Creamy Vegan Butternut Squash Gratin

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Week Four: Memories and Traditions

Memories and traditions! An appropriate theme this week. Today I bring you a recipe that’s not quite a tradition, but does hearken back to a dish my family served pretty frequently at holidays: scalloped potatoes. But this version features squash instead of potatoes, and a creamy cashew-based sauce instead of cheese.

Sometimes I think that squash varieties don’t quite match their names. With gorgeous, ethereal names like butternut, delicata, and pattypan, you expect something light and, well, delicate. Instead, you get an oddly thick, bulbous, often warty fruit that is decidedly not delicate. But it’s what’s inside that counts, and squashes lend themselves so well to dozens of applications.

Creamy vegan butternut squash gratin // govegga.com

This savory butternut squash recipe would not be out of place doubled and served as a side for Thanksgiving dinner. Roasting squash brings out its inherent sweetness, and seasonal herbs (sage, thyme) add a complementary savory note. A beautifully simple yet complexly flavorful cashew cream sauce elevates the dish, and a sprinkling of toasted panko adds just a little crunch. Thanks to the coconut milk and cashews in the sauce, this dish is surprisingly filling and nutrient-rich; you might be surprised that you’re full after a small helping! Eat straight out of the oven for optimal deliciousness.

Creamy Butternut Squash Gratin

Serves 2 as a main dish or 4 as a side dish

For the squash

1 butternut squash
5-7 fresh sage leaves, rolled and sliced into ribbons
2 tsp fresh thyme
1/2 tsp salt
fresh black pepper
1.5 – 2 T olive oil (start with less and add more if needed for a larger squash)
2-3 T panko

For the cashew cream sauce

1/2 cup whole raw cashews, either soaked for 6 hours ahead of time or boiled for 15 minutes
1/3 cup full-fat coconut milk
1 large clove garlic
2 T nutritional yeast
1/2 tsp salt (or more, to taste)

Method

Preheat the oven to 400˚F.

Using a sharp knife, cut each end off the squash, then cut it half both vertically and horizontally. Stand each piece on end and use your knife to cut off the peel, then scoop out the seeds with a fork. Slice the squash into half-moon shapes about 3/4″ thick.

Combine the olive oil, sliced sage, thyme, salt, and a few grinds of black pepper to a large mixing bowl, then add the squash slices. Stir to coat evenly, then add the squash to a 9 x 13″ glass casserole dish.

Bake for 20 minutes while you prepare the cream sauce.

Add all ingredients to a high-speed blender or food processor and blend/process until you have a smooth, creamy sauce. It will be fairly thin — that’s okay. Taste and adjust for salt. Set cream aside while the squash bakes.

At the 20 minutes mark, use a fork to check whether the squash is done. You want it just about tender. Remove from the oven and pour the sauce over the squash; aim to drizzle it and don’t worry about coating each piece.

Return the dish to the oven and bake for another 5 minutes until the sauce thickens and starts to bubble. Remove it from the oven and sprinkle the panko on top; you want a nice layer. Broil the casserole for 2-3 minutes and remove just as the panko begins to turn golden brown.

Let sit for about 3 minutes, then serve.

 

Butternut Squash Risotto with Sage and Toasted Hazelnuts

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We’ve all got a favorite flavor pairing. Peanut butter and chocolate. Raspberries and chocolate. Coffee and chocolate. Wait, how did chocolate make its way into all those examples?! Oops. How about mango and cardamom? Pumpkin and cinnamon? And my sleeper favorite, butternut squash and sage. There’s something transcendent about that combination, but I don’t use it often enough. Every time I do, though, I’m reminded how lovely sage is—it has such a pure, clean scent, and it complements butternut squash like a dream. I think you’ll agree when you try this dish.

Butternut Squash Risotto with Sage and Toasted Hazelnuts

Butternut Squash Risotto with Sage and Toasted Hazelnuts
Serves four

  • 1/2 small yellow onion, diced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 1/2 cups arborio rice
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine (we keep a bottle of cheap wine in the fridge for cooking)
  • 4-6 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
  • 1 1/2 cup roasted butternut squash, mashed or pureed (you can roast a squash in advance and keep it in the fridge, then just scoop out the insides)
  • 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
  • 1 teaspoon dried sage (fresh sage would be nice too!)
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1-2 tablespoons vegan butter (optional)
  • 1/4 cup toasted hazelnuts, for topping

In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for 4-6 minutes until translucent. Add the rice and stir so that the rice is coated with the oil and onion mixture. Add the wine and it let it cook for a minute or two, then add a cup of the vegetable broth. Stir frequently and add more broth as the rice soaks it up.

The entire cooking process should take between 20 and 30 minutes; you might not use all the broth and that’s okay. Taste the rice as it begins to soften to test whether it’s done. Towards the end of the cooking process, add the nutritional yeast and spices. Turn off the heat and mash in the squash. Stir in the vegan butter (if using) and add salt and pepper to taste. Top with toasted hazelnuts and serve.

