Cook's Illustrated (January/Februrary 2014)
We love traveling. By which we mean, we love eating while traveling.
Sure, we enjoy exploring foreign cities, wandering through different museums, seeing historic sites and traipsing around churches and temples. But mostly, we're there for the food.
The only downside of all that food travel is that we miss cooking. After a couple weeks of restaurant meals three times a day, we're always eager to get back in our own kitchen and make some food ourselves.
As you may or may not know, we just got back from couple weeks in Thailand. (We'll have photos and stories and a full food rundown for you soon.) When we got back last week, one of the first things we did was head for the grocery store. We stocked up on staples -- which for us, this time of year, means things like chicken breasts, sweet potatoes, broccoli and winter squash.
We always like cooking butternut squash, but we're never extremely creative with it. We peel it, dice it, add spices, toss it in oil and roast it. It's plenty good, but it's nothing special.
Apparently we have the same thing in common with America's Test Kitchen's Dan Souza. In the current issue of Cook's Illustrated, Souza writes about how his standard prep of butternut squash -- tossed in butter or olive oil and roasted -- was perfectly fine but a little boring. To mix up his routine, Souza was inspired by Yotem Ottolenghi's cook book Plenty, in which the London chef caramelizes squash and plays off its sweetness by adding savory notes of chile, lime, yogurt or toasted nuts.
We decided to follow suit.
There are two parts to this recipe, and they each have a good innovation. On roasting the squash, Souza explains why it's better to use butter than oil. Thanks to the Maillard reaction, butter does a better job of caramelizing the squash.
On the topping, chopped toasted hazelnuts get browned in butter. Then you stir in a little lemon juice -- part of Souza's nod to Ottolenghi's flavor pairings.
Ultimately, we we a little split on this recipe.
Clay loved it outright. He thought the lemony brown butter paired great with the sweetness of the squash.
Zach, on the other hand, thought the butter sauce was too much -- too rich and heavy for the squash. And he wasn't sold on the lemon, which he thought gave the dish an unsavory taste of Lemon Pledge.
Things we agreed on:
1. This is a foolproof recipe for perfectly caramelized butternut squash, and (as Souza notes in his write-up), cutting the squash in large slices allows more surface area for caramelizing.
2. The toasted hazelnuts are excellent.
3. The chives add an unexpected hit of great flavor.
If we make this again, we'll likely be much more sparing in the butter sauce -- maybe using only about half as much.
But as far as a method for roasting squash, we're sold on this one.
Serves 4 to 6
For plain roasted squash omit the topping. This dish can be served warm or at room temperature. For the best texture it's important to remove the fibrous flesh just below the squash's skin. Variations: Roasted Butternut Squash with Radicchio and Parmesan, and Roasted Butternut Squash with Tahini and Feta.
1 large (2 1/2- to 3-pound) butternut squash
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 3 pieces
1/3 cup hazelnuts, toasted, skinned, and chopped coarse
1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tabelspoon minced fresh chives
FOR THE SQUASH: Adjust oven rack to lowest position and heat oven to 425 degrees. Using sharp vegetable peeler or chef's knife, remove skin and fibrous threads from squash just below skin (peel until squash is completely orange with no white flesh remaining, roughly 1/8 inch deep). Halve squash lengthwise and scrape out seeds. Place squash, cut side down, on cutting board and slice crosswise 1/2 inch thick.
Toss squash with melted butter, salt, and pepper until evenly coated. Arrange squash on rimmed baking sheet in single layer. Roast squash until side touching sheet toward back of oven is well browned, 25 to 30 minutes. Rotate sheet and continue to bake until side touching sheet toward back of oven is well browned, 6 to 10 minutes. Remove squash from oven and use metal spatula to flip each piece. Continue to roast until squash is very tender and side touching sheet is browned, 10 to 15 minutes longer.
FOR THE TOPPING: While squash roasts, melt butter with hazelnuts in 8-inch skillet over medium heat. Cook, stirring frequently, until butter and hazelnuts are brown and fragrant, about 2 minutes. Immediately remove skillet from heat and stir in water (butter will foam and sizzle). Let cool for 1 minute; stir in lemon juice and salt.
Transfer squash to large serving platter. Drizzle butter mixture evenly over squash. Sprinkle with chives and serve.