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Recipe: Delight vegetarians at Thanksgiving with butternut custard baked with mushrooms and leeks

Butternut Custard with Mushrooms, Leeks, and Fontina.Sally Pasley Vargas

Serves 8

In this hearty vegetarian entree, shredded butternut squash, sauteed leeks, and browned mushrooms are held together with a creamy custard of eggs, creme fraiche, and fontina cheese (something like a quiche filling). Leeks often have loads of dirt trapped between their layers. To avoid adding grit to your dish, chop the leeks, then swish the pieces in a bowl of cold water. The dirt will settle to the bottom; scoop the leeks out with your hands, leaving the grit behind. You can save time with ready-peeled squash, if you like, or pre-sliced mushrooms. The dish can be made ahead and reheated or served at room temperature. Your vegetarian guests will rejoice when they see a main course on the table that's especially for them.

Butter (for the dish)
1medium whole butternut squash (about 2 1/2 pounds) or 2 pounds peeled, seeded butternut
3medium leeks, white and green parts only, halved lengthwise, sliced 1/4-inch thick
4tablespoons butter
3teaspoons salt
1pound cremini mushrooms (baby Bella), stems trimmed, caps thickly sliced
4 eggs
8ounces creme fraiche
1tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
8fresh sage leaves, chopped
Black pepper, to taste
¼teaspoon ground nutmeg
8ounces fontina cheese, shredded

1. Set the oven at 350 degrees. Butter a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.

2. Peel the whole butternut squash and halve it lengthwise. Use a spoon to scoop out the seeds. Halve the peeled butternut. Shred the halves on the large holes of a box grater or in a food processor with the shredding disk. Transfer them to a bowl large enough to hold all the ingredients.

3. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter. When it foams, add the leeks and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the leeks soften and begin to caramelize around the edges. Transfer to the bowl of butternut.

4. In the same skillet over medium-high heat, melt the remaining 2 tablespoons butter. Add the mushrooms and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 to 12 minutes, or until the mushrooms turn golden brown. Transfer to the bowl of butternut. Stir well and leave the mixture to cool.

5. In another bowl, whisk the eggs, creme fraiche, remaining 2 teaspoons salt, thyme, sage, a generous grind of pepper, and nutmeg. Using a rubber spatula, stir it into the butternut mixture. Stir in all but 1/4 cup of the fontina.

6. Transfer the mixture to the baking dish, pressing it into the corners; smooth the top. Sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 cup fontina. (If preparing in advance, set aside in a cool place for up to 1 hour. Or cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight; let it sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before baking.)

7. Bake the dish for 45 minutes, or until it is set in the middle and starting to brown. A thermometer inserted into the middle of the mixture should register 165 degrees. Cut into neat squares or spoon out from the baking dish.

Claudia Catalano

Serves 8

In this hearty vegetarian entree, shredded butternut squash, sauteed leeks, and browned mushrooms are held together with a creamy custard of eggs, creme fraiche, and fontina cheese (something like a quiche filling). Leeks often have loads of dirt trapped between their layers. To avoid adding grit to your dish, chop the leeks, then swish the pieces in a bowl of cold water. The dirt will settle to the bottom; scoop the leeks out with your hands, leaving the grit behind. You can save time with ready-peeled squash, if you like, or pre-sliced mushrooms. The dish can be made ahead and reheated or served at room temperature. Your vegetarian guests will rejoice when they see a main course on the table that's especially for them.

Butter (for the dish)
1medium whole butternut squash (about 2 1/2 pounds) or 2 pounds peeled, seeded butternut
3medium leeks, white and green parts only, halved lengthwise, sliced 1/4-inch thick
4tablespoons butter
3teaspoons salt
1pound cremini mushrooms (baby Bella), stems trimmed, caps thickly sliced
4 eggs
8ounces creme fraiche
1tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
8fresh sage leaves, chopped
Black pepper, to taste
¼teaspoon ground nutmeg
8ounces fontina cheese, shredded

1. Set the oven at 350 degrees. Butter a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.

2. Peel the whole butternut squash and halve it lengthwise. Use a spoon to scoop out the seeds. Halve the peeled butternut. Shred the halves on the large holes of a box grater or in a food processor with the shredding disk. Transfer them to a bowl large enough to hold all the ingredients.

3. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter. When it foams, add the leeks and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the leeks soften and begin to caramelize around the edges. Transfer to the bowl of butternut.

4. In the same skillet over medium-high heat, melt the remaining 2 tablespoons butter. Add the mushrooms and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 to 12 minutes, or until the mushrooms turn golden brown. Transfer to the bowl of butternut. Stir well and leave the mixture to cool.

5. In another bowl, whisk the eggs, creme fraiche, remaining 2 teaspoons salt, thyme, sage, a generous grind of pepper, and nutmeg. Using a rubber spatula, stir it into the butternut mixture. Stir in all but 1/4 cup of the fontina.

6. Transfer the mixture to the baking dish, pressing it into the corners; smooth the top. Sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 cup fontina. (If preparing in advance, set aside in a cool place for up to 1 hour. Or cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight; let it sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before baking.)

7. Bake the dish for 45 minutes, or until it is set in the middle and starting to brown. A thermometer inserted into the middle of the mixture should register 165 degrees. Cut into neat squares or spoon out from the baking dish.Claudia Catalano