I love vegetables. Artichokes, beans, carrots...all the way down the line to zucchini (with the possible slight exception of green bell peppers which are just not me), I love them all. However, I feel like they are too often just a side issue on my plate. Yes, I'll occasionally toss in an interesting spice mix or maybe try a new vegetable casserole. But most of the time, my meal is about the meat. I'd like to say it's my cultural heritage or some kind of conscious decision, but actually it's mostly just laziness. I know that if I put a nice slab of meat-based protein on his plate my Critic will be happy. I can then play with the sauces and accompaniments to my heart's content, secure in the knowledge that he will at least accept the dinner I've made. It takes a lot of creativity to come up with a completely vegetarian dish that a meat eater won't feel is lacking in substance.
But there is always the exception, isn't there? Last night, the Critic was getting home late from a day of shopping in London and so I only had myself to think of at dinner time. I wanted to roast a big butternut squash so the Boy would have some for lunch this week. As I was reaching for the squash, I accidentally knocked the lid off the basin for my immersion blender, which still had the spices I had ground for a pork roast last week. Fennel, oregano, thyme...the whiff went straight to my head and I knew I had to try it on the squash. Just in case I was wrong about how gorgeous it would be, I only sprinkled it on half the squash, so the Boy could have his untainted by his mother's crazy ideas.
I was not wrong. It was gorgeous. Especially with a red wine onion sauce to top it off.
I had a long time to mull over ways to complete my squash as it slowly roasted in the oven. I played with a few ideas...
Stew? Too likely to become mushy and unpleasant.
Gratin? I made one at Thanksgiving and although the guests all seemed to like it, I felt it was lacking in flavor.
In the end, I decided the best thing I could do was to leave the roast in its glistening caramelized glory on my plate and serve it with some equally glistening caramelized onions. (By now the smell was driving me crazy and I felt a bit like the cat who frantically paces outside our bedroom door meowing from six a.m. every morning...) I was a little dubious about the red wine (can I confess that I thought it would look prettier with the red and orange combination?) but in the end it was the perfect note to round off the dish. The sweetness of the squash was set off by the spice mix and onions and the wine somehow just pulled it all together. My only regret was that I didn't make more of the onion sauce and only have a few tablespoons to go with my lunch portion of squash today. I should have more confidence in my instincts sometimes.
Roasted Butternut Squash with Red Wine and Onion Sauce
1/2 a Butternut squash
1 Tbs fennel seeds
1/2 Tbs oregano
1/2 Tbs dried thyme
2 dashes of salt, a grinding of pepper
6-8 medium onions
2-3 Tbs olive oil
1-2 glasses of red wine (I used a light Cotes du Rhone)
Preheat the oven to 200c/400F. Grind the spices with one dash of salt (about half a teaspoon) and pepper in a mortar and pestle (if you are masochistic) or your spice grinder/immersion blender container (if you are not). Scoop out the seeds and stringy interior of the butternut squash. Sprinkle it with about half the spice mixture. Bake the squash until tender. Mine was a decent sized squash and took just over an hour.
When the spices smell tantalizing and the squash is nearly done (at about the one hour mark) slice your onions in thick wedges. Toss them in a frying pan with the olive oil and turn up the heat to medium-high. Sprinkle them with the remaining spices and sautée, stirring frequently, until they are soft and a little brown on the edges. Pour in the wine and turn up the heat. Let it bubble away for a while, and then turn down the heat. Taste the sauce: it will probably need a good dash of salt.
When the squash is finished, slice it in thick slabs and pour the sauce over them. This works extremely well as a vegetarian main dish for non-vegetarians for two reasons: 1) squash is very filling and 2) the spice mix tends to "fool" your palate into feeling like you've had meat. I noticed this effect for the first time with Barrett's Egg Feta and Sage Sandwich; although there is no meat in the sandwich, the taste of the sage (it has to be dried to work) brings up the ghost of a taste of sausage. It's a lovely way to keep a meal light and yet extremely satisfying.
I feel like my vegetable street cred has just gone up a notch. I might even try it out on the meat-eating Critic!