[59] Creamy Butternut Squash

cover of Cook With Jamie

I love butternut squash. I don’t think I had it a lot as a kid, but I definitely had it some. Mostly, my mother would cut one in half and put a little butter and brown sugar in the cavity and bake it until it was soft and delicious. In fact, I don’t think I had it any other way until years after I started making it at home. Of course, over time that sort of preparation makes you wonder if you’re having a veggie or a dessert, so I started looking for other ways to make it. Mostly, I found soups. I like them, but I still wanted something else.

That’s part of what’s been making this challenge so neat; I’m being forced to branch out in two ways. First when the CSA share comes in and I have NO IDEA what to do with produce “X”, so I have to go hunt things up. Secondly, even familiar produce probably has a novel way to be made. And I’ve still got a long ol’ wishlist that’s largely cookbooks, so finding that novel way is typically a two way win; I get a delicious new preparation for an old friend and one small step closer to something off that list.

h2. Ingredients

1 medium butternut squash, peeled
1 heaped tsp coriander seeds, smashed

1 – 2 dried red chillies, crumbled (I pulled out some of the hot powdered red chile mentioned in previous cooking fails.)

6 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves picked

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Olive oil

1 c + 2 tbsp light cream (I accidentally grabbed heavy cream, so that’s what we used. Also, only 1 c. Because that’s how much I bought.)

1/2 a nutmeg (I am a failed cooking snob. I don’t have whole nutmegs, so I just threw in some ground. Yes, really.)

A wineglass of Chardonnay (Or, in our case, 187 mL of Pinot Grigio, since it comes out to about 6 oz, and lord only knows what Jamie’s wineglass holds.)

2 handfuls of freshly grated Parmesan cheese (Again with the 12 mo Manchego.)

h2. Instructions

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Cut the squash in half, length-wise and remove the seeds with a spoon. Cut into 1″ slices, and toss with the corriander, chile, thyme leaves, salt, pepper and “a good glug of olive oil”. Mix it up and get all the squash nicely coated with all the delicious stuff in the bowl, then place them upright in a roasting pan. Minimize gaps between the slices to the best of your abilities.

Cut some wax paper to the size of the pan, dampen and crumple it, then drape it over the squash. Tuck the squash in nice and tight for it’s rest in the oven. Bake in the preheated oven for about 30 minutes; until the squash is starting to soften. Then remove the paper, and put the squash back in the oven while you mix up the sauce.

Grate the nutmeg into the cream, and mix that with the wine, half the cheese and salt & pepper to taste. Then take the squash out of the oven and pour this deliciousness over it. Sprinkle the top with the rest of the cheese and bake for another 10 minutes or so, until everything is golden and delicious.

h2. Cooking and Consumption Notes

h3. Cooking

I love butternut squash, but every time I make it any way other than “pop in oven whole” or “cut in half, scoop out seeds, pop in oven with some stuff in the cavity (or not)”, I’m reminded why I don’t make it very often. Peeling these things is a total pain. The peel is pretty thick and hearty, so it stands up to it’s nemesis, the peeler, fairly well. The flesh is very tough, so peeling with a knife is a struggle. Furthermore, peeling with a knife usually ends in carving away a not-insubstantial amount of flesh. So I went back and forth between the two. If anyone has any good ways to peel these bastards, please let me know in the comments.

I found, to my surprise, that Bill and I don’t own a single square baking dish. Seriously, what’s up with that? What self-respecting cooking & baking family doesn’t own at least ONE 8″ x 8″ or 9″ x 9″ pan? This one, apparently, but I’ve lost a little respect for us. Less because we don’t own one of those pans in and of itself, but more because we don’t own one and we do own TWO deep-dish 9″ pie pans and FIVE 13″ x 9″ pans1. What the heck is that?

Luckily, it turns out one medium butternut squash, sliced into 1″ slices, fits very neatly into a deep-dish 9″ pie pan. Disaster averted. However, if you’re a more normal family with more normal kitchen tools, I think this would work best in a 8″ x 8″ pan and a 9″ x 9″ pan would be an acceptable alternative. The goal is to get the squash really packed in, with minimal gaps between the slices. In general, I suspect you wouldn’t go wrong by grabbing a baking pan one size down from what you think you need, when you eyeball the squash.

One of the points of this cookbook is to start teaching a beginner cook how to “wing it”, hence many of the measurements being less than precise. So, yeah, I used ~6oz of wine and it wasn’t Chardonnay. Also, I looked the photos I’ve seen of Mr. Oliver over time, and then at my hands, and decided he likely had much bigger hands than I do. So my “two handfuls” of cheese was “huh – this chunk looks about right, so I’ll grate it and see how much I get”. It was about a cup and a half, and I will never be able to tell you if that was too much or not enough or the Goldilocks amount. It worked for me, so there ya go.

h3. Consumption

This was quite good, but incredibly rich. As you can imagine, I’m glad I didn’t have the extra 2 tbsp of heavy cream, because this packed a heck of a punch. I loved it, as did Bill, but I bet that it would be a bit nicer with the light cream and we’d still have felt totally satisfied eating this.

I can’t exactly explain why, but I suspect this dish was intended as a side dish2. I regularly make dishes that appear to be side-dishes as the main attraction. It isn’t really about those being more healthful or cheaper foods, as often they are not. It’s simply about trying to feed a two person family in the face of growing portion sizes and cookbooks sized for families of four or more people. In truth, I figure that the side portion size is probably appropriate for a main course size, and if it’s not, well, there’s more of it up on the counter. Often we end up eating about 2/3 of a supposed four person side.

Not this dish. This dish is exactly what people mean when they say, “Have something awesome, but have less of it.” It was so rich and filling that it just didn’t take much to satisfy. Bill had a solid quarter of the dish, but I couldn’t eat quite that much. I’d guess that I ate a little more than 2/5 of the dish over two meals.

And I enjoyed EVERY bite.

fn1. No, I’m keeping all of those. I don’t use them all at once often, but it does happen. So there.

fn2. Mr. Oliver, if you ever stumble upon this post, will you let us know?

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