When we think about cooking with beer, the first place our mind often goes is to meat. Beer can chicken, stout ribs, beer braised pulled pork…You don’t see too many vegetarian main dishes that call for beer. I eat a primarily vegetable focused diet, so when I was mailed multiple bottles of The Bruey’s Autumn Maple to experiment with in the kitchen, I wanted to work in a vegetarian dish. Given the make-up of the beer: yams (17 pounds of them per barrel in total used to make the beer), nutmeg, allspice, maple syrup, and cinnamon, I focused my attention on winter squash based dishes. All of those flavors go great with winter squash, so I figured I couldn’t go wrong.
I’ve made butternut squash lasagna in the past that was really good, so I went to work figuring out how I could alter that to work in the beer and make it lighter. My end creation was a flavor packed but light gratin made with butternut squash, spinach, an Autumn Maple sauce, and cheese. For those of you that are curious, a gratin is simply cooking technique that produces a browned crust on top of a shallow baked dish, often using breadcrumbs or grated cheese.
To make this lovely dish, I layered thin slices of butternut squash, spinach, and Autumn Maple sauce then topped it off with a layer of cheese. It gets baked in the oven until golden brown and bubbly. The flavors in the beer shine in this dish and add great richness to it. To round out my meal, I served the gratin with a roasted mushroom, arugula and red onion salad. It made for a light, healthy, and delicious autumn meal.
Autumn Maple Sauce
2 cups of the Bruery’s Autumn Maple
¼ cup all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons butter
2 cups whole milk
Pinch of nutmeg
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped
What you need to do
Put the beer in a large pot and heat over high to bring to a boil. Once the beer begins to boil, bring the heat down to low and simmer the beer to reduce down to 1 cup. This should take about 15 minutes, but everyone’s stove is different, so pay close attention. Also, watch for boil overs when you first start heating the beer. They will happen, and fast! Once the beer is reduced, turn the heat off and set aside.
Put 4 tablespoons of butter into a sauce pan and melt it over medium heat. Add ¼ cup flour to the pan and whisk 1 minute. Next, whisk in the 2 cups of milk, then the reduced Autumn Maple beer.
Bring the sauce to a boil over medium-high heat, and then reduce to low. Simmer the sauce for 5 – 10 minutes, until it thickens slightly. Turn the heat off and add a pinch nutmeg, thyme, salt, and pepper.
You can make the sauce a day ahead of time and store it in an airtight container in the fridge. It can be used any place you would normally use a cream sauce, keeping in mind the distinct flavors of the beer.
Butternut Squash and Spinach Gratin
4 pounds of butternut squash, peeled (2 large ones should do the trick)
3 pounds of spinach, fresh or frozen (for this round I used fresh spinach, but next time I’ll use frozen. Way easier.)
1 small white onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1.5 tablespoons butter
1 recipe Autumn Maple sauce from above
1.5 cups grated cheese of your choice (2 if you want it really cheesy) – Gruyere or Swiss work well
What you need to do
Start by getting the spinach ready. If using frozen spinach, thaw it in a colander, then using your hands, squeeze out as much water as you can from it. You want the spinach to be as dry as possible.
If using fresh spinach, heat about an inch of water in a large pot over high heat. When it is boiling, add handfuls of spinach at a time to the pot and toss with tongs. Continue tossing and adding until all the spinach is wilted. I did this in two batches. Once all the spinach in the pot is wilted, drain into a colander and rinse with cold water. When it is cool enough to handle, squeeze out as much water as possible.
Place the dry spinach on a cutting board and chop into bite sized pieces and place in a bowl.
Now, heat a skillet over medium heat and add the butter. Once the butter in melted, throw in the onion and garlic. Satue 4 – 6 minutes until the onion becomes tender, then add to the bowl of spinach. Mix the onion/garlic satue into the spainch, season with salt and pepper, then set aside.
Next, prep the squash. Cut the neck from the bulb. Then, cut the blub part in half and scrape out the seeds. Cut the neck of the squash lengthwise into strips as thin as you can get them without chopping your fingers off. Then, cut as many thin strips from the blub as you can (the goal is 1/8 of an inch thick). I ended up with pieces of squash varied both in shape and thickness, but this adds a charming rusticness to the finished product. If you have a mandolin, that makes this step MUCH easier.
Now you are ready to assemble
Using an 11×7 baking dish, spread a thin layer of Autumn Maple sauce in the bottom. Then, cover the entire bottom of the dish with squash slices, slightly overlapping the pieces. Spread ½ of the chopped spinach on the squash, then ladle on about a cup of the Autumn Maple sauce. Repeat the layering (squash, spinach, sauce), then top with a final layer of squash. Cover the top with sauce, then grated cheese.
You can assemble your gratin a few hours before you want to bake it. Just be sure to cover it and keep it in the fridge.
Almost there. It’s baking time!
When you are ready to bake, pre-heat your oven to 400 degrees. Cover the gratin with foil and bake in the oven for 40 minutes. After 40 minutes, remove the foil and bake uncovered an additional 15 minutes, until the cheese is browned and bubbly. Let it cool for 5– 10 minutes, cut and serve!