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.
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.
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 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 . . .
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?