Celebrate Fall with Squash Recipes from Author Rachel Weston

Jersey Bites contributor Rachel Weston shares some of her favorite ways to use butternut squash in this excerpt from her book, New Jersey Fresh: Four Seasons from Farm to Table.

We welcome fall with thoughts of leaves turning blazing orange and red and the desire to eat food in those autumnal colors. I love butternut’s cheerful orange flesh so much, I teach a One Ingredient, Five Ways class taking this winter squash through a five-course meal. It really is that versatile. Butternut happily stars in a meal’s main event. Feeling cheesy? I add pureed squash to a sharp cheddar and Gruyere cheese sauce for my butternut squash macaroni and cheese. Top it with a crunchy layer of buttery Panko breadcrumbs and fragrant rosemary for a dinner you’ll keep in heavy rotation all through fall. Switch it up with rigatoni instead of elbows and add sautéed greens, bacon and caramelized onions for a version to impress company. You just may get a standing ovation. For a lighter pasta option, I toss chunks of roasted squash, arugula, lemon zest and a bit of Parmesan with fettuccine or penne. Roasting butternut squash before using it in soups or stews will enhance its sweetness.

Peel the entire squash and cut between the bulb and neck of the squash to make breaking it down more manageable. Now you can get evenly cut slices or cubes from the neck of the squash. Remove the seeds and reserve. Cut the flesh from around the seed cavity in half-rounds. Roast in an oven at 375 degrees with a small amount of oil, salt and pepper for 25 to 35 minutes. If you are in a hurry, just slice down the middle and roast cut-side up. When tender, remove the seeds and drizzle the squash with maple syrup and chopped pecans for a great side dish. It also makes a fine fall crostini when spread on toast with ricotta cheese. To make a soup, sauté other ingredients; add roasted squash and chicken or vegetable stock, and simmer. I often make a rich, creamy, dairy-free soup with ginger and unsweetened coconut milk. Puree in a blender, being careful when you are working with the hot liquid. Get creative with your flavoring additions. Because butternut is sweet, trying adding some heat with Sriracha or chipotle peppers. Rinse the seeds and remove fibrous strands. Pat dry and dust with salt and chili powder, cumin or pumpkin pie spice and toast in the oven. Use these crunchy bits as a garnish for salads, tacos or soup. Dessert ideas abound. Substitute pureed butternut in pumpkin pie recipes. Partnered with apples, pears and dried fruits, it can make a tasty pie or galette filling. Or perhaps slip some puree into brownies or chocolate cake. Butternut squash can be stored at room temperature on the counter for about two weeks or in a cool, dry, dark location for two to three months. Try not to allow them to rest against a hard surface or other squash as soft spots may develop. Swaddle them with a crumpled newspaper or paper bag.

Butternut Squash Macaroni and Cheese

1 large butternut squash, peeled and diced
2 onions, diced
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 lb elbow, penne or rigatoni pasta
4 Tbsp. butter
4 Tbsp. flour
2½ cups milk, divided
pinch of nutmeg
salt and white pepper
8 oz cheddar cheese, shredded
8 oz swiss cheese, shredded
2 cups bread crumbs
1 stick melted butter
3-4 Tbsp fresh rosemary chopped

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Peel, dice butternut. Toss with olive oil, salt and pepper. Bake until tender approx. 30-35 minutes.

2. Caramelize onions. In a sauté pan, heat olive oil and cook onions until very soft and brown. Stir occasionally. Add 1-2 Tbsp. water to loosen from bottom of pan if necessary while cooking.

3. In a food processor, puree the butternut squash, caramelized onions and ½ cup milk. Set aside.

4. In a sauce pan, melt the butter. Whisk in flour to create a roux. Cook until it it lumpfree and creamy like peanut butter. Slowly add the rest of the milk. Cook until sauce thickens. Season with nutmeg, salt and white pepper.

4. Cook pasta just until al dente.

5. In a large bowl, combine squash puree and sauce. Stir until smooth. Fold in pasta.

6. In a buttered 9 x 13 baking dish,  spread half the mixture. Top with half of the shredded cheese. Add another layer of pasta mixture and top with remaining cheese.

7. Combine bread crumbs with melted butter and rosemary. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle over top of the macaroni and cheese.

8. Bake, uncovered, in a 350 degree oven for 30-35 minutes.

9. The bread crumbs will be golden brown.

Quinoa, Kale, Cranberry, Walnut and Butternut Squash Salad
(pictured at top)

1½ cups quinoa
3 cups water
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 red onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1½ cups butternut squash, peeled, ½ inch dice
1½ cups kale, ribs removed, ½ inch ribbons
½ cup dried cranberries
½ cup chopped walnuts
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
Dijon vinaigrette
1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon raspberry jam
¼ cup olive oil

1. In a large saucepan, bring the quinoa, ½ teaspoon salt and the water to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for approximately twenty minutes until the tail of the quinoa unfurls. Remove from the heat, fluff with a fork and place in a large bowl to cool for 20 minutes.

2. While the quinoa is cooking, heat the olive oil in a large skillet, add the onion and cook until it turns translucent. Add the garlic and butternut squash. Cover with a lid and cook for about 10 minutes on medium-low heat until the squash is tender when tested with the tip of a knife. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Let cool to room temperature.

3. In a small bowl, whisk together the garlic, vinegar, Dijon mustard and jam. In a steady, slow stream add the olive oil while whisking continuously. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

4. Gently fold the cooked vegetables, quinoa, kale together with the vinaigrette, dried cranberries and walnuts.

5. Serve room temperature or cold.

For more recipes and information about Rachel Weston, check out her website.

Photo courtesy of Rachel Weston