Andrea Nguyen's Tom Kho
Hindsight

Russ Parsons' Bean and Winter Squash Gratin

Plate_6

Tap tap tap. Anybody here? No? Brining turkeys and peeling chestnuts and pureeing pumpkins? Very good. So, while most of you are working on your own family's meal and while Ben's family is downstairs starting the day's work (I'm coming!), I'll just quickly tell those of you who couldn't give a hoot about Thanksgiving about the delicious bean casserole I made last weekend that is still sitting in my fridge and speaking of which, if you're not doing anything for Thanksgiving, would you mind coming over and liberating me of some of the four pounds of leftovers I couldn't eat, before it goes bad?

Thanks.

Both the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times have writers who cover the greenmarket beat, but I think the LA Times might be winning: how about this article to whet your appetite? I want to make every single thing (except the walnut-cilantro pesto - shudder) Russ writes about. Last weekend, I started with the bean gratin.

I had almost all the ingredients for his bean-butternut gratin in my kitchen, so after a jaunt to the Greenmarket (though it was less of a cheery jaunt and more of a chilly hustle because apparently it's winter now, thanks a lot, Chris Cimino*), I was ready to get cooking. The first step has you boil beans (I used a mix of dried flageolets and dried Great Northern beans) with aromatics and diced bacon. Of course, boiling bacon now always makes me think of Julie and Julia, so I had to suppress a giggle at the memory of Julie's righteous indignation, but that mirth soon turned into something akin to disgust, because have you ever boiled bacon? It is not a pretty smell. In fact, I'd say it's downright barnyardy.

But who am I to question Russ Parsons? No one, that's who.

The beans and bacon boiled away while I did my best to distract myself from the sensation that a pig farm might have cropped up somewhere in the near vicinity of my kitchen (and lest you think I'm exaggerating, I'd like to point out here that I have actually been to a pig farm, in Minnesota no less, and because I became so enamored of a baby piglet that I clutched it to my breast for the duration of our pig-farm excursion, the stench stayed with me for days, so I know what I'm talking about).

Meanwhile, I peeled and cubed a three-pound butternut squash and steamed it. After I complained a few weeks ago about the texture of sauteed squash, I was apprehensive about the textural component in this recipe, but steaming the squash transforms the little cubes into sweet, smooth, melt-in-your-mouth squares, so I needn't have worried.

The rest of the prep was pretty straightforward. I dumped a can of diced tomatoes, sans juice, into the drained, soft beans, crushed the mixture a bit with a wooden spoon, then layered the squash and the beans into a casserole dish before topping them with a "blizzard of garlicky breadcrumbs" (yum). I baked the dish until the apartment filled with the rich scent of meaty beans and the breadcrumbs had crisped to an appetizing golden-brown

A plateful of this for dinner hit the spot on that cold, blustery night. The beans were tender and melting, the squash was sweet as could be and the tomatoes and bacon added a layer of savory flavor and brightness. The crunchy, garlicky breadcrumbs were evenly distributed with each bite, and I couldn't help but take seconds. And eat more for lunch the next day. And make Ben eat some. And then have more for dinner. After all of this? There was still more than half of the gratin left.

So take my advice on two counts here: first, only make this if you really have a big party to feed. Second, if you like barnyardy pork flavors, then ignore this second point. But if they kind of gross you out, then don't boil the bacon with the beans, just dice and render it until crisp and add the bits to the gratin before it goes in the oven. There you have it.

And now I have to go. Three pies, a turkey, five side dishes and I don't even know what else are needing to be made and the clock is ticking. Happy Thanksgiving!

*Just kidding, Chris. I think you're the bee's knees. Really. So cute! And so accurate. Mostly.

Bean and Winter Squash Gratin
Serves 8

4 slices thick-sliced bacon (about 1/3 pound)
1 cup minced onion
2 cloves garlic, crushed, divided
1 pound pinto or other dried beans
5 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
1 (28-ounce) can tomatoes, drained and chopped
1 tablespoon chopped sage
3 pounds butternut or other winter squash
1/2 stale baguette (to make 2 cups bread crumbs)
1/4 cup plus 2 teaspoons olive oil, divided

1. Chop the bacon into rough squares. Combine with the onion, 1 crushed garlic clove, the beans, water and salt in a heavy pan. Bring to a simmer, then cook, tightly covered, over low heat until the beans are tender, 2 to 2 1/2 hours. Check occasionally; if the beans begin to go dry, add a little more water.

2. When the beans are quite tender, remove from the heat, add the tomatoes and sage and stir very roughly to crush some of the beans (their starch will thicken the liquid).

3. While the beans are cooking, peel the squash, cut it in half and scoop out the seeds. Cut the flesh into one-half-inch dice. Steam the squash over rapidly boiling water until tender, about 7 to 10 minutes. Remove from the steamer and cool slightly before stirring (so cubes retain their shape).

4. Remove the crust from the baguette and coarsely chop the bread. Place it in a blender or food processor with the remaining garlic clove and grind to coarse crumbs.

5. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Generously brush a 3- to 3 1/2 -quart gratin dish with 2 teaspoons olive oil. Spoon the squash cubes into the dish, being careful not to crush them. Using a slotted spoon, ladle the cooked beans over the top. Add just enough of the bean liquid to cover the bottom of the dish. Stir lightly to combine.

6. Spoon the garlicky bread crumbs over the top, covering the dish in a thick mound. Drizzle with olive oil. Bake until the bread crumbs are deep brown (you will notice the fragrance turning from overtly garlicky to something more complex and beany), about 40 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and let stand 5 minutes before serving.

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