The first instalment of summer squash got used to make this fantastic - and soon to be made again - creamy bake of a side dish.
It all came about because I was looking for a simple recipe that would enable me to tell how the squash tasted and how it behaved during cooking. The recipe was perfect for that and I was able to glean that it held together very nicely, was sweet and didn't dissolve into water once cooked.
I had four lovely little parsnips from thevegibox.com that were waiting to be used in something and I started to think about what hubby particularly likes. Now it goes without saying that he likes chilli, and Mexican flavours, Spanish flavours, Mediterranean flavours and a whole raft of Indian and Chinese flavours. However, none of those really matched up with parsnip and squash. However, creamy flavours did - and hubby loves creamy flavours. So then a picture came into my mind of Dauphinoise potatoes - but made with parsnip and squash. Except, the garlic didn't really go. Aha! But finely chopped shallot would - and so would thyme and parmesan. Bingo.
So what meat would go nicely with this combination? Well, chicken was an obvious choice and I'm always keen to have a roast chicken dinner. Plus, Vegibox had delivered some more lovely rainbow chard and this would be a perfect opportunity to try some cooked quite plainly and as a side vegetable.
I contemplated what to do with the chicken next. Yes, I could have just roasted it with a little oil and seasoning, but that was a bit dull and if the bake didn't come off it would be a very disappointing dinner. Lemon was out because of the cheese and cream in the bake, but I was already using thyme so that was a possibility. So what goes with cream? Well, you have mustard cream sauces but I didn't want to use more cream. What do you use with chicken that would go with mustard and with the cream in the bake? Honey! Aha! Honey mustard chicken! Perfect.
So there we were - the creamy parsnip & squash bake, with honey mustard chicken, rainbow chard and carrots. Yum.
Now assuming you're rather better with a mandolin than I am, you'll be able to cut your parsnips and squash into evenly sized slices without losing any skin - which is the recommended method. I lost the edge of my little finger - and this is the not-to-be-recommended method. Alternatively, you could just use a knife, but be sure to get your slices even widths or they will all take different times to cook.
Owing to the relatively few ingredients required for the bake, it came together really quickly (even with a first aid break) and my Nanna's lovely brown heatproof glass casserole was perfect for it. I was able to control the browning of the cheese on top by use of the casserole dish lid and it sat very politely waiting to be served when it was done some 10 minutes early.
All that contemplation as to what hubby liked paid off when, after his first few forkfuls, he declared "this parsnip & squash thing is fabulous!". After my first taste, I had to agree - it was fabulous. You could still taste the parsnip, but it didn't take priority over the other flavours (as parsnip is wont to do). The squash was there, adding sweetness and that lovely gentle flavour that is uniquely squash. The cream, onion and thyme bound the whole ensemble together and the cheese added that richness to the flavour that just finished it off perfectly.
Oh, and for those who are interested in such things - the rainbow chard was really very good indeed! I used the cooking juices from the honey mustard chicken as a light gravy over the chard and carrots and they went together beautifully. People who have seen the photographs on Rhubarb & Ginger's Facebook page, have asked me what the "rhubarb looking" thing is - and it is interesting that chard has the same effect on your teeth that rhubarb does! Rather less than rhubarb in fact, but it is nonetheless still there - that furry, odd feeling. Its flavour is almost tinny, but in a nice, juicy, veggie kind of way. I was expecting it to be more cabbage-like in flavour, but in fact it turned out to be much more spinach-like. Really very acceptable - and it makes rather more sense as to how it can be used in flans and quiches now!
Everyone, without exception, really liked everything on the plate but particularly the creamy parsnip and squash bake. To the point that, at washing-up time when I discovered a spoonful of it left - cold - in the dish, son & heir and myself were to be seen sharing it. Well, it was too small to keep! I think that was testament to how good it truly was.
CREAMY PARSNIP & SQUASH BAKE (serves 3)
butter, for greasing & several small knobs for the surface
500g parsnip, peeled and finely sliced
500g butternut squash, peeled and finely sliced
1 banana shallot, finely chopped
1 tsp dried thyme
300ml double cream
25g parmesan cheese
15g strong cheddar cheese
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.
1. Pre-heat your oven to 160degC/325degF/Gas4.
2. Rub the bottom and sides of a gratin dish with butter.
3. Place the parsnip and squash slices into the dish and toss together with the shallot, thyme and some salt and pepper. Arrange the slices randomly but fairly evenly to give a fairly flat surface, in the dish.
4. Pour over the cream and sprinkle on the cheeses. Add a dot of butter here and there on top of everything else and give an additional sprinkle of freshly ground black pepper.
5. Cover the dish and put into the oven to bake for 45 minutes. Remove the lid and replace into the oven for the remaining 15 minutes, to brown the surface. The bake is complete when a knife will insert easily into the vegetables.