The Man's birthday is fast approaching. Last year he requested squash for his birthday dinner (among other things), and I cooked this recipe which was, and still is, one of my favorites. Cayenne pepper gives the squash a kick, and maple syrup enhances its natural sweetness. The crispy sage and toasted hazelnut pesto balances out the flavors with some earthy nuttiness, and the addition of ricotta salata cheese makes the dish creamy. I can never stop eating it, which is a slight problem.
The original recipe is featured in Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs' The Food52 Cookbook, but I traded out sugar for maple which adds another level of complexity. When I find a recipe that looks interesting, I usually use the flavor profile as inspiration, hack it apart and write something new, but in this case I stuck pretty close to the original! So big thanks to Food 52's Melissa for creating a recipe gem!
One quick note on cheese before I begin- for those of you who aren't familiar with ricotta salata, it's a salted Italian cheese made from the whey of sheep milk. It has been pressed and aged for at least 90 days, so unlike the ricotta that we tend to be more familiar with, ricotta salata is much saltier and more firm than its sweet fresh counterpart. Its texture lends itself well to grating or crumbling, which is how I use it in this recipe!
PS. What should I cook for the Man's birthday dinner this year?
ROAST SQUASH WITH SAGE HAZELNUT PESTO
- 3.5 pounds whole butternut squash
- 7 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- 1 teaspoon Grade B maple syrup
- 1 teaspoon Celtic sea salt, plus more to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 clove garlic, smashed
- 1/4 cup fresh sage leaves, roughly chopped
- 1/3 cup hazelnuts, toasted
- 1/4 cup ricotta salata, crumbled
Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper, and set aside.
In a small saucepan over low heat, warm 5 tablespoons of EVOO with the garlic clove and sage to let the flavors infuse the oil. Once the sage starts to crisp (abut 2 minutes), transfer the garlic clove to a food processor, and pour the sage and oil into a small bowl.
Add the hazelnuts to the food processor with the garlic, and pulse until finely chopped. Use a spatula to scrape down the sides as needed. Add the nuts and garlic to the bowl of sage and oil, and stir in the ricotta salata. Season with salt to taste, and set aside.
Peel the squash, cut into halves, and remove the seeds. Then cut into 1" wedges, and place in a large bowl. Toss with the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, maple, 1 teaspoon salt, and cayenne. Arrange the squash in a single layer your prepared baking sheets, and roast for 10 minutes. Flip the squash and roast 10 minutes on the second side, or until cooked through and caramelized.
Transfer the squash to a large bowl or platter, and spoon the pesto over the top. Delicious served hot, or can be made ahead and eaten at room temperature.