Add a sophisticated spin to classic au gratin potatoes with this Winter Squash Gratin recipe — prepared with locally-produced ingredients from our farmers market. Sweet kabocha and butternut squash are sliced and layered in a cast-iron skillet before being doused with a savory cream sauce and finished with a topping of caramelized onions, local cheeses, and breadcrumbs. Add fresh herbs, white wine, nutmeg, and Dijon mustard to the mélange and this winter squash gratin will outshine a scalloped potato dish any night of the week.
As the cooler months arrive, so do all the different varieties of heirloom winter squashes in many shapes, colors, and textures. Yet, for the average farmers’ market shopper, approaching these unfamiliar cucurbits can be somewhat daunting. That’s why beginning with a simple recipe that highlights a new variety, like this winter squash gratin, can be useful in giving a timid cook the confidence he/she needs to master a new selection.
The kabocha squash is a Japanese pumpkin variety that is best known as one of the components in vegetable tempura. Although similar to the butternut, the kabocha is sweeter with a fluffier, lighter texture. Kabocha has a thin edible skin and excels when roasted or pureed into luscious soups. The freshest kabocha and other winter squashes can be found at the Rocky Glade Farm booth at the Franklin Farmers Market.
To begin this farmers’ market winter squash gratin, start with a cream sauce of Hatcher Family Dairy Whole Cream, white wine, garlic, freshly-ground nutmeg, Dijon mustard, salt, pepper, and a fresh herb bouquet from Bloomsbury Farm (we love Bloomsbury’s sage, rosemary, and thyme). Place all ingredients into a medium saucepan and bring to a light boil for approximately 3 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
While your cream sauce is resting, thinly slice 1 jumbo or two medium yellow onions, and sauté in a cast-iron skillet with 2 tablespoons of Hatcher Family Dairy Sweet Cream Butter and 1 tablespoon of chopped fresh Bloomsbury Farm thyme leaves until the onions are caramelized. Remove from the skillet and set aside.
Next, arrange two petite, orange kabocha squashes and a thick-necked butternut squash from Rocky Glade Farm on a secure cutting board. Slice both ends off all three squashes, peel the butternut (leave the skin on the kabocha for added texture), remove seeds, and slice the squashes in 1/3” slices.
In the same cast-iron skillet that the onions were caramelized in, arrange the slices of kabocha and butternut squash until the skillet is almost full (you may have some slices leftover to use in pasta or roast for a snack). Strain the cream sauce, pour the liquid onto the squash, and top with the caramelized onions.
Next, comes everyone’s favorite ingredient — the cheese! Gruyère is a Swiss baking cheese with a hard texture and earthy, nutty flavor used in many gratins and quiches. For this recipe, I chose Kenny’s signature Norwood and Kentucky Moon cheeses from Moonshadow Farms (all Kenny’s signature cheeses can be sampled at the Moonshadow Farm booth). The Norwood has the nutty profile and crystalline texture reminiscent of a Gruyère, and the Kentucky Moon Swiss adds a sweetness to the mix. Add the grated cheese mixture on top of the caramelized onions, press down, and pop into a 400 degree oven until the liquid is bubbling and the cheese has begin to brown nicely (approximately 45 minutes to 1 hour.)
Finally, finish your winter squash gratin with 1/2 cup herbed bread crumbs combined with 1 tablespoon of the Hatcher Family Dairy melted sweet cream butter. Continue to bake for another 15-20 minutes until breadcrumbs are brown and the liquid has been absorbed. (Note: Rocky Glade Farm winter squashes are incredibly fresh and may not absorb all the cream sauce added. If this happens, pour-off the rest of the liquid from your skillet and reserve for a creamy pasta dish or to use in another winter squash gratin.)
Winter Squash Gratin
2 Rocky Glade Farm kabocha squash
1 Rocky Glade Farm butternut squash (small, thick-necked)
1 large sweet yellow onion
1 tablespoon chopped fresh Bloomsbury Farm thyme leaves
1 cup grated Kenny’s Norwood cheese from Moonshadow Farm
1/2 cup grated Kentucky Moon Swiss cheese from Moonshadow Farm
1/2 cup herbed breadcrumbs (regular breadcrumbs work fine)
Hatcher Family Dairy Sweet Cream Butter
1 cup Hatcher Family Dairy Whole Cream
1/2 cup chicken stock (or substitute more cream)
1/2 cup white wine
2 cloves Rocky Glade Farm garlic
1 bunch Bloomsbury Farm sage
1 bunch Bloomsbury Farm thyme
1 bunch Bloomsbury Farm rosemary
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (we like a lot!)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper