I love it when a recipe that sounds like nothing turns out to really be something.

This Apple, Leek and Butternut Squash Gratin is ridiculously simple: a layer of sliced butternut squash, a layer of leeks sautéed with sherry and sage, a layer of sliced apples and a layer of Parmesan.

It’s so simple that when I slid the gratin into the oven, I was a little afraid that the end result would be a hot mess, mushy and bland. But once the heat of the oven started working its magic, the scent of the baking gratin made the entire house smell like Thanksgiving dinner.

I spooned some onto my plate and took the first bite. The slices of apple and squash were tender, not mushy, and their sweetness was perfectly balanced by the sherried leeks and blistered Parmesan.

Pure magic. You start with layers of simple ingredients and end up with something as homey, satisfying and delicious as anything smothered, covered or creamed.

I’m probably being disowned somewhere right now, but it’s true.

Apple, Leek and Butternut Squash Gratin

Adapted from “Whole Living” (September 2007)

Serves 4

  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 medium leeks, white part only, trimmed of roots and tough outer leaves, thinly sliced crosswise, well washed and dried
  • Coarse salt and ground pepper
  • 1/2 cup dry sherry or apple cider
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage, plus leaves for garnish
  • 1 pound butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and sliced 1/8-inch thick
  • 1 pound apples, such as Gala, Cortland, Baldwin, or Macoun, peeled, halved, cored, and cut into 1/8-inch thick slices
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a 10-inch skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of oil over medium heat. Add leeks and 2 tablespoons water; season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until they begin to brown, about 10 minutes. Add sherry and sage and cook until liquid is reduced to a glaze, about 3 minutes; set aside.
  2. In a 2-quart shallow baking dish, arrange squash in overlapping layers; season with salt and pepper. Spread leeks evenly over the squash.
  3. Arrange apples in an overlapping layer over the leeks. Brush apples with remaining tablespoon oil. Cover tightly with aluminum foil. Bake 45 minutes.
  4. Uncover and sprinkle cheese over the top. Raise the oven temperature to 450 degrees and bake 10 minutes, or until the cheese has melted and is golden brown. The tip of a paring knife should easily pierce the gratin. Let cool 10 minutes before serving. Garnish with sage leaves.