Whether served as an accompaniment to a roast, with some slowly cooked sausages or simply eaten by itself with some bread to mop up the cheesy sauce, this gratin is real autumnal comfort food.
Herby, cheesy, garlicky and creamy, this is the sort of dish that brings a smile to my face each time I eat it. I works best with butternut squash, but I have made this with pumpkin and indeed other vegetables: the combination of potatoes and fennel works particularly well, too.
The bacon is entirely optional and can be left out if you do not like meat, but I love the smokyness it adds to the dish. I have also made a few vegan version of this dish using good dairy-free cheese and soya milk.
Recipe: butternut squash gratin – serves 4
- about 1kg butternut squash, skin left on and cut into chunks – seeds removed
- 1 large onion, peeled and sliced fairly thinly
- 3 fat cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
- 6 rashers of smoked bacon, rind removed, chopped fairly small
- a few tablespoons of olive oil
- a large knob of unsalted butter
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 10 sage leaves, with about half of them roughly chopped up
- 200ml milk
- 200ml single cream
- 3 rounded tablespoons plain flour
- about 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- about 80g grated mature Cheddar or Lancashire, plus extra for sprinkling over
- salt and pepper to season
- chopped parsley to scatter over
(1) Preheat the oven to 190C (fan). Brush a little oil over the surface of the squash and sprinkle over a little salt. Roast for about 30 minutes or until the squash is slightly softer but still has bite and holds its shape easily. Set aside.
(2) Heat the oil, butter and smoked paprika in a large pan and fry the onion and chopped sage just until the onions start to soften. Add the bacon and garlic continue to cook for about 5 minutes. Transfer to a large oven-proof dish.
(3) Put the milk, cream, half a teaspoon of salt and a couple of grindings of black pepper into the pan and sprinkle over the flour. Use a ballon whisk to whisk it all together and disperse the lumps of flour. Place over a medium heat, whisking from time to time for about 10 minutes. As the liquid starts to thicken, whisk more thoroughly to ensure there are no lumps of flour.
NB: you could instead make a traditional roux sauce here by starting with melted butter and adding the flour into, but this quicker method works very well.
(4) Remove from the heat and stir in the nutmeg and most of the cheese. Add a grinding of black pepper and check seasoning, adding more salt if you think it needs it.
(5) Peel off the skin from the butternut squash and cut into smaller pieces. Add to the oven-proof dish and stir in the sauce, giving everything a good coating.
(6) Sprinkle over the whole sage leaves and the remaining cheese and bake for about 30 minutes until the sauce is bubbling and the cheese has turned a darker golden brown. Leave for about 15 minutes before scattering over some parsley and serving.