In the Desert, We Wait for Spring, and Eat Roasted Butternut Squash with Sweet Spices

 

grand falls 1

 

Bryan and I drove out to Grand Falls the other day, down a long dirt road, to see the spring runoff flooding down the Little Colorado river and over the cliffs (as high as Niagara, or so they say around here).  I kept thinking about how our Ponderosa pine forest seems so complete when I’m in it (which is most of the time), but really, just on the other side of town is a transition zone between our high-elevation forest and the lower-elevation piñon pine and juniper, and the scrub-covered desert.

It’s getting warmer all over our varied section of the landscape, including the valley further south where most our local produce comes from.  We are not, however, California, and we are still waiting for asparagus and strawberries.

 

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In fact, as we drove, it seemed like the desert was waiting too, the little bushes looking soft and sun-bleached, flocking the hills.  Maybe the roar of muddy water will bring some green, a few desert flowers . . . but not yet.

 

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Fortunately, in the meantime, we still have squash.  Butternut squash was the first winter vegetable I fell in love with, since what’s not to love; the round, slightly sweet flavors, the vibrant orange color, and in this case, brightened up further for the coming spring with some new and unexpected spices and a tangy sauce.

I mentioned that we’ve cooked a LOT of recipes from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi this winter, this is latest one; which I adapted to my tastes and what was in my pantry that day.  It was just perfect to make ahead and leave in a friend’s refrigerator while we gallivanted around the desert, ready and waiting for all of us to be hungry when we got back.

 

roasted butternut with sweet spices

 

Roasted Butternut Squash with Sweet Spices and Tangy Chile Sauce

Adapted from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi

Serves 5 as an appetizer

 

Preheat the oven to 400° F

Take two very small, or one medium-large butternut squash.  Cut the squash in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds and set them aside for later.  Slice the squash 3/8 inch or 1 cm thick.  Lay out the slices on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a non-stick mat.

Take 1 Tablespoon of dried cardamom pods; break the green pods open, either with your fingers or by crushing them a bit in a mortar and pestle.  Discard the pods but keep all the seeds which are inside.  Crush the seeds until they are roughly ground, either with a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder.

Add the ground cardamom to a small bowl with: 1 teaspoon ground allspice and 3 Tablespoons olive oil.  Stir this up and brush it all over the squash slices.

Sprinkle a little salt over the squash, and roast in the oven until the slices are tender but not mushy when stabbed with a fork, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, separate the squash seeds from the stringy stuff they grow in, and put the seeds into the bowl with the leftover oil and spices, mix them around to coat.

For the sauce: stir together the juice of 1/2 lime, several heaping Tablespoons of crème fraîche (once you have it, you put it on everything) and some chopped fresh chile  – I used 1/2 of one large defrosted frozen roasted one from last fall (you can put those on everything too).  If dairy is not your thing, these would also be great with just a little chile or hot sauce, or maybe even a sweet and hot sauce . . .

 

roasted butternut sauce and seeds

 

When the squash is done, transfer it to a cutting board, or platter or bowl to serve, and put the seeds on the same baking sheet and roast them for 10 – 15 minutes, until golden and crunchy.  You can serve them with the squash, or eat them as a road-trip snack.  The leftover spices are more subtle, but delicious with the toasted seed flavor.

To serve the squash, slide a small sharp knife around the outside of the slices, taking off just the peel.  If you run out of time, you can also serve them as they are and let the eaters peel their own.  This is good cold or room temp, with a little sauce drizzled over the top.

 

So, what are you eating?  Is it spring yet where you are?

 

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Still a little time for: Winter Squash, Mexican Style

Spring is coming.  In fact, I am down in the valley this weekend where spring is already here!  Still somehow, I am not quite ready to let go of winter foods yet.  Although I would not touch a butternut squash in July, I think I could eat it happily almost every day for the months of winter!

If you are getting tired of winter veggies but the asparagus is not yet streaming into your area, here is a another flavor combo for you.  I use this in all kinds of tacos and enchiladas.  The day of this photo we had it in tacos with fresh corn tortillas, a mild slightly tangy cheese, and orange chipotle salsa.

Winter Squash Filling for Tacos or Enchiladas

2 to 4 cups cooked winter squash  – butternut is my favorite.  Whichever you choose, cut in half (or into more pieces if very large) and scoop out the seeds.  Rub the cut surfaces with a little olive oil.  Place the pieces cut side down on a rimmed baking sheet and roast in a 375° oven until you can easily bury a the tines of a fork in it – this may take 30 minutes to an hour depending on the size and thickness of the squash pieces.  Let rest until cool enough to handle.  It is now ready to peel and slice quite easily!  For this recipe, cut the squash into fairly large chunks.

½ to 1 cup dried black beans, cooked.  I do mine in the pressure cooker – fast even at 7000 ft!

1 to 2 cloves garlic, minced.

2 to 3 thawed frozen roasted green chiles, chopped.  In the West (as you already know if you live here) around September/October time the most amazing smell fills the farmers’ market – roasting green chiles.  I could go on about this for quite some time, but will limit myself to saying that I stock up big time and live on the ones in my freezer for the rest of the year.  If you didn’t save enough, your grocery store may have fresh Anaheim or Poblano peppers which you can roast under the broiler, or speared on a fork above the flame of a gas range (or even with a crème brulee torch – in any case watch carefully and watch your fingers!)  Once the peppers are roasted, cut out the stem and pull out the seeds, then chop.

Put a little olive oil in a large heavy skillet over medium heat.  When it is hot add the garlic, let it sizzle for a minute or two, then add all the other ingredients.  They are mostly cooked already, they just need to warm up and get the flavors to blend, so stir until everything is hot, then turn off the heat and let sit together until you are ready to serve (or fill enchiladas).

I have included a fair amount of variation in the ingredient amounts, feel free to change them based on the amount you want to end up with and whether you like the emphasis more on the squash or the beans, etc.

If you eat this with corn tortillas, you will have all “three sisters” of ancient Southwest cuisine (corn, beans and squash).  Don’t you think chile should be the fourth sister?

Enjoy the last of your winter and those hearty comforting winter foods!