Sunday, November 22, 2009

Maple-Roasted Butternut Squash

Ok Ina, what is the deal with all this butternut squash? Oh, it's one of your favorite vegetables? Well some of us think it tastes like baby food.

Ok, maybe a tad harsh.

But after the last butternut squash debacle, it's certainly how I felt. When I first read this recipe, it's only saving grace were the whole garlic cloves that roast alongside the butternut squash that I would be able to smear all over crusty french bread and ingest at an alarming rate. So I dove into this recipe with my sights set pretty low.

I bought a pretty small butternut squash, since I assumed only Dan would be eating it. Since I used a vegetable peeler to peel it last time, I decided to try a different technique this time. I cut the squash, separating the top from the round bottom part. Then, using a kitchen knife, I peeled each piece individually:

This method was definitely faster than the vegetable peeler and is the one I recommend using

After peeling, I seeded the squash into the sink. Although Dan likes butternut squash and pumpkin seeds (which squash seeds very closely resemble) the smell of the butternut squash innards seriously offended his senses, causing him to whimper every time he got too close to the sink. Since I didn't want this to impede his ability to do the dishes, with a role of my eyes, I pushed the squash seeds down the garbage disposal and out of smelling range.

I diced the squash and put it on a baking sheet with about a handful of unpeeled garlic cloves and tossed everything with olive oil, maple syrup, salt and pepper:

A sticky job, but somebody had to do it

It's important to leave the garlic unpeeled so they don't burn in the oven, and since I was most looking forward to this part of the dish, I made sure they were well coated in olive oil as well. I put the garlic and squash into a preheated oven and set the timer for 20 minutes.

Luckily, this recipe calls for thinly sliced pancetta which is easy to find already packaged in the grocery store. Now, I know what you're thinking: But Morgan, I thought you said in the Wild Mushroom Risotto blog that you had never seen a recipe that called for thinly sliced pancetta. Well, Ina has proven me wrong. Fortunately though, this meant that neither Dan nor I had to go toe to toe with anyone in the deli department to get the usual thick slice.

While the squash and garlic roasted, I chopped the pancetta and put it together with the fresh sage from Dan's herb garden:

After 20 minutes, I removed the squash from the oven and added the pancetta and sage evenly over the pan:

mmm bacon and garlic

I put the pan back in the oven and continued to bake it until the squash and garlic were tender. Once fully cooked, I removed the pan from the oven and plated:

please note the generous portion of bread for all that yummy garlic

I was actually pleasantly surprised with how this whole dish turned out. The squash was not as tender as the last time I cooked it, making the texture much more enjoyable, and the salty bite from the pancetta balanced the sweetness of the squash perfectly. The sugar in the squash combined with the maple syrup causes it to caramelize slightly, which was yummy, but made some pieces of squash a little sticky. Since the squash is diced into little cubes, the side of each piece that spent the most amount of time in contact with the sheet pan became too brown, causing the sugar to burn slightly and become hard and sticky. As per the directions, I only turned the squash once during the baking process, before adding the pancetta and sage, but an additional toss is definitely necessary during the second round in the oven in order to avoid this problem.

The garlic was just a tad overdone which made it a bit of a challenge to remove from the peel, but once it was on the bread, it was sweet, garlicky, and delicious. I found the easiest way to get at the garlic was to use my fingers and push it out of the peel, which got a little messy, but meant I got to lick my garlic-flavored fingers afterward. Ladylike, I know. My ratio was about 1 garlic clove per piece of bread, but I was holding back. Interestingly, the sage didn't really add much to the dish. The leaves remained whole but got crispy, and I don't think they're really intended to be eaten so they didn't impart much flavor to the squash. They did gave the dish some nice color though, and a little bit of visual texture. I would definitely make this dish again, but probably with some minor adjustments.  With this dish, my respect for butternut squash has been restored, so thanks Ina.

Already thoughout this process I've tried so many things that before, I wouldn't have even considered: cremini and morel mushrooms, scallops, dates, sweet potatoes, and butternut squash, and I've really enjoyed (almost) all of them. It's kind of amazing how much my tastes can expand as long as I'm just willing to try a few new things. Of course, I'm never going to like everything I make (sometimes due to operator error), but I'm happy to keep trying! 

Make this when: hosting a very casual Fall dinner party since spreading the roasted garlic on the bread can get a bit messy and all your guests will end up with garlic breath. 

Next Course: Parmesan-roasted broccoli


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