I’ve been dipping my toes into fall the past two weeks, trying to let my body and brain know what’s coming before I stand on the edge and cannonball in. This means a few jackets, leather boots, lots of scarves (…I might have a problem with scarves. Help me.). Salads topped with roasted root vegetables and candied nuts, a soup or two, even a casserole…excuse me, a tian topped with enough fresh herbs to resist feeling mid-winter heavy.
Fall feels pretty good right about now.
Squash is one of my favorite vegetables this time of year. Like beets or sweet potatoes, squash is as comfortable topping a fresh green salad as it is being the star of its own dish. It caramelizes so beautifully, complements just about anything, and can lean sweet or savory depending on your tastes and what other ingredients you have on hand.
While a lot of squash casseroles use completely smooth canned pumpkin, the squash here still retains some of its chunkiness, which, along with the par-cooked rice, gives the final dish some nice texture.
The bright green herb breadcrumbs keep this from feeling too much like “OMG FALL IS HERE, DID YOU KNOW?!” and their crispiness cuts the sweet silkiness of the rest of the dish. I love that this made a nice thick layer of breadcrumbs and herbs over the squash, but you could use half of the breadcrumbs and save the other half in the fridge for later (so good toasted and sprinkled over a salad or stirred into soup!).
Squash Tian with Herb Breadcrumbs
This is basically a baked casserole topped with breadcrumbs, but if you’re feeling particularly French, it’s a tian, my favorite new fancy food word. Since I didn’t have one gratin dish big enough, I split this between two smaller dishes, but it could be divided even further into four individual ramekins. Be warned that the garlic in the breadcrumbs will smell slightly overwhelming while the dish is in the oven, but the flavors settle down beautifully when it’s served. And while I’m loathe to get too far ahead of myself season-wise, this would be a stunning dish at Thanksgiving, and can easily be prepped ahead, then topped with breadcrumbs and baked just before serving. Recipe slightly adapted from The Kitchn.
2 to 2 1/2-pound squash, peeled and chopped into large chunks (any butternut or other orange-fleshed squash, even pumpkin, works here)
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus additional for drizzling
1/4 cup arborio rice
1/4 to 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for topping
2 large eggs
1 cup panko bread crumbs
1/3 cup flat leaf parsley leaves
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves, or more to taste
1 large or 2 small cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Preheat oven to 375. Lightly oil two small or one medium gratin dish and set aside.
In a large pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the squash, season lightly with salt, partially cover the pan, and cook until the squash softens and mostly disintegrates. Once cooked, the squash should yield about 2 cups; extra squash can be stored in the fridge for a few days.
While the squash cooks, bring 1 cup of water to a boil in a small pot. Add the rice, reduce the water to a simmer, cook uncovered for 10 minutes, and drain.
In a food processor, pulse together bread crumbs, parsley, thyme, garlic, and a pinch of salt. Add oil, pulse for another second or two until the the breadcrumbs are a pretty green color.
To a large mixing bowl, add squash, rice, cheese, a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir well to combine, then mix in the eggs one at a time. Spoon the mixture into the gratin dish(es), top with the herbed bread crumbs, a fresh grating of cheese, and a drizzle of olive oil.
Bake for 35 minutes until the cheese and breadcrumbs are lightly browned.