Monday, November 8, 2010

Joey's Butternut Apple Gratin

 Lately I've been playing around with different ingredients, coming up with some new recipes, trying different combinations of savory and sweet. I love a fabulous dish that embraces that balance of flavors. As I often do, I browsed around the produce section of the supermarket, just to see what looks good, what's in season, what sparks inspiration. I noticed the butternut squash and wondered "why have I never done anything with that?" So that set the recipe creating wheels in motion. To be honest, I knew right away what I DIDN'T want the recipe to be, more than what I WANTED it to be. Even though I wanted to keep the sweet and savory theme going, I didn't want it to be as sweet as candied yams. I didn't want to add any meat to it, like crumbled bacon, etc, because I thought it would be nice to make it a vegetarian dish. I didn't want it to have cheese or eggs in it, because I thought that would make it too heavy. Great, now that that's settled, lets figure out what I WANT the recipe to be. I already had a bag of apples in my shopping cart because I was planning to bake an apple pie. Ooo good idea. I'll add them to the dish. Hmm...maybe some onion too....and some fresh herbs....  with a buttered crust topping. Perfect! After bouncing a few ideas around with Marie, I tried a couple versions of my new dish, each time changing it just a little. And Eureka! This is the one! It's exactly what I had in mind! It's the perfect side dish for your next holiday meal and it's simple to make too! Try it! Oh, and be sure to let me know how you like it! Thanx!

1 large butternut squash (2-3 lbs)
2 Granny Smith apples
1 small onion
a few big pinches of:
 fresh parsley
 fresh sage
 fresh rosemary
 fresh thyme
 kosher salt
 freshly cracked black pepper
1 tbs honey
4 tbs butter

1 cup coarse bread crumbs
2 tbs butter

Heat oven to 350F.
Peel squash and cut in half. Using a spoon, scrape out the insides, just like you'd do if you were carving a pumpkin. Cut the squash into large chunks. Place in a large bowl.
Peel and core apples. Cut into large chunks. Add to the bowl.
Peel and roughly chop the onion. Add to the bowl.
Chop the parsley, sage, and rosemary. Remove the leaves from the sprigs of thyme. Add all of the herbs to the bowl along with a good dash of salt and black pepper. Toss everything together. Dump everything into a 9x13 casserole dish. Drizzle with honey. Dot with butter. Cover with foil. Bake for about 45 minutes or until almost tender.
Mix bread crumbs with melted butter. Sprinkle buttered bread crumbs over all. Place back in the oven, uncovered, for an additional 15 minutes or until the bread crumbs are golden.

Be sure to use a sharp knife when cutting the squash. I usually cut it across the width first (instead of cutting it lengthwise), just because it's easier to work with. It's also easier to cut each half into chunks if you place it cut side down. It's more stable that way.
Even though the apples and the squash are naturally sweet, I still added the honey. It's only a tablespoon. It's not enough to make it overly sweet, but it's just enough to smooth over the tart edge from the apples.
I like chunks of apple, as opposed to slices. I just think they hold up better when they're cooked. So, I cut each apple in half, then each half into large dice (about 8-10 pieces). I do the same thing with the onions.
For the bread crumbs, place a few slices of stale bread or rolls into a food processor and pulse until they're coarse crumbs. In this particular recipe, the finer store bought crumbs just aren't the same.
Many of the ingredients are just to taste. Do you like a lot of fresh rosemary? Do you like a lot of butter? I used about a tablespoon of each of the chopped fresh herbs. Add as much as you like! By the same token, if there's anything that you particularly DON'T like, then by all means, just leave it out. It'll still be fabulous!

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