I was having an IM conversation with my friend Heather about one of our favorite topics: food. She was telling me about a dish she made recently using butternut squash. I told her about a really great butternut squash lasagna Annie and I made a couple months ago. The recipe, which comes from Michael Chiarello, calls for the squash to be tossed with oil and a fennel and cinnamon spice blend and then roasted in the oven. The squash is then supposed to be pureed with some ricotta cheese but when Annie and I made it we couldn't stop picking at the toasty, hot chunks of spiced squash. We both agreed that it would be great on it's own, as a side dish. So the other night I decided to give it a try.
2 large butternut squash, about 3 to 5 pounds
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh sage leaves
1 tablespoon Fennel and Cinnamon Spice Blend, recipe follows
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Fennel and Cinnamon Spice Blend:
3 tablespoons fennel seeds
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
First make the spice blend: Grind fennel with mortar and pestle. Add the cinnamon and salt and continue grinding. Or grind in spice grinder for a rough grind. There will be extra spice blend left over, probably enough for another batch of squash. It would probably be good on sweet potato as well.
Next, Using a sharp knife or a vegetable peeler, remove the squash's hard shell. Trim about 1/2-inch off the top and bottom ends so you can set each section of the squash flat on a cutting board. Cut the squash in half lengthwise. Scoop the seeds out with a spoon, and coarsely chop the squash into 1/2-inch chunks. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. In a bowl, toss the squash with the oil, sage, spice blend, and 1 teaspoon salt and fresh ground pepper. Spread the squash in a single layer on the baking sheet. Roast the squash in the oven until very soft and beginning to brown, 30 to 45 minutes, stirring once or twice.
You know, sometimes simplicity is best. This is a perfect case in point. Other than salt and pepper, the spice blend has only two ingredients but it's just amazing. It's really interesting because cinnamon can be really overpowering if too much is used. When the squash was baking, the cinnamon aroma was quite pronouced but something happens in the oven and once it's finished, the spices have blended really nicely so that no one stands out. It's very subtle. Depending on how long it's roasted, the squash ends up crisp on the outside, soft, sweet, and almost buttery on the inside.
It's a great side dish for any roast, since they can cook at the same time in the oven, although it would also be great tossed in a salad, maybe with some goat cheese or something. I served it along with a pork tenderloin that I roasted with some sprigs of thyme and a warm salad of Brussels Sprouts with Walnuts and Arugula.
One squash will serve 2.