Batter Licker

March 29, 2012

twice-baked butternut squash halves

Searching for butternut squash: that’s what I’ve preoccupied myself with while everyone else is anxiously leaping into spring, baskets overflowing with the first bundles of asparagus and green garlic.

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It’s the one piece of Fall and Winter produce that I keep a tight grip on for as long as possible, reluctant to let it go and dismayed to go without it for another six months, even if that same time period brings delightful indulgence in strawberries and, eventually, nectarines.

I love butternut squash. Its sunny, bright orange flesh ushers me through months of bleak greyness. I live for butternut squash. When strawberries turn sour and nectarines disappear from the market and all produce stands point to cabbage and kale,** the appearance of butternut squash brings a smile to my face and puts the spring back into my steps. I have a serious butternut squash addiction.

** I do enjoy eating more than my fair share of both cruciferous veggies, but I don’t feel overwhelmingly excited when they’re all I see at a farmers market.

And this baked recipe is quite simple, with mostly hands-off time. Halve the squash, scoop out the seeds, bake for 40 minutes, spoon out the softened flesh to mix with your favorite pairings (pesto? goat cheese? caramelized onions?) – or just enjoy it plain, straight off the spoon, re-stuff the squash, and bake until warm.

It not only makes for a beautiful presentation (especially if you don’t halve the halves as I did; but the only squash I could find was a 2+ pounder), but also a fun, spoon-worthy dinner if the squash is small enough for each person to attack her own half.

Twice-Baked Butternut Squash Halves
One 2-pound squash served 2 for dinner; would serve 4+ as a side

To flavor the roasted squash’s flesh, I stirred in some pesto I had leftover in the fridge, grated Parmesan over the top, and served it with a dab of cold Greek yogurt on the side. Jay preferred drizzling the squash with hot sauce to get the spicy effect he loves from my go-to soup. And I know I would love this with goat cheese and caramelized onions, based on prior experience. Really, you can use about 1/4 to 1/2 c. of any add-ins you like, or just eat it plain with a spoon (I snuck a taste that way; I was not disappointed).

2 lb. butternut squash
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/4 to 1/2 c. add-ins of choice (I used 1/3 c. spinach-basil pesto; would recommend 1/4 c. feta or goat cheese + another 1/4 c. caramelized onions as an alternative!)
sprinkling of Parmesan, other cheese, or breadcrumbs (optional)

Preheat oven to 450F. Halve squash lengthwise, and scoop out the seeds. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Fill a roasting pan with 1/4-inch of water, and place squash halves (cut/salt-sprinkled side up) in the pan. Cover with foil, and bake until very tender, about 40 minutes. Set squash aside until cool enough to handle, but still warm.

Decrease oven temperature to 425F.

Scoop out baked flesh, leaving 1/4-inch border if you want the squash to keep its shape. Mix flesh with whatever add-ins you’ve chosen to flavor the squash (you can leave it a little chunky if you prefer, or thoroughly blend things). Scoop filling back into the squash carcass. Top with grated cheese or breadcrumbs if you so desire. Bake until warm and, if using a topping, topping is golden brown, about 25 minutes.

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