Autumnal Eulogy

As we are settling deep in to fall, it seemed just days ago I was asking where summer went. It's all a bit confusing, even after all these years, becasue here in San Francisco, summer is actually more like September into November, following Fog-ust. Named so as we are pretty much socked in by a marine layer (or fog) that keeps us pretty cool and grey for the month of August. I like it like that, I’ll always take it a bit cooler than too warm. It does mess with my cooking clock however. I find myself in August (while there are heat waves and grueling humidity in most parts of the country) wanting to put up pots of soup, long simmering braises and hearty gratins. I have to refrain from daily baking, filling our home with fragrant warm spices, buttery goodness, yeasty good aromas, all of which is odd to do in August. Athough now, it is time!

I’m always amused when I see friends and family in the Midwest and Northeast, right after Labor Day packing away the lawn darts, hammocks and flip flops and suddenly pumpkins, corn husks and ghouls appear everywhere – barely in to September, still summer folks. Don’t even get me started on all of that which has already turned to Christmas décor come November 1, oy!

November deserves its moment to shine on its own, unencumbered by boughs of holly and inflatable Frozen characters. Why not add colorful fall leaves, berry branches, and bronze spray-painted decorative gourds to those uncarved Halloween pumpkins and extend the autumnal décor right up until Thanksgiving? After all, many people have no problem keeping Christmas décor and kindling-like pine trees in varying shades of brown, on display in their front windows well past Valentine’s Day (eye-roll).

I am jumping right into the autumnal season with this winter squash and tomato gratin, beautifully bridging the seasons here. A sauté of onion and leeks is deglazed with white wine. Tomatoes are added and cooked down and finished with a splash of cream. Thin layers of butternut squash (delicata, kabocha or the little candy-like honey-nut squash, which look like tiny Butternut squash fresh from a week on the beach in Cozumel are good subbed here as well) are layered into a gratin dish with the creamy tomato-leek mixture and baked until tender. The whole thing is covered in buttery Parmesan bread crumbs and browned to bubbly, golden and delicious.

I am also busy developing gluten-free versions of many of my favorite Holiday cookies – our lucky neighbors! I’m starting with Mom’s pumpkin chocolate chip cookies, which she has been making since sometime in the 70’s, familiar to many of you! These are always a favorite. A cake-like cookie, fragrant with cinnamon and vanilla and bejeweled with chocolate chips, they are quickly gobbled up, which has nothing to do with the fact that they are best eaten within a few days of baking. Look for an update on these in the next blog.

Happy Thanksgiving to and yours! Love, hugs and happy baking from me, Barry and Addie. Xo

Butternut Squash-Tomato Gratin

Serves 6 to 8

4 Tbsp EVOO, divided

1 leek, halved and thinly sliced (3 oz)

1 small onion, halved and thinly sliced (4 oz)

2 tsp fresh thyme leaves (or 1 tsp dried thyme), divided

1/8 tsp red pepper flakes

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup dry white wine

1 14.5 oz can petite diced or crushed tomatoes

1/2 cup heavy cream (or coconut cream)

1 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded, halved lengthwise and cut into ¼” slices (@ 24oz)

1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs ( I used Ian’s gluten-free panko)

6 Tbsp grated Parmesan cheese (for dairy-free, sub more panko)

2 Tbsp melted butter, or olive oil

Generously grease a 2-quart gratin or baking dish with olive oil. Preheat 375°F oven and position rack in center of oven.

In a large skillet, combine 3 Tbsp EVOO, leek and onion with half of the thyme, pepper flakes and ¼ tsp salt over medium-high heat. When sizzling, stir and cook until leek and onion have softened a bit, 3 to 4 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring occasionally until vegetables are soft and just starting to get a bit golden, 2 to 3 minutes more. Add wine. Deglaze, reduce to half, 2 to 3 minutes. Add tomato, stir cook until thickened, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in cream and season with ½ tsp salt and ¼ tsp pepper.

Layer ½ tomato in bottom of baking dish and top with half of the sliced squash, overlapping the slices slightly, like shingles. Repeat with the remaining tomato and shingled squash. Drizzle with remaining EVOO and thyme and season with ½ tsp salt and pepper. Cover the baking dish tightly with aluminum foil, place onto a rimmed baking pan and bake until a sharp knife inserted into the gratin easily glides through it, depending on squash it should take 45 to 60 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine the breadcrumbs, Parmesan cheese and remaining thyme in a small bowl and toss to mix. Pour the melted butter over the breadcrumb mixture. Mix to combine.

Increase the oven temperature to 400°F. Remove the foil from the baking dish. Sprinkle the breadcrumb mixture evenly over the gratin, return it to the oven, and cook until the topping is golden brown and the gratin is bubbling about 15 minutes. Let rest for at least 10 minutes, then serve.

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