I find squash to be pretty charming. In a down-to-earth kind of way. It’s sturdy, strong, and will wait for you on the counter until you come to it. It knows you have other short-lived produce to tend to. Butternut squash is particularly charming because it can be so nice and sweet. In fact, most canned “pumpkin” is really butternut squash (GASP), or other types of sweet winter squash. It’s not such a big deal really, pumpkin in and of itself is a type of squash… And in Australia and New Zealand butternut squash is known as butternut pumpkin. So there. Butternut is nice enough to help a pumpkin out. So versatile and flexible, like a good boyfriend.
I find a lot of butternut squash recipes are geared toward a sweet and spicy profile. Paired with ingredients like cinnamon, nutmeg, curry powder, apples, raisins, vanilla, nuts. Makes sense, of course. Any way you go, the sweetness of butternut squash is going to come out when you cook it. But I think it’s more interesting when you add more savory friends to the mix, like chili pepper, thyme, rosemary, beans, a pungent cheese. One of the most amazing salads I’ve ever had– and not to be a walking advertisement– was from this place. Chunks of butternut squash roasted to a deep, orangey brown, velvety and sweet on the inside; paired with Gorgonzola cheese and a honey-balsamic dressing… I died a little when I tried it. (People of South Florida, if you want some amazing Mediterranean cuisine, go there. It’s never failed me. The belly dancing is pretty cool, too.)
So Mr. Butternut was waiting for me on the counter. Not alone, however. A head of garlic kept him company…
Roasted Butternut Squash and Garlic Whip
butternut squash (any size will do*)
a head of garlic
*I had a small squash on hand. If you go big, you may want to use more than one garlic head, so that the flavor doesn’t get lost
1) Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Get a baking sheet/pan/dish– whatever you want, but line it with parchment paper. Cut off the very ends of the squash. Then standing it on it’s bottom, cut it in half vertically. I also like to cut these halves into quarters, but it doesn’t really matter. Scoop out the seeds and stringy pulp. You can save the seeds for roasting just like pumpkin seeds. Place the squash pieces with the orange flesh facing down on the parchment paper.
2) Slice off the very top of your garlic head(s). Remove the excess layers of skin. Pour a little olive oil over the exposed garlic cloves, and spread it around. Sprinkle with a bit of salt and pepper if you like. Then loosely wrap up the garlic in aluminum foil. Lay that baby with the squash.
3) Into the oven. Timing is not exact. Temperature is not even exact, you could probably go up to 450 degrees for shorter cooking time. But I find caramelization works best at lower temperatures for longer times, so I gave about an hour at 400. Here’s the result…
I know the squash looks frightening, but trust me. That whole dark lava thing going on is the uber-caramelization of the squash’s natural sugars. You won’t be eating that part, just wonderful, sweet pulp. And the garlic is now nicely browned, soft, and also a bit on the sweet side. Well, for something that is so offensive in its raw state, it is.
The skin of the squash will peel right off. Naked time! This is the point where I do something considered “weird” by some. I love roasted butternut squash skin. Love. The texture becomes a little crispy, it takes on a little sweetness from the squash… And my mama taught me to eat the skins of my fruits and veggies (assuming that they’re edible). They tend to have extra fiber, as well as some nutrients. So don’t judge.
Bust out a food processor/blender. Put the squash pulp in there, and scrape the garlic cloves out of their casing with a little paring knife. Blend them together. Gradually mix in olive oil to make it more smooth. And here’s where you can get creative. I added some rosemary, thyme, cumin, coriander, and a bit of champagne vinegar. Salt and pepper of course. Very yum, especially after sitting in the fridge overnight and the flavors have melded. Savory, earthy, a little sweet, a hint of tang…
But you can do countless things with the base. Try different oils, or do without oil if you want. Add nut butter like almond, cashew, or hazelnut. Experiment with the spice rack: cinnamon, allspice, ginger, paprika, basil, sage, mustard, fenugreek, dill… it goes on. The final product, whatever it may be, is also versatile in function. You can use it as a dip, spread on a sandwich, serve as a side dish, thin it out with some broth to make a soup… Weeeee!
Oh, butternut squash… *wink*