Posts tagged butternut squash

Reformed

I was in a friend’s kitchen the other day, where she was teaching a class on soups. We gushed and mmmm-ed our way through bowls of butternut squash and red pepper soup, and we all voiced the same confession: We reviled squash as kids.

I can’t say it’s much of a revelation that every woman in the room hated squash as a child. Consider it’s usual back-then presentation: bland bowls of hot and stringy orange glop, hardly more appealing than my baby sister’s jar of Gerber. What 8-year-old wants to eat baby food?

Squash isn’t the only thing we collectively recoiled from as girls that we’ve since come to like. We didn’t like boys so much, then, either.

But, thankfully, just as boys grew more likable, so did squash. There are countless inspirations out there for using the seemingly countless varieties: velvety butternut soups; halved acorns glazed with maple and stuffed with grains; mini-pumpkin fondues and salads of simple greens topped with roasted cubes of your favorite, fill-in-the-blank squash.

High on my list of squash preparations is this one. It’s bound to reform any hold-out, anyone with lingering squash hatred that squash is indeed sweet.

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Squash pusher

[Recipe: Sweet Roasted Butternut Squash & Kale over Farfalle]

I admit it: When it comes to the story of dinner, I’m prone to burying the lede where squash is involved.

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The question comes, inevitably, from my girls somewhere around 4:30 p.m., and they want all five ‘Ws’: “Mom, what’s for dinner?” I hype the least-offensive ingredients: The “butterfly” pasta part (farfalle, for you purists), the Parmesan cheesy part, whatever other parts won’t push their noses up into disapproving wrinkles. I put off mentioning the squash part somewhere toward the end, because I know what protests will ensue. And I don’t want to hear it.

Maybe I should just get it over with, bad news first, good news second style. Start with a shrug, end with a song.

Yes, squash can be bad news around here. I may love it, heart and soul, for its versatility and color, for its long list of nutrients, but my girls are rightly skeptical: I remember how much I disliked squash as a kid. So much that ‘disliked’ is a pretty rich euphemism.

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This winter, though, I issued myself a challenge: Find new ways to prepare squash that my girls will actually enjoy. I wanted to work a little motherly magic (is there such a thing?) in favor of getting them hooked on squash.

Winter’s nearly over and while they’re not quite hooked, their feelings about squash are now more reserved than skeptical. That, for me, is a triumph, one that followed the path of maple-soy glazed acorn squash and spaghetti squash pancakes.

This recipe, though, was the hands-down winner. This is the one that sealed the deal.

Sweet Roasted Butternut Squash and Kale over Farfalle

adapted from The Splendid Table’s How to Eat Supper, by Lynne Rosetto Kasper & Sally Swift

While plenty of squash varieties would work here, so would other greens. The original recipe calls for escarole or curly endive. It also calls for half-and-half, but I didn’t have that on hand and so saved about a half cup of the pasta water to coat the pasta with instead. The result was still full and plenty rich.

For the vegetables:

1 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into bite-sized chunks
1 medium onion, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 bunch kale, washed, dried and torn into small pieces
1/3 C tightly packed fresh basil leaves, torn
16 large fresh sage leaves, torn
5 garlic cloves, coarse chopped
1/4 C extra-virgin olive oil
1 packed tbsp brown sugar (I’m using Billington’s)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the pasta:
1 lb farfalle (bow-tie pasta)
1 C shredded Parmesan or Asiago cheese

Place a large sheet pan in the oven. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

In a large bowl, toss together all ingredients for the vegetables (butternut squash through salt and pepper). (Lynne says be generous with the S&P — I agree.) Carefully turn the squash blend onto the pre-heated sheet pan and spread it out. Roast for 25 minutes, or until squash is tender, turning two or three times during roasting.

During the last 15 minutes or so of roasting time, cook pasta until tender but not soft, reserving about a half a cup of the pasta water.

When the squash is tender, turn on the broiler. Watch the vegetables closely and turn pieces often with a spatula, removing them from the oven when the squash is dark golden brown and the greens are near crisp.

Scrape vegetables into a serving bowl. Add some of the pasta water, the cooked pasta, and cheese. Stir to blend, adding more pasta water or salt and pepper as needed.

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Faux-fall foe

I’m feeling the part of the rebel, and I’ll tell you why. Last week, when the outside temperature reached 94 degrees and the sky was an endless blue (mind you, I’m using endless pejoratively, not in the romantic way), and I just couldn’t take it anymore, I roasted sweet potatoes. Phooey on faux Phoenix fall, I said. I hiked that oven to 400 degrees to tell that weather exactly how I felt, that inside I felt like autumn, darn it all. Even if I’m still standing around the kitchen wearing flip-flops.

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Just prior to my sweet potato fit of derring-do, Molly over at Orangette was wringing her hard-at-work hands at her Pacific Northwest November (who but Molly could manage eloquence while at the same time admitting confusion?), while we over here in the Southwest were ruing the month for an altogether opposite reason. This should be the season of the oven, of baking and roasting and all that, when the heat is confined to the one magic space that takes the insides of butternuts and autumn cups and acorns from firm and pale to just-soft and oh-so-bright. Still nearing 90 today, this season is thus far nothing of the sort.

Despite the weather – to spite the weather – I’m going for it. Which brings me to Thanksgiving, a holiday I have to admit draws no effusiveness from my end. I know, I know, and I’m sorry. I promise I’m a thankful person. I regularly burst with gratitude. But to my mind – a mind reared in places where the world has usually dipped to a touch above chill this time of year – it can be difficult to summon appreciative feelings when one’s Thanksgiving dinner companions are wearing their best khaki shorts and leather sandals. I boldly declare that I am thankful for seasons, and when I can’t express that gratitude by donning a sweater, I turn pouty.

However, it’s good to join in the exercise of counting blessings, and perspective tells me there are far greater worries in the world than year after year of too-warm Novembers.

That said, I will be grateful for (among other things) cooking, and thankful for foods that conjure feelings of fall. Like sweet potatoes, which I’ll be bringing again this year to the family to-do.

I’m an ardent admirer of the sweet potato, but its usual Thanksgiving-day treatment (brown sugar and marshmallows? Oh, please, people) causes me much pain. Every year I try to bring justice to this gentle-but-hearty fall staple, and this year, I’ve concocted a dish of sweet potato with various grains and squash. I made a similar dish last month, and tested it again last night with a couple of tweaks.

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It’s a bit on the side of cheat-y, because I use this Harvest Grain blend from Trader Joe’s (although any grain would theoretically work – brown or wild rice, couscous, etc.). In the bag, Israeli couscous and red quinoa buddy up with green orzo and baby chickpeas. It cooks like couscous or rice or quinoa, meaning the absorption way, and last night I cooked it in a broth-y butternut apple soup that uses parsnips, onions, carrots and the like as its aromatics. When the grains were done, I put them in a large bowl and tossed in some roasted and cubed butternut* (about half a squash) and two medium-sized sweet potatoes that I’d peeled, cubed and boiled (this served the four of us, so I’ll make much more for Thanksgiving).

I finished it with some olive oil, half-a-handful of chopped sage and a bit of chopped thyme. Oh, and the rudimentary salt and pepper.

My air conditioner ran the entire time.

 

*A tip I just learned: Microwave your butternut for a couple of minutes first. This makes it so much easier to slice into to prepare it for roasting.

 

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