Whether you prefer butternut, buttercup, acorn, hubbard or the easiest one of all, delicata, which can be roasted and eaten without peeling ― the versatile, sweet, densely delicious vegetable justly takes it place on many Thanksgiving tables. (And I’m not even including the pumpkin of pie fame.)
We ran a trio of chef’s butternut recipes in our Cooking in Season column Autumn 2010: a creative squash and goat cheese gratin; super-simple and delicious squash-cider soup; and a moist, fragrant squash and raisin loaf bread (see below for the gratin recipe; to have recipes like this delivered to your mailbox every quarter, click here to subscribe). If you’re still looking for a fresh side dish or an elegant first course for your Thanksgiving feast, try the gratin or the soup. And mini versions of the loaf breads make wonderful home-made holiday gifts.
But there is one more secret to my love of winter squash: the seeds.
I have long been disappointed in the pumpkin seeds I’d carefully save from our Halloween jack-o-lanterns to roast. They always came out so fibrous, like chewing on straw; the smaller seeds from other winter squashes are much more successfully roasted in my experience. They are all a bit fiddly to separate from the sticky squash entrails, but the kids are on vacation and Aunt Milly is begging to help, so put them to work.
The key is to let the seeds dry at least overnight after you’ve cleaned them (which I find is easiest to do under running water over a strainer). Spread them on a piece of parchment paper and let them sit out for at least 12 hours. You can flavor them in so many ways, but one simple way is for every half cup of seeds, toss them with 2 teaspoons olive oil and 2 teaspoons soy sauce (I like to use tamari) plus 1/8th teaspoon fine salt. Spread them out again on the parchment and roast at 325 degrees for five minutes, turn the seeds and roast for another three to four minutes until dark and toasty. Allow to cool a bit before you start crunching on them.
Roasted squash seeds make a great topping for a salad or scattered on a squash soup, or a perfect seasonal snack for the hard-working cook as she or he makes magic in the Thanksgiving kitchen.
Butternut Squash and Vermont Goat Cheese Gratin
Chef Courtney Contos, culinary coach, teacher and consulting chef for the Vermont Cheese Council
This makes a wonderful meal with a simple roast chicken and loaf of crusty bread. Contos also loves to use roasted cubes of butternut squash in omelets with greens and cheese or mixed into hash browned potatoes with carrots and onions for breakfast or brunch. For dinner, she layers them in “white” lasagna with spin- ach, goat cheese, and ricotta.
1 large (about 2 1⁄2-3 pounds) butternut squash cut into 2-inch cubes to measure 8 cups
1 1⁄2 Tablespoons olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste 2 1⁄2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, divided 2 cups thinly sliced leeks (about 2 large leeks, white and pale green part only)
1 1⁄2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
2 cups trimmed and quartered Brussels sprouts (about 8 ounces)
1 large clove garlic, minced
4 ounces fresh goat cheese, crumbled 1⁄2 cup heavy cream
1⁄2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts or hazelnuts
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. On a large rimmed baking sheet or shallow roasting pan toss the butternut squash cubes with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Roast until just tender and beginning to brown, stirring once, about 30 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees.
Meanwhile, in a heavy-bottomed medium skillet set over medium-low heat, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter. Add the sliced leeks and thyme with some salt and pepper. Sauté for 5 minutes until leeks soften and then add Brussels sprouts. Sauté until tender but not brown, about 10 minutes, adding a little water if necessary to prevent sticking. Stir in garlic and cook for 1 minute.
Coat a 9 by 9-inch (or roughly equivalent round) baking dish with remaining 1⁄2 table- spoon butter. Spread half of the sprouts mix- ture over bottom of prepared baking dish. Sprinkle with half of the squash and half of the cheese. Repeat layering with leeks, squash and cheese. Pour cream evenly over gratin. Sprinkle with nuts. Bake uncovered until gratin is golden and cream is bubbling, about 20-25 minutes Serves 6-8 as a side dish. Do- ahead note: Can be made up to 1 day ahead. Cover with foil and chill and bake for up to 40 minutes, covered for the first 20 minutes.