Thursday, December 30, 2010

Butternut Squash and Polenta Gratin

If you are serving a big dinner for New Year's Eve this recipe is great for a crowd.  It is also a make-ahead recipe which is extremely helpful when cooking for lots of people.  Remember the best recipe in the world for cooking grits (polenta)?  Just add a little butternut squash and some freshly grated parmegiano reggiano --super easy.  This has become one of the favorite dishes on our Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner menu.  It is creamy and delicious!

Butternut Squash and Polenta Gratin
adapted from a Food and Wine recipe

One 1 to 2 pound butternut squash
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
Salt and freshly ground pepper
6 cups water
1 ½ cups polenta/grits
(I use Bob’s Red Mill Corn Grits –can be found at Giant and Whole Foods)
1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter
1 1/3 cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese (4 ounces)

Preheat the oven to 375°. Place the grits and 6 cups of water in a 15-by-10-inch ceramic baking dish baking dish with 1 tsp salt. Place in oven and cook until thick about 45 minutes-1 hour.

Meanwhile, cut off the bulb end of the squash and halve it lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds. Drizzle the halves with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Set the squash halves on a small baking sheet or glass pyrex pan or other baking dish, cut side down, and bake for 30-45 minutes, or until tender. (This dish can be right next to the grits). Scrape the squash flesh into a medium bowl and mash with a fork.

Meanwhile, peel the squash neck and halve it lengthwise. Using a sharp knife or a mandoline, slice the squash crosswise 1/8 inch thick. Lightly oil 2 large rimmed baking sheets and arrange the squash slices on them. Cover with foil and bake in the upper third of the oven for 12 minutes, or until tender.
Remove grits from oven and stir in 6 tablespoons of the butter, the mashed squash, and 1 cup of the Parmesan and season with salt and pepper. Arrange the baked squash slices on top in an overlapping pattern.   All the above can be done up to 5 days before serving!  Bring to room temperature before baking (final step below).

Cut the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter into small pieces and scatter them over the gratin. Sprinkle the remaining 1/3 cup of cheese over the top and bake in the upper third of the oven for 1 hour, or until bubbling and golden. Let stand for 15 minutes before serving.