Apple, Leek and Butternut Squash Gratin
- 1-1/2 cups coarse fresh breadcrumbs (from an airy, crusty loaf like ciabatta)
- 2 Tbs. unsalted butter, melted
- Kosher salt
- 3 oz. (3/4 cup) grated sharp Cheddar
- 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter, plus 1/2 tsp. for the dish
- 2 cups sliced leeks (white and light green parts of 3 medium leeks), thoroughly washed
- Kosher salt
- 2/3 cup plus 3 Tbs. apple cider
- 1/2 cup plus 3 Tbs. heavy cream
- 2 tsp. chopped fresh thyme leaves
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 2 crisp, firm apples, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced
- 12 oz. butternut squash (neck portion only)
- 2 medium Yukon Gold potatoes (12 oz. total)
Combine the crumbs, melted butter, and a pinch of salt in a bowl. Mix in the Cheddar and thyme. Heat the oven to 350°F. Rub a shallow 2-quart gratin dish with 1/2 tsp. of the butter. Melt the 2 Tbs. butter in a small (preferably nonstick) saucepan over medium heat. Add the leeks and a big pinch of salt. Cook, stirring frequently, until well softened and lightly browned (the pan will be dry), 10 to 15 minutes. Add 2/3 cup of the cider and simmer for 2 minutes to reduce it slightly. Add 1/2 cup of the cream, the chopped thyme, a pinch of salt, a few grinds of pepper, and stir well; set aside.
Cook the apples: In a large nonstick skillet, melt the remaining 2 Tbs. butter over medium heat. Turn the heat to medium high, add the apple slices, and cook, gently flipping and stirring, until most of the slices are browned and limp but not falling apart, about 10 minutes. Add the remaining 3 Tbs. cream and 3 Tbs. cider. Stir and let the liquids reduce slightly for a few seconds; remove from the heat.
Peel the squash neck, cut it into quarters lengthwise, and cut them across into thin slices. Peel the potatoes, cut them in half, and cut them across into thin slices. In a large bowl, combine the squash slices, the potato slices, the leek mixture, the apple mixture (scrape the pans well), and a scant 2 tsp. salt. Using a rubber spatula, mix gently but thoroughly. Scrape the mixture into the prepared gratin dish, smoothing and pressing until evenly to distribute. Cover with the breadcrumb topping. Bake until the crust is deep golden brown, the juices around the edges have subsided, and the crust is dark brown around the edges, about 1 hour. Let rest for 15 to 20 minutes before serving.