Sunday, November 02, 2008


This recipe, originally from Serious Eats, wasn't the quickest thing I've ever cooked (in addition to the long baking time, there are lots of prep steps), but it was triumphantly worth the labor--A declared it to be "awesome" and "the best use of butternut squash yet." Caramelized onions, smoked cheese, and chicken stock (infused with squash flavor via a clever method of boiling it with the squash innards) all help to pack a powerful flavor punch for a dish that actually has relatively little meat and fat. I halved the recipe and then feared there wouldn't be enough food for four servings, but the squash tasted so rich that a petite portion, served with a fresh green side salad, was plenty satisfying.

I made a few changes to the original recipe, mostly because when I halved it some of the quantities seemed so tiny that they might disappear altogether--only an eighth of a pound of sausage (less than one link)? A quarter-cup of cheese? And 3/8 cup of stock was hardly enough to simmer the squash seeds in. Since the volume of a 9-inch square baking dish is more than half of a 9-by-12 dish, I felt OK about using slightly more of certain ingredients, and though I mostly eyeballed it, I've tried to replicate the measurements below. I also substituted smoked Gouda for smoked mozzarella (which Trader Joe's didn't carry) and used panko instead of the breadcrumbs because it was easier. Whatever I did, it was great and I'll certainly be making this oozy, deeply flavored little casserole again during the dark days of winter.

2 links Italian sausage (about ¼–⅓ pound) (I used chicken sausage)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 small-to-medium onions, quartered and sliced
3 thyme sprigs
1 teaspoon dried sage
Salt and pepper to taste
1½ pounds butternut squash, peeled and chopped into ½-inch cubes (3–4 cups), seeds and scrapings reserved
2 tablespoons flour
⅓ cup shredded smoked mozzarella or Gouda
⅓–½ cup chicken stock
1½ slices white sandwich bread, cubed, or about ⅓ cup panko
1 tablespoon melted butter, plus butter to prepare baking dish

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch square baking dish.

2. Remove sausage from its casing and cook in a large skillet over medium heat until just browing, breaking up sausage with a spoon as it cooks. Remove cooked sausage with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.

3. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil to the rendered fat in the skillet, then add the onions, thyme, and sage. Season liberally with salt and pepper. Cook over medium heat for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. When onions are thoroughly soft, remove from skillet and place in bottom of baking dish. Dot with the sausage bits.

4. While the onions cook, simmer the squash seeds and scrapings in the chicken stock in a small saucepan for 10 minutes; strain, discard seeds and scrapings, and keep the stock warm over low heat.

5. Add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the empty skillet. Toss the squash cubes with the flour and arrange in a single layer in the skillet. Let the squash brown, undisturbed, for 4 minutes, then stir the squash as it cooks for the next 4 minutes. Season liberally with salt and pepper and add squash to baking dish atop onions and sausage.

6. Sprinkle the shredded cheese over the squash, and then pour the stock into the baking dish. Press the top of the casserole with a spatula to evenly distribute the liquid. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes.

7. While the casserole bakes, if you are not using panko, pulse the bread cubes with the melted butter in a food processor until you have coarse bread crumbs.

8. After 30 minutes of baking, remove the baking dish from the oven, remove the foil, and top casserole evenly with breadcrumbs, or top evenly with panko and drizzle with the melted butter. Bake uncovered an additional 20 minutes, until the liquid is absorbed and the top is nicely browned.

Serves: 4
Time: 2 hours
Leftover potential: Pretty good; doesn’t make a ton, but the flavor deepens over time and there are no unappetizing textural changes.

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