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A squash gratin is a dish made with different kinds of squash that usually involves diced or sliced squash arranged in a shallow tray and covered with extra ingredients, where the result is a kind of crispy or brown crust top. Recipes for this kind of dish may include different ingredients for taste or texture, and slightly different methods of cooking, though commonly, these kinds of dishes are baked in an oven. Squash gratin is an example of how cooks manipulate starchy vegetables like squash and achieve a soft texture for a dish.
So as to understand what squash gratin is, it’s helpful to understand how the word “gratin” is used in the culinary world. The word grater comes from French, and might be translated into English as “scrape” or “grate.” As a form of this word, gratin can also translate to “crust,” and generally, dishes that involve the label “gratin” share the same type of browned or textured top crusts. Many of these dishes use potatoes, but other foods can be cooked au gratin in a similar way.
In order to make the most common kinds of squash gratin, cooks will typically start with yellow squash, butternut squash, or some other variety. A combination of squash varieties may also be used. Cooks will cut these into specifically sized or shaped pieces after peeling the squash, and taking out the seeds and internal soft tissues of the vegetable.
To prepare most kinds of squash gratin, cooks will mix the squash pieces into a kind of sauce developed from broth or stock, herbs and other flavorings, and some other textured products like cheeses. Cheese is often the ingredient that makes the sauce thicker, and produces the browned crust. Cheddar or many other kinds of cheese can be used for this purpose. Indeed, many native English speakers, unfamiliar with French vocabulary, often mistakenly assume that the term gratin always implies the use of cheese; this is not true.
For additional flavor, cooks may add onions or garlic. Green herbs like rosemary, thyme, sage or dill may also be added. In addition to chunks of soft cheese, powders of dried cheeses like parmesan may also be part of the mixture. Cooks will often add salt, and some will add sugar as well.
When preparing the mixture, cooks will typically cooks some of the ingredients in a skillet before transferring the total mixture to the baking pan. Cooks may sprinkle the pan with cracker crumbs or other textured ingredients after the squash mixture has been added. These dishes are baked at different temperatures for different times according to a specific recipe. In addition to timed cooking methods, some cooks will simply take the dish out of the oven when the top crust has browned. In addition, an advanced technique for squash gratin may include baking the dish for up to an hour while covered, before uncovering the dish to brown the top with an additional 10 to 15 minutes of cooking.