Pumpkin Gratin

Halloween is upon us yet again. And the jack-o-lanterns are out. Anybody ever consider cooking those suckers? I would not recommend it. The traditional pumpkin used as a jack-o-lantern motif makes for a flavorless, insipid dish. That's why they are used for decorations. In my culture, pumpkin are prized as bianda or cooked root plants that we use to enhance a meal. Traditionally, our favorite pumpkin dish is very simple: slice a piece of pumpkin, peel, remove seeds, and boil until tender. Then serve with olive oil and vinegar.

But I've experimented with pumpkin dishes and found that they make a great gratin. A gratin (pronounced grah-tan) comes from French cooking. It is a dish prepared with a brown crust. My pumpkin gratin is quick and easy to make, and it's tasty to boot. Again, use small available commercial pumpkin, not the Halloween type or, better yet, you can use winter squash or butternut squash.

So, here goes Le gratin de Courge, as our French brethren would say. It makes a fabulous side dish or accompaniment to any meal.


2 to 2 1/2 pound pumpkin, butternut, or other winter squash, halved, seeded, peeled, and cut
into 1/2-inch cubes
1/4 cup flour
1/3 cup olive oil
8 garlic cloves (yes, 8), finely chopped
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Salt and ground black pepper to taste
1/4 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano (or pinch dried)

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
2. Toss the pumpkin or squash cubes in the flour until they are evenly coated.
3. Generously oil the bottom and sides of an ovenproof casserole, Dutch oven, or cast-iron pan (you will have some oil left over). Fill the casserole with the pumpkin or squash. Then scatter the garlic and parsley over it, and season with salt, pepper, and oregano. Sprinkle the remaining oil over the pumpkin or squash.
4. Place in oven and bake for 2 to 2 1/2 hours or until the top has formed a rich dark crust. Note that it's not necessary to add water during cooking since the pumpkin or squash produces enough liquid on its own.
Yield: 4 servings.

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