ahh, the aroma of freshly cut butternut squash. Thinly sliced, it’s refreshing in salads. Cooked, it can rival the taste and texture of sweet potatoes and also satisfy the urge for starchy carbs if you’re attempting to cut down on white starches like potatoes and rices. Today’s recipe can be made a couple of days ahead and reheated for about 30 minutes at 350 degrees. The casserole also freezes well; a little liquid exudes around the edges, but when reheated uncovered this evaporates. After the squash and onion are cooked until softened, mash with either a potato masher or use my favorite kitchen tool, the handheld immersion blender. I like a slightly chunky texture and use a light hand with the blender. For mayonnaise, Hellmann’s canola works for me, but vegan mayos perform just as well (see my Cranberry Coleslaw recipe for favorites, to which I now add Sir Kensington’s Fabanaise, creamy from chickpea cooking water). One of my best kitchen tricks is to keep frozen fresh bread crumbs on hand. When you need a crumb topping, or you’re making meatloaf or crab cakes, grab a handful and cook up a storm. For the best gluten free crumbs, I use Udi’s white sandwich bread or Trader Joe’s gluten free bread. Any soft bread works well, but if you insist on a crusty baguette or other rustic bread, some crumbs will be jagged and rough. For this task, the food processor is your friend.
Baking time may be increased or decreased depending on the depth of your casserole dish—what you’re aiming for is a semi firm finished product that no longer jiggles in the center. Hope your Thanksgiving is warm and cozy and that your side dishes please all gathered at the table. See below for a list of some favorite holiday dishes.
- Butternut Squash Soup with Apple Cider and Chipotle Spice
- Pear Cheddar Chowder
- Gingered Carrot Soup
- Broccoli Apple Ale Soup
- Roasted Baby Carrots with Dill and Chipotle
- Herbed Shiitake Mushrooms
- Wild Rice Salad with Butternut Squash and Arugula
- Parmesan Spoonbread Souffle
- Glazed Rutabagas with Pistachios
- Herbed Creamy Potatoes
- Ginger Sesame Brussels Sprout Salad
- Zucchini Walnut Spice Cake
- Salted Chocolate Pecan Tart
- French Apple Pie
- Almond Apple Tart
- Vegan Chocolate Cashew Cheesecake
- Lemon Tart with Olive Oil and Flaky Sea Salt
- Sweet Potato Custard
- Apple Cake with Caramel Glaze
Butternut Squash Gratin
makes eight to ten servings
2 pounds peeled butternut squash, in large cubes
generous half cup diced sweet onion
1 teaspoon kosher salt
one large egg, room temperature
½ cup mayonnaise
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
fine sea salt and finely ground white pepper
1 ½ cups fresh bread crumbs
one medium garlic clove, zested or finely grated
1 ½ tablespoons melted unsalted butter
- In two quart saucepan, just barely cover squash and onion with water, add kosher salt and bring to boil.
- Simmer, covered, until tender, about 10-12 minutes; drain well and cool to room temperature.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- In large mixing bowl, whisk together egg and mayonnaise.
- Add cooled squash and onion mixture and mash until either uniformly creamy or with a few chunky pieces remaining; I prefer using an electric immersion blender, and keeping the mix slightly chunky.
- Add cheddar and adjust seasoning with fine sea salt and pepper; generally, two pinches of salt and one pinch pepper will do well.
- Place squash mixture in well greased oven safe one quart casserole dish.
- In separate small bowl, combine bread crumbs, melted butter and garlic with clean hands, add a pinch of fine sea salt and then scatter crumbs atop the squash mixture.
- Bake for 30-40 minutes or until top is nicely browned and gratin is set and no longer jiggly in the center.
- If freezing for later use, cool completely and wrap tightly with plastic wrap; defrost 1-2 days ahead and bake at 350 for about 30 minutes.
cook’s note : I always keep fresh breadcrumbs in the freezer—the food processor makes this easy and they are always at the ready.