Monday, November 23, 2015

Sides that Sparkle: Day 2 in a Marathon of Side Dishes
What’s cooking? Spiced Butternut Squash with Pecans and Cranberries

Butternut squash is one of those veggies I discovered late in life. Some 20 years ago, I was combing my cookbooks for a soup to make, and in the first Silver Palate Cookbook – for years my go-to source for almost any entertaining – I spotted the recipe for Curried Butternut Squash Soup. The curry, the apples, the butternut flavor so close to sweet potatoes and yet so far in caloric content (half the calories!).

But that’s a recipe for another day. Today, the Kitchen Goddess has found an even easier way to serve butternut squash, with a mildly exotic flavoring featuring a spice mix from Ethiopia. Earthy and warm and colorful, and while you may not have the exact seasoning – it wasn’t in the KG’s cabinet, either – she has concocted a reasonable substitute that worked very well.

One reason butternut squash seemed like a good candidate was that my grocery store had it already peeled and diced (!). Normally, I wouldn’t mind doing the peeling and cutting myself – the Kitchen Goddess is always skeptical of the freshness of such offerings – but it was moving off the shelves so well that freshness didn’t seem to be a problem. And normally, I don’t have four days of veggie dishes to concoct in addition to what I’m cooking for Thanksgiving, so I appreciated the shortcut.

I use a melon baller to scoop out the seeds.
So even if your grocer isn’t as accommodating as mine, don’t let that talk you out of a great dish. I’ll admit that peeling butternut squash is a workout. But well worth the trouble. Just be sure to remove enough to get past the green veins just under the skin.

Another nice thing about this dish is that it works well at room temperature. So you can make it and just let it sit out while the rest of the dinner is under way. Or you can make it the day before and reheat it in the microwave. If you do that, save the dressing in a jar and pour it on when you’re ready to serve.

Spiced Butternut Squash with Pecans and Cranberries

Adapted from Chef Marcus Samuelsson in Food & Wine, November 2014

Serves 6.

2 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into ¾-inch dice
¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1½ teaspoons berbere (see Kitchen Goddess note)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ cup pecan halves
½ teaspoon dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
¼ cup fresh orange juice
¼ cup dried cranberries, chopped

Kitchen Goddess note: I would guess that not many of you will find berbere in your spice drawer. The KG made her own. Mix the following together well, and save what’s left for another day:
1½ teaspoons cayenne pepper (or 1 tablespoon Aleppo pepper)
2½ teaspoons sweet paprika
1½ teaspoons kosher salt
½ teaspoon ground coriander
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
¼ teaspoon sweet curry powder
⅛ teaspoon grated nutmeg
⅛ teaspoon ground allspice
1/16 teaspoon ground cloves

Preheat oven to 450º.

Lightly grease a large, rimmed baking sheet or line it with baker’s parchment. In a large mixing bowl, toss the squash with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and 1 teaspoon of the berbere spice mix. Spread the squash onto the baking sheet, and season with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper.

Roast the squash 30 minutes, until tender and beginning to crisp.

While the squash is roasting, heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the pecan halves and cook, stirring, for 5-6 minutes, or until the nuts become fragrant. In a small bowl, combine the brown sugar, ¼ teaspoon of the salt, and the remaining ½ teaspoon of the spice mix. Once the pecans become fragrant, toss them in a bowl with the sugar/spice.

In another small bowl or jar, combine the orange zest and juice, and slowly whisk in the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Season to taste with kosher salt (I added about ¼ teaspoon) and several fresh grinds of black pepper.

Transfer the squash to a serving dish and scatter the pecans and cranberries over the top. Drizzle the dressing over the dish and serve warm or at room temperature.

Look for another new side dish in tomorrow's continuation of the marathon...

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