With the holiday season approaching, I’m finding inspiration for pear recipes everywhere I look. Take this week’s recipe, for example. A gratin is a classic holiday dish – it’s rich and festive and it makes the perfect accompaniment to roasted meat. So why not incorporate beautiful red pears for added sweetness, color, and seasonality?
The combination of flavors in this gratin is truly unique. The creamy roasted butternut squash, the lightly liquorice-y flavor of roasted fennel, the tanginess of the vintage cheddar – they all harmonize perfectly with the honey-sweetness of the roasted pears. Try this recipe in place of roasted yams at Thanksgiving or as an addition to your Christmas dinner table. Any leftovers you’re lucky enough to end up with will keep well in the refrigerator, and will taste even better in the days following your big holiday feast.
2 medium red onions, peeled and sliced into ¼-inch rings
2 medium fennel bulbs (green tops removed), sliced into ¼-inch slices right through the core
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon butter
1 medium butternut squash with a long neck
2 large, red USA Pears, such as Red Bartlett or Starkrimson
1 ⅔ cups heavy cream
2 pinches ground nutmeg (less than ⅛ of a teaspoon)
4 ounces vintage white cheddar, grated
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lay the onion and fennel slices out onto a sheet pan in a single layer. Drizzle with the olive oil and season generously with salt and pepper, turning the slices over to coat both sides. Bake for 25 minutes or until the vegetables are just tender, and then set them aside to cool. Increase the oven temperature to 400 degrees.
Grease a glass or ceramic 12-inch pie dish or 9 x 13 baking dish with the butter and set aside. Peel the skin from the neck of the butternut squash. Starting from the stem end, slice the squash into ⅛-inch slices until you have 20-24 slices. Reserve the base of the squash for use in a soup or stew. Slice the pear into slightly thicker ¼-inch slices, cutting around the core. Set both the squash and pear slices aside.
Place the cream, nutmeg, a generous pinch of salt, and several more turns of pepper into a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat and warm until just simmering. In the meantime, begin layering your squash and pear slices in your baking dish. Alternate the disks of squash with the largest pear slices. Use the smaller pear pieces to fill in any gaps, and cut down some of the squash slices if necessary. Next, top the pear and squash with the fennel, spreading it around evenly. Top the fennel with the red onion in an attractive pattern. Lastly, pour the hot cream mixture over the top of the layered vegetables, being sure to get it into every nook and cranny. The cream mixture will only come up the sides of the vegetables about halfway.
Cover the gratin tightly with foil and place onto a baking sheet to prevent spillage. Slide into the oven and bake for 60-75 minutes, or until the squash slices are fork tender. Once they are soft, remove the foil and sprinkle the grated cheese over the top of the gratin. Return it to the oven for 15 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbly and beginning to brown.
Allow the gratin to cool for at least 20 minutes before serving.
prep time: 40 minutes
cook time: 1 hour 55 minutes
yield: 8 – 10 servings