Squash. I used to find it revolting. The color. The texture. I wondered why on earth anyone would take a squishy forkful of it and willingly put it into his or her mouth?
I guess it was one of the things in this world for which I needed to acquire a taste. Because, let’s face it, we all have favorite foods today that would have sent us into a serious tantrum or (my favorite) a lengthy pretend coma as children. Squash is high on my list but so are brussel sprouts and kale. Today, however, I’ll focus on the squash and leave the other war stories for another day.
Here is where I have to hand it to my mother. She placed a pile of yams in front of us every single Thanksgiving dinner. I treated them like the plague. My siblings did the same. I distinctly recall multiple freckled faces wincing as my mother nibbled away at the the orange mess.
But, despite that chilly reception, she kept right on cooking those yams every year. Was she dead set on converting us? I’ll never know. It’s quite possible she just liked yams and made a truckload of them just in case one of us was inclined to tiptoe into her yammy feast. And, much to my surprise, that is exactly what happened.
It was during my late teens when the sudden transformation occurred. I was home from college and feeling more and more sophisticated in my palate. I was possibly tired of dorm food, but more likely drawn to the one thing on the Thanksgiving table I could not possibly resist.
Oh sure. You think they’re disgusting. And I suppose they are sort of grotesque. I do love them, however. And anyone who has been on a camping trip with me knows marshmallows hold a real power over me. I can’t have a bag of them near me because I might clear it out in mere minutes and give myself a horrible stomach ache in the process. Candy pumpkins also do the trick.
Either way, it was just what the doctor ordered on Thanksgiving that year. There were so many marshmallows all melted together that they created sort of a blanket, which cleverly shielded my eyes from the main component of the dish. It was finally possible to eat yams.
Today, I love yams. I particularly love the way a roasted yam can be both sweet and savory at the same time. It’s magical. It is also the gateway to squash. Add marshmallows or the combination of sage or brown butter to squash or yams and there is simply nothing out there like it.
In fact, I now look forward to autumn for more than just the cute fall sweaters. Those ugly tubular veggies really have my heart.
The following dish is quite amazing. I lived on it for several days. If I had children, I might try and pass it off as macaroni and cheese. So close are the rich flavors to the classic macaroni dish, that it just might work.
Pasta with Caramelized Squash and Fresh Herbs
9 Tbs. unsalted butter
1 butternut squash, 2 1/2 to 3 lb., peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch dice
2 Tbs. sugar
1/2 cup chicken or vegetable broth
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
3 Tbs. finely diced shallots
1/8 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1 Tbs. minced fresh sage
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
2 Tbs. minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 lb. pasta of your choice,
1 oz. Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated
In a braiser over medium-high heat, melt 3 Tbs. of the butter. Add the squash in a single layer and cook, without stirring, until browned underneath, about 6 minutes. Stir the squash and cook until browned on all sides, about 4 minutes more. Add the sugar, broth, salt and pepper, cover and cook until the squash is tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Uncover and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the liquid evaporates and the squash is dark brown and glazed, 2 to 3 minutes more. Transfer the squash mixture to a bowl.
In the same pan over medium-high heat, melt the remaining 6 Tbs. butter until light brown spots appear, about 2 minutes. Add the shallots, nutmeg and sage and cook, stirring constantly, until the shallots begin to soften, about 1 minute. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the lemon juice and parsley. Season with salt and pepper, then stir in the squash.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, until al dente, about 3 minutes. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking water. Add the pasta and the reserved cooking water to the squash mixture and toss to combine.
Transfer the pasta to a warmed large, shallow bowl and sprinkle with some of the cheese. Serve immediately and pass the remaining cheese alongside. Serves 4 to 6.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma