04 March 2013

Butternut Squash and Kale Strata with Multigrain Bread

“Hey Baby, you’re looking fine. 
Let’s make a casserole together.” 

Ok that’s obviously a joke, because squashes don’t have eyeballs. But you’ve got to give him some credit for the sweet pick-up line.

Admit it. If you were single, and a guy walked up to you at a bar and told you were hot and that he’d like to make a casserole with you, you might slap him in the face and tell him to stop being crude. And then you’d giggle with your friends all evening and make fun of Weird Casserole Guy sitting sadly on a stool reading on his phone about craft beers and the best kinds of flour to make pasta with.
But then on the way home, trudging (by yourself) through the snowy slush on a cold, winter night, you might think to yourself, gee, what if he wasn’t being gross? What if he really wanted to take me home and make a delicious casserole for me, just for me, and feed it to me all night long? 
THAT’S sexy. (And only a little bit weird.)
And then you might turn around and run back to the bar to find Sexy Casserole Guy, hoping with all of your heart that he has the ingredients in house to make you THIS exquisite butternut and kale strata.

I roasted some squash, wilted some kale, toasted some bread cubes, mixed everything together with a béchamel sauce, cracked some eggs into it, topped it with parmesan, and baked it. Easy (not really)! 

If ONLY it were easy. I'd make it every week if it was.  This meal dirtied about a hundred pots and pans (not really). Fortunately, the weather was horrendous (really), there was no where else I had to be for the eleven hours (not really) that it took me to put this together, and the results were well worth the labor. My family of four ate it happily (really) for two nights.
The moral of the story? Um, if a butternut squash with googly eyes hits on you, take him up on it. Because it might turn out well for you.  
Well, really, the moral of the story is, spend a few hours on this meal and you will not regret it. It really is special.

 Look at those colors! Orange! Green! Eggy color!

 (Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano is added during the last 10 minutes of baking.)

Butternut Squash and Kale Strata with Multigrain Bread
(Adaptions are in purple italics.)

2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for greasing
2 pounds butternut squash—peeled, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch dice
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 medium onions, thinly sliced, plus 1/2 small onion, finely chopped
3/4 pound kale, ribs discarded and leaves chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
Pinch of crushed red pepper
2 teaspoons finely chopped thyme
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups milk
1 cup heavy cream (I used half & half)
1/2 cup crème fraîche (I replaced this with 1/2 cup grated mozzarella)
1 teaspoon sugar
8 large eggs
One 3/4-pound multigrain baguette, cut into 1-inch pieces (Leave these out over night to make them stale; alternatively, toast them in the oven for a bit to dry them out. They’ll soak up more liquid this way.) 
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese 

Preheat the oven to 425° and butter a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. On a rimmed baking sheet, toss the squash with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Bake for about 25 minutes, tossing once, until the squash is just tender. Reduce the oven temperature to 325°.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil. Add the sliced onions, season with salt and cook over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 25 minutes. Scrape the onions into a bowl. 

In the same skillet, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil until shimmering. Add the kale, garlic, crushed red pepper and 1 teaspoon of the thyme and season with salt. Cook over moderately high heat, tossing, until the kale is wilted and just tender, about 5 minutes. Scrape the kale into the bowl with the cooked onions. 

In a medium saucepan, melt the 2 1/2 tablespoons of butter. Add the chopped onion and the remaining 1 teaspoon of thyme and cook over moderately low heat, stirring, until softened, 5 minutes. Add the flour and cook over moderate heat, whisking constantly, until a light golden paste forms, 3 minutes. Whisk in 1 cup of the milk and cook, whisking, until very thick and no floury taste remains, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and whisk in the cream (or half & half), crème fraîche (or mozzarella), mozzarella, sugar, 2 teaspoons of salt, 1/2 teaspoon of pepper and the remaining 1 1/2 cups of milk. Let the béchamel cool.

Beat the eggs into the cooled béchamel in the saucepan. Pour into a bowl, add the bread and the vegetables and mix well. Pour the strata mixture into the prepared baking dish and let stand for 30 minutes, pressing down the bread occasionally. (Ideally, weigh it down with bricks or cans so that the bread cubes can fully absorb the liquid. If you can press it overnight, while refrigerated, even better.)

Bake the strata for 55 minutes to 1 hour, until almost set. Increase the oven temperature to 475°. Sprinkle the Parmigiano on the strata and bake for about 10 minutes more, until the top is lightly browned. Let the strata stand for 15 minutes before serving.

Extreme close-up!

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