fall butternut squash recipe italian simple make-ahead side dish

One of my friends (an excellent cook who entertains often) shared this simple Giada recipe with me.  She said it’s a dish that she serves several times each fall because it’s an easy make-ahead side-dish with great flavor.   In my search for the best Thanksgiving sides, I made this for a dinner party a few weeks ago.  I adapted the recipe a little by roasting rather than steaming the squash, which is so much easier than peeling and cutting the squash into chunks.  This gratin was really tasty and definitely company-worthy; everyone enjoyed it and there was not a single bite left.  The sweetness of the butternut squash is really well balanced by the salty parmesan and the brightness of the pesto.  Although it was simple and tasty, this gratin is not making it onto my Thanksgiving menu.  It was delicious, but just didn’t taste like “Thanksgiving” to me.  It was probably the pesto that threw me off – it just isn’t a flavor combo that makes me think of fall.  But this is a recipe worth sharing and I will be making it again and again.  Next time I’ll serve it with a roasted or grilled meat and arugula salad.  I love dishes, like this one, that can be made in advance and heated while I enjoy a nice glass of wine with friends.

Butternut Squash & Pesto Gratin

3 lbs. Butternut squash (about 1 large)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

½ cup freshly grated Parmesan

¼ cup basil pesto (I used store-bought)

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces, plus more for greasing

1.  Preheat oven to 400˚F.  Cut squash in half lengthwise; remove seeds and bake, cut side down, on pan covered with tinfoil and nonstick spray for 40-50 minutes, until squash is completely soft when pierced with a knife.  Transfer squash to a food processor and blend until smooth and creamy.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

2.  Lightly butter an 8-inch baking dish.  Spread half of the squash evenly into prepared baking dish.  Dollop half of the pesto over the squash in the baking dish.  Sprinkle half of the cheese over the squash.  Repeat layering with the remaining squash, pesto and cheese. Using a skewer or knife, gently swirl the pesto into the squash.  Dot the top with butter and bake until the gratin is heated through and golden brown around the edges, about 40 minutes.  To make in advance, refrigerate after dotting with butter, bring to room temperature and then bake as instructed.

Serves 4 as a side.