Jan 162008

I may have a bit of an unhealthy obsession with butternut squash. As soon as it hits the grocery store, I’m burrowing through recipes, writing down the weight of the squashes I’ll need in my upcoming cooking marathons, and re-inventing the stuff as much as I can.

Ready to face the heat
Nikon D50

Sadly, though, there are very few recipes for the stuff that don’t involve roasting. Not that I’m complaining – roasting is one of my favorite methods because it’s totally fuss-free and extremely adaptable – but sometimes I just want some texture with my squash!

Then the folks at Cafe Cacao (the erstwhile Scharffen Berger restaurant, now sadly defunct) came to the rescue: their first executive chef whipped up this recipe, which is just beyond flippin’ perfect. The nibs add not only just a bit of crunch, they also toss in a subtle chocolate flavor. Not a huge fan of unsweetened chocolate? Never fear, the squash provides that sweetness! This recipe is genius. Pure genius.

Scharffen Berger to the rescue!
Nikon D50

Can you see why I wanted to have the wedding rehearsal dinner there?
Skeptical about chocolate and squash? I’d like to clarify and say that Scharffen Berger nibs and Hersey’s have about as much in common as apples and baseball bats. Hersey’s (and other mass-marketed chocolate) are all about the sweet, sweet, sweet. There is not much chocolate to speak of. On the other hand, the nibs have a very warm, complex, nutty, fruity, vanilla-y, and above all, pure chocolate-y flavor. So throw caution to the wind and give this recipe a shot while the squash is still in season.

Squash and chocolate - an unlikely match made in heaven
Nikon D50

Roasted squash with cacao nib vinaigrette
Adapted from The Essence of Chocolate
Serves 6

One 4-pound butternut squash, peeled, cut in half lengthwise and seeded
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon cacao nibs, coarsely chopped
1 shallot, finely minced
3 ounces thinly sliced pancetta (optional – I’ve never used it)
Position your oven racks in the lower and upper third of the oven and preheat to 450 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
Trim the ends of the squash and cut off the neck portions from the bulbs. Place the 4 pieces squash cut side down on a board and cut into 1/4-inch slices. Toss with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper.
Lay the slices on the prepared baking sheets and roast for about 20 minutes, until golden brown and soft. Rotate the baking sheets halfway through cooking.
While the squash is roasting, make the vinaigrette by combining 1/2 cup olive oil, vinegar, nibs, and shallot in a small bowl. Season with pepper.
If using the pancetta, cook it over medium heat until crisp, 10-15 minutes, turning to brown evenly. Drain on paper towels. When cool, chop or crumble into small pieces.
Place the squash in a large bowl, add about 1/4 cup of the vinaigrette, and toss gently to coat. Arrange the slices on individual plates or a large platter and drizzle with remaining vinaigrette and top with the pancetta. Serve warm.

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