One of the issues with meal planning that I run into over and over again is that of leftovers. Sometimes the problem isn’t even with the prepared food itself but with the uncooked portions I have leftover in the fridge. In this case, the food in question is butternut squash.
My friend Jake has been helping us with our garden and thanks to him we have both pumpkin and butternut squash plants in our yard. Gardening is way harder than I believed it to be, particularly so because we’re not using pesticides and all the local garden centers stopped carrying ladybugs months ago. Aphids are really kicking our ass over here, and Jacob finally came up with a solution involving spraying each goddamn bug with a magical, organic substance that will shred the critter and knock him to the ground, thereby preventing anymore identical bastards to pop out of his pooper, and, as Anthony put it, “ruin Halloween.”
All that aside, Jake’s plants have managed to produce butternuts, and they are awesome. He gave one to me and I immediately set about the task of slicing it into rounds and baking it. I was originally trying to make steamed disks of butternut so that I could slather them with goat cheese, honey and toasted pecans and feast thusly until my husband returned home from sword practice.
Of course I forgot about them in the oven so that didn’t happen.
I ate them anyway and realized that as divine as steamed squash could be, these were chips, and they were even better. I really think that Jake raised a superior squash because I’ve recreated this experiment a few times since then and while the results of have been delicious, that first squash I used was far and away superior. Perhaps the defining factor was the way that squash was made: it was small, had a very small globe end and a very long cylinder end. When I sliced it the squash divided into perfect disks. Squash I bought from the farmer’s market was too large, so I had to resort to slicing it into half-moon shapes.
After they were sliced I brushed them with olive oil and set them on a foil-lined baking tray. This is about the thickness I was going for.
As you can see from the photo, they weren’t all perfect and some were thinner and some were thicker. I divided up my squash moons into a thinner and a thicker pile so I could cook them in batches. This really wasn’t extra work because I couldn’t fit them all in at once anyway.
Some received a dusting of spices, including cinnamon, cumin, curry, and five spice powder. These were all very good, especially the cinnamon and curry powder, and just by adding the slight addition of powdered spice you could completely change the character of the chip. My favorite is still probably a sprinkling of sea salt, but don’t bother adding that until the chips are out of the oven. If you add it before baking the salt will pull the moisture from the chips and they will steam instead of bake.
I threw leftover chips in a large zippy bag and toasted them throughout the week. They suffered no ill effects from this treatment and could probably survive five or six days like that. Squash are hardy.
They come out like this, though I had quite a few burn and quite a few remain soft and stick. The handy thing about cutting them into rounds is that the skin helps the squash retain its shape and there’s less burning and steaming because you don’t have that bit of squash flesh at one end.
I roasted them for about 35 minutes at 400, but you really have to watch these guys carefully and will almost certainly have to adjust the time and temperature of your oven for their temperament. Mistakes will still be delicious, even if they aren’t chips. The burnt parts are almost completely caramelized plant sugars and they taste like toasted marshmallows.
If they end up too soft, break out the honey and the goat cheese or feta and enjoy them that way.
Chips aside, you are going to have leftover squash. The globe-like ends are not fit for chips, but scoop out the seeds, rub with oil and roast all the same.
After roasting these I mashed them with a fork, discarded the peel, and added them to shiitake risotto (made by adding dried shiitake mushrooms to the stock while it heats, then adding the sliced mushrooms and butternut puree to the plain risotto at the end) and Oh. My.
It was so good I nearly cried when I ate the last bowl. I served it to Anthony in these wooden bowls I salvaged from my bestie’s yard sale. The color of the squash mellows in the creamy whiteness of the risotto and Anthony thought the color came from cheddar cheese, but the pale orange is actually the squash. I threw a squash chip on top for garnish and added a dusting of cheese and for the next ten minutes my life was complete.
Other things I made with the leftover squash include a butternut squash puree which I later realized would have made a perfect baby food. I roasted and mashed the squash then added butter and crumbled feta along with salt and pepper. I decided then and there that all babies should eat so well.
I stirred the leftovers of the puree into a black bean and bell pepper hash that I had in the fridge and it was so very good. If Jake gives me anymore I’m going to make soup. Do you have a favorite way to prepare butternut or other winter squash? I’d love to hear it. As the summer winds down I expect I’ll get a few thrown at my car when people are at a loss to deal with them. I’ll point them this way for ideas.