Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Winging Winter Squash Gratin, Next on XTreme Vegan Sports (VEGAN MOFO: DAY 10)

I had some enormous luck recently by being online right when someone offered up a whole bunch of random veggies on Pittsburgh's Freecycle email group, and I jumped right the heck on that opportunity.  I was so thrilled to get a response back telling me that they were mine for the taking.  Actually, the occurrence of this good fortune can be partially attributed to Vegan Mofo!  I would not have been online writing the next day's blog entry so late at night to catch this email if it weren't for that Vegan Mofo mofo. 

If I was a more awesome blogger, I'd have taken a picture of my entire get.  But I suck a little bit, so I'll just tell you what was in it:
--1 celeriac
--1 large red onion
--2 white onions
--some Russian banana fingerling potatoes (maybe about a pound)
--2 sweet dumpling squash
--1 winter squash
--1 acorn squash
--5 hot banana peppers

The family was giving this stuff away because they didn't have time enough to cook with it.  Sometimes I get all cocky and am like, "You need to make time to cook good food!" but let's be real.  It took me HOURS to cook with these particular things.  It can easily take two hours just to peel the various winter squash, and, frankly, it did take that long.  But I don't have a baby or a husband or anything very pressing to do after work besides the dishes from cooking the night before, so I was up to the task.  

Normally I'm a recipe-user, and I buy things to suit a recipe, but not this time.  I figured that, with the celeriac and the squash and the potatoes and the onions, clearly, a gratin was the way to go.  This would involve peeling that thick skin off the squash and using my mandolin slicer to make all the stuff evenly thinly-sliced.  But peeling raw winter squash is friggin' impossible!  Recipes just say, "Peel the squash" like that ain't no thing!

To do it, I cut them in half (also very difficult), scooped out the insides, then put them into the microwave for about two minutes.  Next, I put the flat-cut side down on a cutting board and used a carrot peeler to violently remove the skin in a downward motion.  I think it may have given me carpel-tunnel syndrome!  Next time, OH, NEXT TIME, you better believe I'm going to roast my winter squash and spoon out the yumz once it's totally soft like a normal person.  But this time, it had to be solid for the gratin, and, ultimately, I was successful.  I got the squash and celeriac all peeled and sliced, and I left the potatoes unpeeled but sliced them despite their adorable littleness.

I'd looked online at some recipes for gratins, and then just sort of winged it, taking certain aspects of many different recipes and ultimately, doing what I wanted to do.  I defrosted a few bags of spinach I had in my freezer, squeezed it out, and added salt to it. Many recipes called for heavy whipping cream with which to make a sauce, but I wasn't feeling getting some soy creamer or something, and chose instead to just use the almond milk in my fridge.

First, I sauteed an onion and some garlic in a small saucepan using a bit of almond milk instead of oil.  Then, I added maybe about two cups non-dairy milk into the pan, as well as about two tablespoons arrowroot powder, a teaspoon of  thyme, less than a teaspoon of nutmeg, and about a teaspoon of salt.  I don't really know how much of each I used.  I got it simmering, let it thicken up, then poured it over the layers I'd laid in a large metal casserole dish: a layer of sliced veggies, a layer of spinach, sliced veggies again, spinach again, then the sliced veggies one last time.  Once it was all covered, I poured the sauce all into it, threw some breadcrumbs on the top, and lightly sprayed the top with an aerosol can of olive oil, which was the only added fat in the whole dish. 

Into the oven it went.  I had the oven going at 400 degrees and cooked it for a half hour covered in foil and then another 20 minutes uncovered, which was more or less a guess I made by looking at how long other things are cooked.  It was a fine and dandy guess, though, because it turned out really amazingly great!

This is just one corner of the large gratin
I like to eat it by itself...
...or over a bed of otherwise unadorned greens.
If eating the cooked greens of the spinach over the raw greens (including spinach) seems perverse to you, I'm sorry!  It's good and good for you.

Now for the best part: the seeds!  Oh yeah, winter squash seeds, I haven't forgotten about you.  I used the same seed recipe I've been using for years, because, like it says, it's the best.  All I did to change it was use Earth Balance instead of butter and vegan Worcestershire sauce.

Tomorrow, I'll show you what I did with the peppers!


  1. Oh man, I'm super envious of the freecycle haul . I don't use winter squash too often but I think I usually peel them with a knife. They're pretty brutal-tough. And isn't it awesome when you wing something and it turns out great? :)

  2. Peeling winter squash is the devil's work! Why is it soooooo hard?! I hesitate to make any recipe these days that requires cutting the squash, pre-roasting ... I've just gotten that lazy. And I've cut my fingers trying to peel those suckers one too many times.

  3. That's so cool that people gave away veggies (and that you benefited) instead of letting them rot. That gratin looks mighty tasty. I HATE peeling and cutting most winter squash. I cut up and ate an acorn squash for the first time the other day and swore it would be my last. Then I tasted it all nice and roasted and fell in love.....

  4. That looks awesome! I'll have to try that with my mountain 'o squash!!!


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