Butternut Squash and Creamed Spinach Bake
maybe a gratin, definitely a casserole, could be a lasagna
things you’ll need: butternut squash, onions, spinach, garlic, nutmeg, basil, parsley, ricotta, milk, flour (one to one GF works), butter, parmesan, salt and pepper, a little chili flake if you like a kick, olive oil, and a mandolin (or very sharp knife).
I wondered if you could use butternut squash slices instead of noodles (a la zucchini noodles) in a lasagna, which lead me down a path towards white lasagna, gratins, mornay sauce, creamed spinach, and 3,830,000 other good ideas.
incidentally gluten-free and vegetarian. Love and Lemons has a fantastic vegan “ricotta” substitute in a very similar Squash Stuffed Shells recipe and there are MANY vegan creamed spinach recipes out there involving coconut milk, silken tofu, or cashew cream.
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Sometimes you get a good idea. Maybe it’s not even good yet. Maybe you shouldn’t put so much pressure on your ideas, calling them “good” or “bad” or “crazy”. Maybe it’s an almost idea, just a what if, so you can’t know whether it’s good or bad yet. Someone had an idea about making a bunch of loops and knots in a row and now we have sweaters and fuzzy socks.
You don’t know which ideas will become important, maybe even great, but some are more insistent than others. Sometimes they become longings or cravings, wantings and wishings. Ideas don’t really care how big or small or good or bad they are. Sometimes they become careers. Sometimes they become dinner.
Sometimes you are just sitting there and then suddenly you are building a casserole in your mind and all because you had the idea to slice the neck of a butternut squash into sheets. You think it should have ricotta and creamed spinach. You’ve never made such a thing. You can taste each thing in your mind, but you don’t really know how to put it together, but it’s an idea.
Break it into layers:
Mix a pint of ricotta with parmesan and/or a little mozzarella. Salt and pepper it to taste. Toss in a bunch of fresh basil or parsley (or both). Add a few pinches of nutmeg. Add an egg (or don’t).
Blanch, sauté, or otherwise wilt a lot of spinach. Set aside. Sauté some onions with a bunch of butter until translucent. Add a little garlic. Sift in some flour (GF works) and good until a light golden brown. This is pretty much a roux. Whisk in some milk and keep stirring until thickened. Too thick? Add a little more milk. Add parmesan cheese and a pinch of nutmeg. Now that it’s basically a mornay (you made a fancy!), stir in your spinach. Salt and pepper to taste.
If you don’t want to mornay, then you can go with what you know. Sauté them and finish with cream, like in the Bean and Creamed Green Gratin or go super rich and make a spinach and artichoke filling with many dairies.
Butternut Squash Sheets
Get a couple long-necked butternut squashes. Trim and peel the necks. Very carefully, using all of your safety skills, gloves, and good sense, thinly slice the long necks into sheets 1/8 – 1/4 in thick.
If the “sheet” thing isn’t important to you or the mandolin is an object of terror and menace in your kitchen, just slice the neck into thin circles.
Butter a casserole dish. Lay down squash sheets. Make the layers as you see fit. Squash, spinach, squash, ricotta, squash, spinach, cheese? Squash, ricotta, squash, spinach, cheese, squash? Underestimated the amount of squash you would need? Go squash, spinach, ricotta, squash, spinach, and then top with very finely diced squash cut from whatever trimmings remain.
Skip the ricotta and double the creamed spinach. Trust yourself. You’re full of ideas.
Bake at 400 until it’s all bubbly and a knife passes through your squash layers. Could be 30 minutes, could be 60 depending on how thick you cut your squash and how many layers you made. If the top cooks too fast, cover it.
You often feel like you have no idea what you are doing when you are actually applying many of your well-developed life skills to do something that’s simply unfamiliar. Ideas don’t care if you know what you are doing, so maybe you shouldn’t either.
As always, thank you for reading!
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