Roasted Squash with Cherries and Spinach

November 12, 2009


Appetizers, Dinner, Environmentalism, Fall, Local Eating, Lunch, Recipes, Seasons, Side Dishes, Winter

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As I mentioned recently, there’s little I like more than to cook away a Sunday. I’m particularly happy for my Sabbath kitchen this time of year, when starchy root vegetables take center stage: roasted sweet potatoes, butternut squash, carrots and delicate fingerlings really make my heart sing. We don’t get a lot of it around here, but when cool weather does grace our threshold it reminds me of being back in Connecticut, where cold drafts were a constant and terrifying threat come mid-October. So, when a recent drop in temperature inspired me to spin myself into a woolen cocoon, the only thing I could think of to enhance my situation (a generous chair by the window; a warm woolen blanket and a heavy newspaper, full of the world) was the scent of something roasting.

But I am a little bit weird. I didn’t want a pig or even a bird in there. Instead, I wanted something sweet and soft, something I might be able to dress up with a handful of tart, dried fruits. Happily,  I remembered the long-necked butternut squash that had winked up at me from the farmer’s market with his twisted Cyclopse stem. I was sure he wanted to know what 400 degrees feels like.


The squash skin came off in graceful ribbons, with a subtle whispering sound each time the blades of my pealer ran down its hard sides and gentle slope. After wrestling with the knife—cutting squash is not for the feint of heart, nor for the dull of blade—for a good while, I finally cut the neck into cubes, scooped out the orange innards, and doused the remaining body in olive oil and a generous palmful of salt. Sounds like what one might do with a pig, only this beast was so much more manageable… and cheap!

I got the idea for this autumnal dish from the shiny case at Whole Foods which I sometimes succumb to sampling from. That is a lie. I sample a lot, as a rule. Doesn’t everyone? Sometimes I ask for several things, but alas, when I’ve eaten too much, I feel bound to buy. Too many samples are like those pommegranate seeds of the underworld, binding me to whatever is down in the case. The sample is a little tiny crumb of obligation: once you taste something, you’ve got to buy something. Well, I used to taste the butternut squash, and then feel compunction enough to buy it, until I realized I was spending $8.99 per pound. My ‘tastes’ were turning into quite the financial burden.

Then I discovered that I could buy a whole squash for $2 from the farmers’ market. Suddenly I felt like a very empoverished Persephone, forlorn and duped. Never again, I vowed. I would be a DIY deli, I decided. The thing of it is, the recipe I chose to copy is so very simple that once I made it, (which I do regularly) I could only enjoy it in sheepish bites, realizing how much money I had thrown away on its designer bretheren. Damn samples.


Roasted Butternut Squash with Cherries and Spinach

1 large butternut squash, cut ingo 1” chunks

1 shallot, sliced thin

2 tbsp olive oil, divided

1 tsp kosher salt

½ c dried cherries, cranberries or prunes

2 c loosely packed spinach


Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Saute shallot in 1 tbsp olive oil. Set aside. Toss chunks of squash with olive oil until coated, then spread on a baking pan and sprinkle with salt. Bake about 25-30 minutes, or until squash begins to brown and caramelize, turning once. Remove squash from oven when it is crisp around the edges and soft on the inside. Toss immediately with spinach and fruit in a large bowl and serve.

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