Cold weather always has me turning to something warm to eat. Of course, November and December don't always leave me a lot of time to cook at home as often as I would like. There is so much going on!
From teacher conferences to catching those energy-sucking Winter colds and flu, I thought it would be a great time to start putting food away in the chest freezer for the proverbial rainy day. And the days have been rainy... and cold here on the farm.
I think the key to good freezer cooking is getting a big stack of bake and freeze-friendly containers. I prefer the handi-foil pans because I can also take them to a pot-luck or leave at a friend's house. Who wants to track down their dishes after a party, right?
The cook-n-carry pans look nice enough to serve directly out of. They come with lids and the lid snaps on securely enough to travel in the car without worry.
I was inspired to make this dish while we were out shopping the other week. You know the sample carts? Well, the sample was pretty salty and the price was a little too steep for my tastes. I mean, I have butternut squash coming out my ears right now.
Just a hint, find local growers for great deals on squash. It usually beats the grocery store prices because it didn't travel or pass through a mass of middle men. Squash is a fabulously filling and frugal choice for Winter.
I started by wilting down a bunch of baby spinach. Don't boil it, just let it wilt and then set it aside to drain in a colander.
Then sweat down a whole medium onion. I prefer to use yellow onions in cooking. I think they are sweeter. When the onions are almost done, toss in the crushed garlic to warm it through.
Then add the cream and let it simmer just a little. This is also a great time to salt and pepper the dish. Just don't go overboard.
If you have a mandolin, this is the time to break it out. I rarely use mine because I hate to clean it. This recipe though, warrants the even and thin slicing that only a mandolin can give me. I sliced the neck of my butternut squash to 1/8". I wrapped up the bulb (where the seeds are) to use later.
Then it is time to assemble the gratin. Spray the pan with nonstick spray and start with a layer of squash. I ended up with 2 layers of spinach mixture between 3 layers of squash. Then I added enough of the liquid, and just a little more spinach to the top, to have the cream come right up to the top layer. Cover the top with Parmesan cheese, dot with a little butter and cover with parchment paper.
To cut the parchment, take the spare baking dish and trace it as a guide. Cut it out inside your traced ring, this compensates for the pan lip.
Bake and then enjoy the warm and bubbly gratin. Or let it cool and reheat to enjoy later. Your choice.
Seriously, you have to try this one.
Spinach and Butternut Squash Gratin
You Will Need:
- 2 lbs. fresh baby spinach
- 3 Tbsp. unsalted butter
- 1 medium yellow onion, diced
- 4 garlic cloves minced
- 1/2 c. heavy cream
- 1/4 c. chicken stock
- 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 large butternut squash, just the neck, sliced 1/8" thick
- 1/3 c. Parmesan cheese, finely grated
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Spray your casserole pan with nonstick spray.
Bring water to a boil to wilt the fresh spinach. Working in 2 - 3 batches, add spinach to the boiling water and then using a spider or slotted spoon, move the wilted spinach to a colander. Keep working until all the spinach is just wilted. Squeeze out any excess water.
Melt 2 Tbsp. of butter in a large saucepan. Saute the onions until translucent and then add the garlic. Warm through. Add the heavy cream, chicken stock, nutmeg and season to taste. Bring the mixture up to a simmer then turn off the heat.
Starting with a layer of butternut squash, cover the bottom with a single layer. Just overlap the slices slightly. Then add a layer of creamed spinach. Add another squash and spinach later, then finish with one more layer of butternut squash. Spread just a thin layer of cream and spinach on top. Top with the Parmesan cheese and dot with the remaining tablespoon of butter.
Cover with a piece of parchment paper that fits just inside the dish. Bake for about 30 minutes and then remove the parchment and bake for another 10 - 15 minutes, or until the butternut squash is fork tender and the top is golden brown.
Note - double the batch and make up both casserole dishes that come as a set. That would be enough for dinner and then more for the freezer to enjoy later.
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