Smokey Butternut Squash Casserole

“Autumn, the year’s last, loveliest smile.”
William Cullen Bryant

Favorite Fall dinners Part I

Fabulous food and last-minute dinner guests, good times…just as Michael was firing up the grill a good friend and neighbor pulled up to the dock and we ended up having dinner guests to share the wonderful pork chops that were waiting their turn on the grill.

Since when did butternut squash come in pale yellow?  Well, that is what I got, not the bright golden color that would make a beautiful casserole, but what the heck, toss in something green and it won’t be so anemic-looking.

I had to finish off a container of whole milk ricotta so I have two dishes for tonight from part of a 1 lb container, layered squash casserole for 4, the second dish, palline di spinach (spinach balls).

To the ricotta add 1 egg plus one yolk, 1/4 cup smoked mozzarella and at least that much Parmigiana Reggiano, a little black or white pepper, a pinch or two of nutmeg and a thoroughly drained and squeezed little box of leaf spinach (10-12 ounces) or the equivalent in fresh, blanched, drained and squeezed spinach.  I would guess that 1-1/2-2 lbs of fresh would be enough when cooked down.  Mix, cover and refrigerate until ready to use.  Slice the long neck part of a butternut squash into 1/2″ slice 12 slices, brush with EVOO, salt and pepper and roast until just fork tender.

Make your favorite béchamel sauce; off heat add in about 1/2 cup smoked mozzarella, grated, 1/4 cup Parmigiana cheese, grated and a pinch of nutmeg.

Brush a baking dish large enough to hold the stacked squash with EVOO, ladle in some of the béchamel and begin layering with the squash, filling, another squash, more filling topping off with bechamel and a sprinkle of cheese and minced fresh sage.  Bake at 350° for 15 minutes or until hot a bubbly.  The picture above is of the unbaked casserole and of course, a bright golden squash will look nicer, but as pale as my squash was, it had plenty of flavor.

I managed to pull together a beautiful cornbread orange and pine nut stuffing for 2 fat pork chops.  Grilled the chops for about 30 minutes and topped the chops with a quick warm apricot, OJ and apple butter sauce/glaze.  I think that I would prefer a bone-in chop.  I did brine the boneless chops for about 2-1/2-3 hours.

For the spinach, balls use a 1″ melon baller or ice cream scoop to measure out the ricotta spinach mix.  Roll into balls and place into an oiled baking dish (1 1/2 tablespoons of EVOO), melt two tablespoons of butter with about 3 leaves of fresh sage, finely chopped and drizzle over the spinach balls and top with grated cheese, bake at 350° for about 15-20 minutes.  I added some chopped toasted pine nuts and a few chopped golden raisins to the ricotta before shaping, but as I did I thought they would have been good in the butternut squash, maybe next time.

Fall dinners Part II

Jacques Pepin’s Onion Soup Gratinee Lyonnaise

French onion soup is a great fall and winter soup and Jacques’ is my number one favorite, baked in the small oven-safe bowls to a beautiful ooey gooey-ness  that is so hot that you can’t eat it for several minutes,  hence the reason that I made a Salad Nicoise for our last soup night, Julia Child’s recipe the one where you lightly dress almost each ingredient before assembling on a platter.  Also, the canned Italian tuna in olive oil is what I use for the Salad Nicoise and Kalamata olives, pitted and halves stand in nicely for the little Nicoise olives.