Gratin (pronounced, gratan) is a culinary technique in food preparation in which ‘au gratin‘, a topping of breadcrumbs, butter and cheese is broiled to a golden brown crust and traditionally served in its baking dish. It is very common to prepare the dish with potatoes and macaroni, but vegetables such as cauliflower, green beans, eggplant or tomatoes may be used in gratin. Chicken, seafood, and sausage meats are also used.
The term le gratin signifies the ‘upper crust’ of Parisian society.
A great substitute for ‘macaroni and cheese’, butternut squash penne au gratin is a great main dish for potlucks and will be a splendid side dish served with meat dishes.
Butternut Squash Penne Au Gratin
1 butternut squash (~2 ½ lbs)
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
7 garlic cloves (medium size)
2 cups chicken stock (or vegetable stock)
2 cups low-fat milk (or almond milk)
½ tsp salt
black pepper to taste
1 lb mini-penne (or pasta of choice)
For au gratin topping:
¾ cup panko (Japanese white breadcrumbs)
1~2 Tbsp butter melted (optional, but it is better with it!)
4 Tbsp Gruyère cheese grated (or almond cheese)
4 Tbsp flat parsley chopped (optional… pretty/color presentation)
–Slice, peel and de-seed butternut squash and cut into 1” squares.
I showed how to cut butternut squash for the Butternut Squash Stew before. (see photo below)
This time, I will show you another way (also if your knife is not sharp enough to peel horizontally. After squash is sliced in circular pieces, put the larger diameter sides on the cutting board and holding the knife a tad diagonally, rotate the round slices, cut the peel off vertically, inch at a time. You can see the cut marks in the photo at right. >>>
–Add 1 Tbsp oil to a medium pot and on medium-heat, sauté the cut squash for 3~4 minutes, until some pieces begin turning golden.
–Add garlic cloves and stir one minute more.
–Add chicken stock, milk, salt and pepper, and bring to a boil (carefully observe, as it may overflow). Lower heat to medium-low and simmer for 20 minutes.
–Turn off heat and cool for 5~10 minutes.
–Using a blender, purée squash mixture in 3 batches and set aside in a large bowl.
Meanwhile, prepare the penne pasta:
–Place rack on middle oven shelf and preheat oven to 375F.
–Briefly rinse pot used for squash, fill with water and bring to a boil.
–Boil pasta until al dente (don’t let it get soft), drain, and rinse with cold tap water.
–Pour semi-cooked pasta into large, oven-safe casserole dish.
–Pour puréed squash over the pasta, mix and spread evenly.
–Cover with foil and bake for 45 minutes.
–After gratin has baked, take out and remove foil.
–In a small bowl, combine panko with melted butter and mix well.
–Add Gruyère cheese and one-half of cut parsley and continue mixing.
–Spread breadcrumb mixture evenly over the top.
–Turn oven to broil, place uncovered casserole in oven and broil for 2 minutes or until top is golden-brown (tend to this one so it would not burn).
–Remove from oven and cool for 10 minutes. Before serving, sprinkle on other half of parsley.