I like to think that college has turned me into somewhat of an opportunist—go explore Boston or Sommerville for a day? Sure, why not. Take a butternut squash from the dining hall’s autumn display and stealthily walk out of breakfast with a suddenly much heavier backpack? Of course. There were plenty of other decorative gourds where it came from, anyways, and I couldn’t bear to see such a seasonally appropriate food languish on top of the salad bar when I knew it could become so much more.
The butternut squash sat on my desk for nearly two weeks, staring me down every time I sat down to finish a problem set or write a paper. Last Saturday I finally decided put it to good use. This dish we made, a recipe for butternut squash toast with ricotta and caramelized onion jam is certainly nothing new, but the recipe from the John-Georges Vongerichten’s famed ABC Kitchen has been a favorite recipe of many home cooks for the past few years, and the combination of good cheese and fully caramelized, seasoned vegetables sounded too good to be true after eating dining hall food for the past few months.
So, with a few friends, a cutting board and a mixing bowl bought from Goodwill for two dollars each, the squash, a few drinking glasses of oil, vinegar, and a bowl of sliced onions taken, again, from the dining hall, we sat down in the dorm kitchen and had our first dinner party of the semester. After having eaten nearly all of our meals in the bustling dining hall—the kind with tall ceilings that noises reverberate off of so that that every meal is punctuated with the clatter of dropped plastic cups and the whir of the soft-serve machine—it was such a treat to sit down in a cozy kitchen and enjoy hearty bread topped with creamy ricotta, spicy roasted squash, and caramelized onion jam. The vegetables were cooked but still had life in them—a delicate balance to attain when cooking 5 gallons of broccoli florets for hundreds of students, but straightforward when roasting a single pan of sliced squash—and the contrast of the mild sweetness of the squash against the tangy onions tied all of the flavors into a perfect autumn tartine. It may have been our first dinner party of the semester, but it certainly won’t be our last.
Special thanks to Tufts University Dining Services for creating such a practical autumn display and for having all kinds of vegetables and vinegars in the salad bar. My friends and I are most grateful.
ABC Kitchen’s Squash Toast
Recipe from ABC kitchen found via Smitten Kitchen and adapted for dorm living
Serves 4 as a light main course
1 ½ tablespoons olive oil
1 yellow onion thinly sliced—I used 2 cups of sliced red onion, which worked well
1 teaspoon table salt
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar—I used red wine vinegar, which served in a pinch
3 tablespoons maple syrup—I used an equal amount of brown sugar
1 medium butternut squash, 2 ½-3 lbs
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 ½ teaspoons table salt
½ teaspoon red chili flakes
8-10 slices of hearty whole grain bread, a nice Pain au Levain or any sort of seeded rustic boule will work well
Extra olive oil, for brushing the bread
4 oz. whole-milk ricotta cheese, at room temperature
Optional garnishes: chopped fresh mint, a few pinches of kosher or sea salt
- Heat the 1 ½ tablespoons olive oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the onions and 1 teaspoon salt, and saute for 10-15 minutes, until beginning to turn golden brown. Then add the vinegar and maple syrup or brown sugar, turn the heat down to medium-low, and cook until the onions are thoroughly caramelized and jammy, 15-20 more minutes. Transfer to a large bowl and set aside.
- Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 450F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Peel and seed the butternut squash, then cut it into ¼ inch thick slices (see the photos above for a visual). In a large bowl, toss the squash slices with the 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 ½ teaspoons salt and chili flakes. Spread into an even layer on the prepared baking sheet, then roast in the preheated oven for 25-30 minutes until the squash is tender and beginning to turn golden brown.
- Once the squash is finished, remove the sheet from the oven and transfer the squash to the bowl with the onion jam. Mash the squash into the onions with a fork until combined but not too homogeneous. Set aside and keep warm.
- Toast the bread under the broiler element until golden brown, about 2-3 minutes per side. Brush each slice of bread with olive oil, then spread with a heaping tablespoon of ricotta. Place a layer of squash on top of the ricotta and top with mint and salt, if desired. Serve immediately.