In fact, we've served it both ways. The first time we made it (which you can see unbaked, in our new favorite gratin dish), we ate it as a dip with pita chips and friends. Later that night we warmed up the leftovers, alongside some roasted vegetables, for a late-working husband.
This dish is very similar to Faith's Delicata Squash and Gruyere Dip, only it's stuck back in the oven to develop a thin crust on top. The butternut squash makes the color perfect for this month (Halloween party, anyone?), and, while we liked the taste of parmesan, any salty, hard cheese would work.
Butternut Squash and Parmesan Dip
serves 6 as an appetizer
1 butternut squash, halved and seeded
2 teaspoons olive oil
3 sprigs of fresh thyme, divided
1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese, divided
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup whole milk or half and half
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Rub each half of the squash, inside and out, with a teaspoon of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place upside-down on a foil-lined baking sheet, with one sprig of thyme tucked into the cavity of each half. Roast for about 45 minutes, until a fork poked into the non-hollow end of the squash slides in easily. Remove and let cool just slightly.
Scoop out the flesh of the squash halves and add to the bowl of a food processor (you can also mash by hand with a potato masher or fork, it will just be a bit chunkier). Add 3/4 cup of the cheese, the leaves from the remaining thyme sprig, nutmeg, and salt. Pulse until blended, then pour in the milk or half and half while the machine is running.
Transfer mixture to a small gratin dish (about 8 inches long) or a shallow pie plate. Sprinkle on the remaining 1/4 cup cheese and return to the oven for about 20 minutes. After 15 minutes, turn on the broiler so that the top of the dip gets brown. Serve with crackers, toast, or pita chips.
(Image: Elizabeth Passarella)