There's so much flavour in this delicious autumnal side dish
Before attempting this dish (and I do whole-heartedly recommend that you do, as it is super yummy) I would suggest you make a list of all the people you've had grief with recently, pick one of them and then ask them to prepare your butternut squash for you - as we all know that it may be one of the most delicious and versatile vegetables out there but you risk every one of your digits (toes too probably) when trying to peel it and cut it. You could cheat and buy some pre-processed slices in the posh bit of the vegetable aisle, but I can't bring myself to add more plastic waste to the world just because I'm being lazy (and like my fingers too much), so I went with the real deal - the full un-tampered with butternut squash - and a very sharp knife.
300ml double cream
10-12 sage leaves
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
2 tbsp wholegrain mustard
1 large butternut squash - about 1kg - peeled, de-seeded and finely sliced
oil and butter
1-2 onions, thinly sliced into half moons
Some sunflower seeds to garnish
Oven at 180C, rising to 200C (standard) for the final blast.
Now, the joy of this dish is that it is delicious and worth every step that's necessary for its creation, the downside is that it took me about 40 mins to prepare, and then over an hour in the oven - so it's not a quick mid-week supper, but more of a Sunday night treat. The sheer amount of cream (double, not single) and butter also puts it into treat status by the fun police.
We start by simmering 300ml of DOUBLE cream (don't let me catch you stinting with that single cream shiz) with 200ml of milk in a heavy-based saucepan. Add two cloves of roughly chopped garlic and about 6-8 sage leaves. Watch it - don't for heaven's sake let it boil - you're looking for a gentle simmer at the most, as basically you're just gently steeping the flavours.
While that's gently (have I made that point enough?) heating start to prepare your butternut squash and also chop about 1 or 2 medium-sized onions into half moon slices. I cut mine really quite thin - the onions and the butternut squash - about 1-2mm each. The squash will take AGES to prepare - I start by cutting off its bulbous end and then using the flat cut side as a solid base while I strip the knife down the sides like a very dangerous peeler. As I said before - consider finding someone you don't like very much to do this for you.
Put the squash (I can't be bothered from now on to keep typing butternut) to one side and gently fry the onion half moons in a big knob of butter and some oil. Another joy of this dish is that it's a one-pan wonder, so I used my trusty old shallow Le Creuset which can go from hob to oven - but if you don't have one or if you particularly like washing up large heavy dishes you can fry the onion separately and then use a ceramic dish for the actual gratin. I digress...
Once the onions are nicely soft and starting to caramelise very slightly, turn off the heat. At this point your cream should be steeped, so pour it out of the saucepan into a jug (a pint jug will just about be big enough) sieving out the garlic and sage. Season the cream well and most importantly, add two dessert spoons of wholegrain mustard. Stir well. Also at this point, grate about 100g of Gruyere cheese onto your chopping board.
In the lovely buttery dish start to layer up the thin slices of squash, some onions and some cheese, followed by pouring the cream over. Keep going until you've run out of squash and onions and cheese and then pour over the end of the cream. Season well again and pop a few fresh sage leaves on top.
Cover - don't forget this, hence why using a Le Creuset works so well - and cook for about 45 mins at 180. Then uncover, crank it up to 200C (standard) and cook for another 20-30 mins until the squash is tender. The finer you slice your squash, the quicker it will cook, of course.
I guess you could replace the squash with sweet potato or actual potato for a more traditional dauphinoise style dish. Don't forget the mustard though - there is something earthy and yeasty that happens when it cooks that just takes this gratin to another level. Serve with lots of green veg as a veggie supper or if you're feeling deprived of love and generally feel hard done by, have it with sausages.
Sadly this was not one of my own inventions (though making it a one-pot wonder was!) It's from BBC Good Food and the original recipe is here. Again, I dispute their claim that it takes only 20 minutes to prepare... unless you are a ninja squash peeler and chopper. It is delicious though, so all hail BBC Good Food for this one.
As with all creamy cheesy dishes you can't go wrong with a Sauvigon or Pinot Blanc. I love this one as it's from a part of the world that understands the fundamental importance of cream and cheese. In fact most Alsace wines would work with it, or you could go across the globe and try one of the fantastic Rieslings that are coming out of New Zealand or indeed Napa's own Sinskey wines - the RSV Abraxas Vin de Terroir.