Butternut, Pumpkin, or Kabocha Casserole – a French-Style Gratin

 Butternut, Pumpkin, or Kabocha Casserole – a French-Style Gratin


French cuisine, especially from the southeast of France, includes many wonderful and varied “au gratin” vegetable dishes. The common denominator seems to be baking with  cheese and/or oiled or buttered breadcrumbs.


This recipe is for a hearty, cold-weather gratin casserole of winter squash or the somewhat flat European-style pumpkin, French “courge” or Italian “zucca.” These are sometimes available here at farmer’s markets and called “heirloom” pumpkins. The Japanese “Kabocha squash” is fairly similar. In the US, the most readily available of these vegetables (though technically they are all “fruits”) is butternut squash. The dish can be the vegetable in a dinner, or a supper or lunch accompanied with warm baguette. The recipe serves six.


1 medium-large butternut squash or Kabocha (2 1/2 to 3 pounds)

3/4 teaspoon salt for vegetable plus 1/2 teaspoon for sauce

1 1/2 cups (loosely packed) coarsely grated Cheddar or Gruyère cheese

2 tablespoons grated Parmesan or Romano cheese

3 tablespoons butter

2 1/2 tablespoons flour

1 1/2 cups whole milk, or part cream

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg

A pinch of cayenne

4 tablespoons plain breadcrumbs moistened with 1 tablespoon olive oil or melted butter plus a sprinkle of salt


Cut off the stem and bottom ends of squash. Peel the squash. Cut it crosswise into 1/2-inch slices, scooping out the seeds with a spoon when you get to them. Cut the squash slices into 1-inch square pieces. Steam them over boiling water, stirring them once or twice, until tender (test with toothpick), about 15 minutes.


Cool the steamed vegetable, then transfer it into an attractive casserole dish. Sprinkle with about 3/4 teaspoon of salt, part at a time, and mix to season evenly. Top with the cheeses and mix them in gently.


Set the oven for 375 degrees.


Prepare béchamel sauce:  In heavy pan over medium heat melt butter with the flour. Cook mixture 2 minutes, stirring. With whisk, mix in milk or milk and cream and continue to whisk until the sauce comes to a boil. Let simmer, whisking frequently, until thickened,  2-3 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in 1/2 teaspoon salt, plus the pepper, nutmeg and cayenne.


Spoon sauce evenly over the vegetable in the dish and gently mix it in a little. Finish by sprinkling on the oiled or buttered breadcrumbs. With moistened paper towel, wipe off any sauce and vegetable stuck to the edges of the baking dish.


Bake in the middle of oven until the sauce is bubbling and the surface begins to brown, about 20-30 minutes. Serve hot. Or the baked dish can be cooled, refrigerated, and re-baked just long enough to he

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