Butternut Squash and Poblano Gratin

After my last attempt at making a dish with butternut squash, (an oh-so-NOT-good soup), fell flat and pretty much grossed me out when I pulled it out of the fridge for leftovers, I thought I had sworn the lovely butternut squash off for this year. I just couldn’t stomach it. . . or so I thought.
Then I saw this side dish. . . and I fell in love all over again. Tex-Mex style butternut squash?? I actually really like this variety of squash. I totally appreciate the sweet/nutty/creamy characteristics of it. It was just the soup that scarred my taste buds.
I just don’t think you can go wrong with hot peppers, melted cheese, onions, and creamy sauce – no matter what else you put in it. The recipe calls for pepitas (pumpkin seeds) to top it off – but c’mon, seriously? I’m trying to pass this off on my family. This dish would certainly be thrown to the curb if I had served it with pepitas, of all things! Now, a crunchy topping of buttery panko bread crumbs – THAT will give it a fighting chance.
The gratin was a little on the intense side as far as prep goes – not the kind of thing to do on a busy night – but to make it ahead and pop it in the oven when you’re ready? Sure, why not.
My wheels are turning about how to make this into a kid-friendly main dish. The kids begrudgingly worked their way through the squash, but what can I say? I never liked squash when I was a kid either. My guess is that I will end up with a dish that uses almost all these ingredients . . . .minus the squash.
In the end, it was only the grown-ups who were the gratin-lovers (at least the butternut-squashy part). But that’s okay. Some food is just like that.
It was a totally satisfying lunch the next day, and I could have happily eaten it for at least three more meals and not tired of it. It’s definitely worth a shot if you like spicy, cheesy, butternut-squashy things with buttery bread-crumb topping. How can you say no to that?

Recipe:

Butternut Squash and Poblano Gratin

2 large or 3 medium poblanos (about 3/4 lb. total)
1 (2 lb.) butternut squash, peeled, halved, seeded, and sliced 1/2″ thick
2 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
3/4 tsp. chopped thyme, divided
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 tsp. dried oregano
1/4 cup heavy cream or whole milk
scant 1/2 cup sour cream (light is fine) or creme fraiche
3 oz. Monterrey Jack cheese, shredded
3 oz. queso fresco or farmer cheese, crumbled
1 cup panko bread crumbs tossed with 2 tablespoons melted butter

Preheat the oven to 400. Roast the poblanos directly over a gas flame or under the broiler, turning, until they are charred all over. Transfer the chilies to a bowl and cover with plastic wrap or a clean dish towel until they are cool enough to handle. (I roasted mine in the oven under the broiler on top of aluminum foil to help ease clean-up. When I pulled them out, I just wrapped them in the foil to seal in the heat and moisture.) Peel the skins off, then stem and seed the chilies and cut into thin strips.

Toss the butternut squash with 1 Tbsp. of the oil and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and 1/2 tsp. of the thyme. Roast in the oven until tender, about 25 minutes, turning the sheet once midway through.

Increase the oven temperature to 425.

Prepare a baking dish – I used a glass 11″x7″ dish sprayed with vegetable oil.

Meanwhile, heat the remaining 1 Tbsp. oil in a pan over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, oregano, and remaining 1/4 tsp. thyme. Saute for 5 minutes and then add the poblano strips and cook until they are very tender, about 5 more minutes. Add the cream/milk and simmer until thickened.

Remove the pan from the heat, and add the sour cream. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Spoon half the poblano mixture into a baking dish and top with half the roasted squash. Sprinkle on half of the cheese. Repeat the layers.
Top with panko/butter mixture.

Bake for about 30 minutes, until gratin is golden and bubbly. Let rest for 10 before serving.

Source: minimally adapted from Elly Says Opa, adapted from Food and Wine, via Our Life in Food.

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