Pumpkin Gratin in Creamy Tomato & Red Pepper Sauce

Also known as Gratin au Courge.

I’ve been in Monterey most of the weekend, so I haven’t been doing much cooking, but I did eat in two great restaurants, Bouchée and Stokes Adobe. I had a fried green tomato sandwich with Gruyere at Stokes that was flabbergasting. Besides all the amazing dishes and wines, I also had a piece of Valdeon (a Spanish blue cheese) from the cheese cart at Bouchée that caused me to have to hold on to the table to avoid falling over on the floor. I love Valdeon. If you like blue cheese, go find some Valdeon and then SIT DOWN before you eat it. Trust me.

http://www.postcardsforyou.com/boucheedining.html
http://www.stokesrestaurant.com/index.html

This comes from a book called The Vegetarian Bistro, the only even vaguely French vegetarian cookbook I’ve ever been able to find. Truly French restaurants are one of the few places vegetarians still suffer. Basque restaurants, something I’ve only seen here in California, are the other. In French restaurants it’s the fats and broths that’ll get you. In Basque restaurants, the only choice you make is what kind of animal you want your hunk of meat to come off of. So this little book, which comes from author Spieler’s visits to bistros throughout France, is a great help if you want to do something elegant and recognizably a cuisine but non-Eastern or Italian. The dishes are creative, though in many cases, loaded with fattening ingredients. This is no exception. I made this tonight – it was good when finished, but would have been really wonderful and I think even take-along-to-the-neighbors-good with a more substantially flavored squash. I bought a pie pumpkin, which in terms of flavor, is an infinitely better choice than a carving pumpkin, to make this with, but now that I’ve made it, I’ll counsel you, my reader(s? Anyone out there?) to make this with butternut squash instead. The pumpkin just didn’t taste like much, and it’s a real bear to cut up. I am always afraid I’m going to take off a hand when I’m trying to cut up a raw hard squash like that. Butternut is easier because it is less curved top to bottom and more even on the surface than a pumpkin. You can make butternut even easier by cutting a flat surface to rest it on. I’ll tell you one thing, I feel for the Afghans when I cut up a pumpkin. Their land, their society – even their food is difficult. So, the recipe…

1.5 lbs. pumpkin (butternut squash), seeded, peeled, and diced
1 leek, cleaned and diced
1 T butter
1 T vegetable oil
1 red bell pepper, seeded, deribbed, and diced
4 small tomatoes, diced (plum tomatoes will work best)
1/2 c. dry white wine
1/2 c. heavy cream (see?)
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 T. tomato paste (I just bought the Amore brand that comes in a tube for the first time – not that much more in price and it doesn’t have the annoying habit of molding in the back of your fridge that causes the can stuff to always go to waste)
Several large pinches of herbes de Provence
Salt and pepper to taste (more than you think – squash needs it not to be bland)
3 T. grated Gruyere, Dry Jack, Comte, or Beaufort cheese
2 T. fresh bread crumbs (tear half a piece of bread up with a fork)
1-2 t. olive oil

Preheat the oven to 350. In a large, heavy sauté pan over medium-high heat, sauté the pumpkin and leek in the butter and oil until lightly golden. Add the red pepper and tomatoes, and continue to cook until the tomatoes are saucy, about 15 minutes. Add the wine and cook until it is reduced by about half, then stir in the cream, half of the garlic, the tomato paste, herbes de Provence, salt, and pepper. Pour the pumpkin mixture into a 11×7 baking dish. Mix the remaining garlic with the cheese, bread crumbs, and oil, then sprinkle over the pumpkin in the casserole. Bake for 20-25 minutes. Serve hot.

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