Butternut Squash Risotto with Sage and Toasted Hazelnuts

This beautiful dish is just perfect for fall. Each serving offers modest amounts of protein, iron, and calcium, but this dish is just bursting with vitamin A thanks to the squash. According to the NIH, vitamin A “helps form and maintain healthy skin, teeth, skeletal and soft tissue, mucus membranes, and skin.” (1) It also helps produce pigments in the retina. Vitamin A is fairly simple to obtain in your daily diet; a serving of this risotto offers more than 100% of your daily needs. Orange and yellow fruits and veggies are high in beta carotene, which the body can convert into vitamin A. And now that it’s pumpkin season, I bet we’ll all be taking in lots of vitamin A!

What are your favorite flavor pairings?

Sources cited:

(1) http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002400.htm

In Which I Try to Link Empanadas with My MoFo Theme

Happy Saturday! If you think this post is going up much later in the day than any of my other MoFo posts have, well… you’re absolutely right. Truth be told, I don’t have anything particularly fruity to blog about today! We desperately need to hit up the grocery store: there’s no almond milk in the fridge and my fruit supplies are running low. Plus, we spent much of today in DC at the Corcoran, gettin’ our culture on. All that art* wore me out; I slept through most of the metro ride home. I’m still waiting for my second wind!

So… where will the seasonal fruit come into this post, you ask? Oh, don’t worry. I’m about to make an extremely tenuous connection.

After leaving the Corcoran, we were hungry. Not wanting to drop a huge chunk of change on lunch, we’d looked up cheaper options in the area, and Julia’s Empanadas popped up in my search as a venue that offers a rotating vegan option. There are four locations in DC, one of which is a 15-minute walk from the Corcoran and decently close to the Dupont Circle metro. Sold! Today, their veg option featured spinach, white beans, onions, and a few other assorted veggies. Neither S nor I could really discern a distinct and overriding flavor, but we detected a hint of curry. But that’s not to say they were bland! Instead, they were richly flavorful and warming on a slightly chilly September day. S and I each got one but ended up returning for a third to share.

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But I don’t want to overpraise the empanadas’ innards at the expense of their… outards…? Hm. Invented words aside, the empanada dough was slightly sweet, with a flavor of its own that comes from butternut squash, which is—botanically speaking—a fruit. BAM. Themed!

What did you do today? What’s your favorite empanada filling?

*More specifically, the war photos exhibit. Wow. Incredibly moving and not for the faint of heart or stomach. Highly recommended if you’re in the area!

Curried Butternut Squash Soup

Tonight I conquered yet another taste aversion – butternut squash. Similar to my previous dislike of sweet potatoes, butternut squash has always been on my “do not want” list. My mom always used to make this apple, butternut squash, and raisin bake for dinner, and whenever she did, I’d find myself picking at the apple slices while avoiding the other two ingredients. It was that savory/sweet mix, y’know? Between that and its texture, squash is just something I prefer to avoid. Tonight, however, I decided that the indirect approach might be best – instead of eating squash face-on, in the flesh, I turned it into a soup, because I’ve never met a soup I didn’t like. Thus, Curried Butternut Squash Soup was born.

Yum.

While I don’t think I’m ready to conquer straight-up squash anytime soon, this soup has definitely helped give me an appreciation for this oddly shaped vegetable (fruit?). There’s something decidedly autumnal about this dish, and because curry-flavored anything is a sort of comfort food for me, it makes for a cozy type of meal. I’m not sure why I feel that way about curry; I didn’t grow up eating curries at all. I did, however, enjoy curry chips when I studied abroad in Ireland a few summers back; perhaps those memories have led to my pleasant associations with curry. Whatever the case, I really enjoyed the combination of the curry and squash flavors in this soup, and although the preparation of the butternut devil was a bit hellish, I’m willing to forgive it because the result is so darn yummy.

Curried Butternut Squash Soup
Ingredients (serves 3)
2 butternut squash, quartered and peeled
1 medium-sized yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
~1.5 T olive oil
~2.5 cups vegetable broth
1 t curry powder
1/2 t cumin
1/4 t coriander
1/4 t cinnamon
dash cayenne

Preheat oven to 425˚ and spray a baking pan. Prepare butternut squash in your favorite way; you basically need them quartered and de-seeded. Place the quarters on pan and bake for about 35 minutes or until squash is tender.

Once squash has baked, remove it from oven and let cool. Heat up some olive oil in a large soup pot while you chop and mince the onion and garlic, respectively. Add to heated oil and cook until soft, then turn off the heat. Meanwhile, chop the baked squash into smaller pieces and add to blender with a fair amount of vegetable stock; puree the whole mixture. You’ll have to do this in batches, adding in the onion and garlic eventually. Once everything is pureed, return to the soup pot and add spices. Stir to mix, heat everything up, and then let simmer until serving time.

You can, of course, adjust your spices as necessary and adjust your blending process depending on what kind of kitchen appliances you have. I tried using an immersion blender after pureeing a small amount of the squash, but it really didn’t work that well. I’d imagine that a Vita-Mix would work excellently here, but alas – I am not lucky enough to have one (yet).

This is a super simple recipe, I know, but it’s quite tasty, if I do say so myself. My parents and I really enjoyed it, and I hope you will, too. :)