The shortest day has come and gone, and I’m dipping into my long-keeping winter stock of local products. My pig share is nearly done, but my lamb share just showed up to replace the pork in my freezer, with visions of spicy kebabs and cozy braised shanks. The pumpkins and winter squash are holding up well, so I sliced one up and layered the lovely orange flesh with mellow, pale-green leeks for a rich side dish. It would make a warming vegetarian main dish, as well.
I used half-and-half to give the dish a creamy texture, but part heavy or light cream will be fine, too. It’s cream that elevates these simple winter vegetables to another level, so much so that you can even do without the traditional cheese on top. The layered vegetables look sumptuous and beautiful, bathed in glossy cream.
Another possibility is to just add the butternut squash and leek slices to potatoes and onions, topped with Gruyere instead of Parmesan, to make a more traditional gratin. The herbs can vary: tuck a bay leaf in one edge (where you can grab it out before serving), rub garlic around the dish with the butter or slice some shallots into the layers, sprinkle fresh, chopped, Nordic-style dill or some fennel or celery seed.
Yield: 2-3 servings
- 1 small winter squash, peeled, seeded and thinly sliced
- 2 leeks, cleaned and sliced
- 1/2-1 cup half-and-half
- butter to grease the baking dish
- thyme, salt and pepper to taste
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Butter an 8-inch square or round baking dish or use a traditional oval gratin dish. Alternate shallow piles of squash and leek slices. Pour cream to about halfway up the vegetables. Season and cover.
Bake for 30 minutes. Uncover, sprinkle on cheese if using and bake for 12 to 18 more minutes, until cream is bubbly, cheese is lightly browned and vegetables are soft.