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Winter Squash Gratin

12 February

A not-so-usual way of preparing squash; it is first sliced and then browned in oil, then layered with cheese and herbs, making an appealing dish. Butternut squash works well, and of course other winter squash can be used. If fresh tomatoes are available, they can be grilled before using to add a subtle smoky flavor.

INGREDIENTS
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
¼ teaspoon dried thyme, or 4 – 6 fresh thyme branches
1 bay leaf
sea salt
½ cup dry white wine
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper, or ½ teaspoon paprika
1 pound tomatoes, fresh or canned, seeded, and finely chopped
sweetener, if necessary
pepper
oil for frying
1 butternut squash 2 – 3 pounds
4 ounces Fontina or Gruyere cheese, sliced
Fresh herbs: parsley, marjoram, and thyme, finely chopped

DIRECTIONS
1. Heat the oil and add the onion, garlic, bay leaf, and a little salt. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the onion is soft; then add the wine and let it reduce by half. Add the cayenne or paprika and the tomatoes. Cook slowly for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally., until the sauce thickens. Taste, add a pinch of sweetener if the tomatoes are tart, and season with salt and freshly ground pepper.
2. While the tomatoes are cooking, prepare the squash. Cut it open, scoop out the seeds and strings, and with the flat surface resting on the counter, shave off the skin. (butternut squash can easily be peeled with a vegetable peeler before it is cut in half.)
3. Slice the peeled squash into large pieces, about 3-inches long and ¼-inch thick. Heat enough oil to generously coat the bottom of a large skillet, and fry the squash on both sides so that it is browned and just tender. Remove it to some toweling to drain, then season with salt and pepper.
4. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. To form the gratin, put a few spoonfuls of the tomato sauce on the bottom of individual gratin dishes, or use it to cover the bottom of one large dish. Lay squash on top, in overlapping layers with slices of cheese interspersed between the layers. Bake until the cheese is melted and the gratin is hot, about 15 minutes, and serve with the fresh herbs scattered over the surface.
Serves 4 – 6

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