Sometimes a recipe works so well that it becomes one of your go-to dinner favorites. This favorite of mine is a side dish of caramelized butternut squash and apples finished with a sage/almond/olive oil pesto. Its multiple layers of flavors team up beautifully with pork, beef, or poultry roasts. No, bacon here! So vegans will love it, as well, for its full-meal heartiness.
2 butternut squash, about 4 pounds total
1/2 cup olive oil (more or less as needed)
2 teaspoons peeled, chopped fresh ginger root
1 teaspoon brown sugar, packed
Salt and pepper to taste
Cayenne pepper to taste (optional)
2 large apples (any kind except Red or Golden Delicious)
1/4 cup chopped fresh sage
2 large cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
1/3 cup almonds, toasted
1.) Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F with two racks positioned in the bottom third of the oven.
2.) Peel the butternut squash; cut each in half lengthwise and remove the seeds. Cut each half crosswise into slices about 1-inch thick.
Recipe Note: Every time I cut open a hard-shelled butternut squash, I remind myself, “Keep your fingers out of the way of the knife’s blade!” I use a Chinese cleaver and a honing steel or a heavy mallet to gradually pound the blade of the cleaver into the squash as pictured here. The hardest part is getting started, and it helps to cut off a small piece on the other side of the squash to keep it from rocking, before you make the first cut.
Keep pounding the top of the clever until you can slip it between the two halves to separate them completely.
Once you’ve halved the squash, remove the seeds and fibers with a metal spoon; then peel off its skin.
3.) Place the cut squash pieces in a large bowl and drizzle with 3 tablespoons of the olive oil. Sprinkle over the ginger, brown sugar, salt, pepper, and cayenne, if using, and toss to mix well.
Recipe Note: Cayenne pepper is very intense, but when used sparingly it wakes up the other flavors in the dish. Just a little sprinkling over the squash is enough to have this effect.
4.) Place the squash in a single layer, on two baking sheets, dividing it equally.
5.) Roast in the preheated oven 10 minutes.
6.) While the squash bakes, peel and core the apples. Slice them into wedges about 1/4 to 1/2-inch thick. (Or, if you prefer, you can core the apples and slice them crosswise into rounds about 1/4 to 1/2-inch thick.)
7.) Remove the squash from the oven and using long-handled tongs turn the pieces over. Add the apples to the baking sheet, dividing them evenly between the two sheets.
8.) Place the sheets back into the oven and roast 10 to 15 minutes more or until the squash is caramelized and the apples are tender when pierced with a fork. (Be careful not to overcook the squash. You want it a little firm so it doesn’t fall apart when lifted from the baking sheets.)
9.) As the squash roasts, make the pesto: Add 3 tablespoons of the olive oil to a small saucepan; add the sage and garlic, and cook over low heat just until the oil bubbles. Remove and discard one of the garlic cloves, then add the oil-sage mixture and the remaining garlic clove to the bowl of a mini food processor or blender container. Add the toasted almonds and process into a fine crumble, adding a little more olive oil if the mixture is stiff or difficult to process. (You’re making a pesto that is more nutty and less oily than a traditional pesto.)
Recipe Note: Toast the almonds in a small dry skillet until their ends are lightly browned, over low heat, stirring occasionally and watching them carefully to prevent them from burning. Depending on the pan and the heat of your range, this should take 5 to 8 minutes.
10.) Transfer the roasted squash and apples to a serving platter or bowl and spoon over the sage-almond pesto.
Serves 6 to 8 as a side dish