Butternut Squash Panzanella, the easy way

I am not a huge proponent of shortcuts. I enjoy the process of cooking, slicing and stirring and listening to good music while I while away an hour or two, following the steps to slowly bring a recipe to life. I come to the kitchen for a sort of meditative state. That said, I am mostly drawn to the creative side of cooking—the opportunity to experiment, to literally spice things up exactly the way you want them, to make something with a personal touch. And if you need to take shortcuts in order to get in the kitchen at all, if cutting a corner will allow you the time to cook something tasty on a busy day, then there are some compromises I can get behind.

Which brings me to butternut squash. It’s good, warming food. It’s savory and sweet and filling. But man, do I hate cutting it up. So squash does not often appear on my weeknight table. I just don’t have the energy to wage that battle after a long day at work.

I don’t usually buy pre-cut anything, especially overpriced underripe melon (which still somehow manages to be soggy) or pre-diced onions (ew). I like to buy my produce caked in mud from a local farm. But as long as it hasn’t been sitting there for weeks, chunked butternut squash hasn’t faded much, and the time it buys you in the kitchen is amazing.

I dumped the squash straight from the package into a baking dish with olive oil and popped it into the oven the moment I got home. Tossed with garlicky soft croutons, a rich walnut-oil dressing, and ribbons of red pepper and radicchio, this panzanella (bread salad) was exactly the filling, homespun meal Matt and I needed. And we had plenty of time left over to sit on the couch and talk and laugh. And I am a huge proponent of that.

Butternut Squash Panzanella
inspired by Joy Manning
serves four

For the squash
2.5 lbs cubed butternut squash
1/4 cup finely chopped guanciale
1 italian frying pepper, sliced into strips
olive oil
salt and pepper
4 sage leaves, torn

For the croutons
olive oil
3 cloves garlic, smashed and chopped
12 chopped sage leaves
4 cups cubed or torn bread, preferably day-old
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

For the dressing
2 tablespoons walnut oil
4 tablepoons olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 large shallot, sliced into rings

For the salad
1 red pepper, sliced into strips
1 head radicchio, sliced into ribbons

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Toss cubed squash, guanciale, and pepper strips with olive oil to coat, then season with salt and pepper. Roast 20 minutes, then add sage and toss. Roast 30-40 more minutes, stirring once. Remove when squash is tender and a fork can pierce it easily.

Meanwhile, in a large pan, cook garlic over medium-low heat until fragrant and add bread and sage leaves. Toss to coat and turn to low, cook, stirring occasionally, to dry out the bread. (This can also be done on a cookie sheet in the oven if preferred.) Add walnuts and let toast a little, but turn off the heat before they get too dark.

Mix walnut oil, olive oil, and both vinegars in a small bowl, adding shallots to marinate. When squash is cooked, toss with crouton mixture in a large bowl, then add red pepper and radicchio. Toss with dressing to coat and serve immediately.

In panzanella, salad, squash

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