After a wave of nearly ninety-degree days, fall is slowly falling in New York. For many New Yorkers, that means beautiful foliage in Central Park and perhaps braving the commuter rails for a bit of upstate apple-picking. For me, it means my two favorite "b's" are back in season: butternut squash and bourbon. This recipe combines both for an easy, delicious blast of autumnal flavors that will soothe any lingering nostalgia for summer.
*Note 1: Nutmeg and Cinnamon are really to taste here. If you're not into the whole autumn and spices thing, dial it back. If you're the kind of person that waits with baited breath for the first pumpkin spice lattes to appear at the local coffee shop, a heavier hand might be called for!
*Note 2: When choosing a bourbon to cook with, follow the same rule you'd use for cooking with wine--i.e., use something cheap, but don't cook with anything you wouldn't drink! Jim Beam Black, Old Forester 86, or Elijah Craig Small Batch are my standbys for cooking (and drinking while cooking). Stay away from "high rye" bourbons like Bulleit or Old Grandad, as well as "wheated" bourbons such as Maker's Mark, Rebel Yell or Larceny. The former often add a spice and pepperiness that doesn't always play well with food, while the latter impart a sweetness that works well in some contexts but that might be over the top when combined with the sweetness of the squash here. Also, keep in mind: if you're not a bourbon guy or gal, you can always buy small "airplane" bottles for cooking so that you don't end up with more whiskey than you need. —NYCBourbon
butternut squash (or honeynut, if you can find it)
bourbon (see note below)
shredded Comté cheese (Gruyère can also be substituted)
While oven is preheating to 400 degrees, peel the "tube" section of the squash, discarding or saving the end(s) for another use. Using a sharp knife or mandolin, slice the squash into thin rounds no more than 1/8" thick.
Layer squash rounds in an 8 or 10" oven-proof skillet. Mix cream, salt, a dash of cinnamon, a dash of nutmeg and two tablespoons of bourbon together in a separate bowl and then pour this mixture over the squash. The squash should be covered but not swimming.
Bring the squash and cream mixture to a robust simmer on the stovetop over medium heat until the sauce reduces. It should taste "bourbony" without being boozy. If the sauce is not "bourbony" enough for your tastes, add another one or two tablespoons.
Meanwhile, place pecans into a small ziplock baggie and pound/crush them until they are nearly powdered. Ideally, they should resemble panko crumbs in size. Once they are crushed, add a dash or so of cinnamon to the pecans and shake the baggie to combine.
Continue to simmer until the squash is slightly tender but not fork tender. Once it reaches this stage, top with shredded Comté and sprinkle the pecan mixture over the top, as you would breadcrumbs.
Place in oven for 15-20 minutes or until the cheese has melted and the crust is a golden brown.