WHEN I STARTED planning my own dinner parties, I was still in college and full of determination to do everything in some new way. That included jettisoning the vegetables my family had favored—green beans, carrots and lots of salad—and embracing those that hadn’t been featured at home.
My first big step out was with butternut squash. I had read a recipe where you cut the squash in half lengthwise and roast, cut side down, until tender. You scrape the squash out of the shells and sauté with lots of butter, salt, pepper and nutmeg. I felt very sophisticated making this dish, even though I had basically made really good baby food.
Some people like purées, but me, not so much. What I did like was the taste of the roasted squash. Now I peel and seed the squash, and then cut into cubes. You can buy the pre-cut squash if you prefer; it sure cuts down on the prep time. The cubes go onto an aluminum-foil-lined sheet pan or on a nonstick pan and are tossed with olive oil, salt and pepper. The pan goes into a 375-degree oven and you roast until lightly browned; the time will depend on the size of your cubes—35 to 45 minutes should do it.
From this point, there are so many ways to go. Add whatever seasonings you like, serve with a roast chicken, pork loin or pasta and you’ve got dinner. Here are a few specific ideas that I like.
Turkey, Wild Rice and Squash Salad: Here’s one for the day after Thanksgiving. Roast the squash cubes and then let cool. While the squash cools, make a quick dressing by whisking together one part apple cider vinegar, two parts olive oil, a spoonful of maple syrup, salt and pepper. Combine the roasted squash cubes with some cooked wild rice, chunks of cooked turkey and coarsely chopped dried cranberries and toss with the dressing.
Brown Sugar and Butter Squash: If you like it sweet, this one’s for you. Add a few tablespoons of butter in with the oil when you toss the roasted squash cubes, along with some nutmeg and cinnamon. After the squash has cooked for 15 minutes, sprinkle some brown sugar over the cubes and continue baking until tender.
Pancetta-Studded Squash: Roast the squash cubes for 15 minutes, then add a generous amount of diced pancetta (you could also crumble fresh chorizo or andouille sausage over the cubes), return to the oven and roast until the squash is tender and the pancetta is lightly browned. This is a fine side dish, but toss it with pasta and you’ve got a meal.
—Stephanie Witt Sedgwick
LittleBird Stephanie Sedgwick, a/k/a “Stephanie Cooks,” start baking and cooking more than 20 years ago and hasn’t stopped yet, as her grateful family will attest.