I was thinking of calling this butternata, which, to me, makes it sound like it is a sonata of or about butter, which sounds bizarre and wonderful. Don’t you think? But, I didn’t want to mislead anyone. There is no butter involved here – though a generous hand with the olive oil more than makes up for that – except of the ‘nut squash variety.
And, speaking of butternut squash, have I told you about my friend and the bulk squash episode? I probably have already. But, I consider us all old friends here now, which means you’re going to have to listen to my stories, whether or not you’ve already heard them, and laugh and gasp and nod in all of the right places. I can’t wait.
We have a friend who, one fall when he and his wife lived near us, tagged onto our CSA to buy a bulk order of winter squash. And bulk was what he received. I’m not even quite sure how many pounds of squash he ordered, but it was on a magnitude you’d usually associate with a grocer’s. Joel is piping in, “it was probably, like, a hundred pounds. At least.”
That order of squash handily lasted them through the fall, winter, and well into late spring. And, the best part about it was that they stored the squash all over their apartment (not having much by the way of storage space), so whenever we visited we would discover squash, well, on our plates of course, but also under couches, propping up books on shelves, and everywhere else you could imagine. Like so many house gnomes, guarding all the nooks and crannies.
Remarkably, they seemed to be only vaguely sick of squash by the time they had eaten the lot. If it had been me, I think I would have sworn off squash for at least the next decade. But, either way, I always think of that adventure in winter squashing whenever I’m trying to come up with something new to do with butternut squash.
Butternut squash probably has the least nuanced flavor of all winter squash, but it keeps and cooks up like a dream, so I add it to all sorts of things besides the standard soups and purees. But, this go around I was looking for something quite off the beaten path, even farther off than adding it to pasta, savory muffins, or a chili. Also, I was craving caponata.
I crave caponata at regular intervals. I’ve already shared two of them with you on this here site, in fact, but I feel that is certainly no reason that I shouldn’t share one more. They’re like a family, the different versions of caponata – they all have the same distinctive nose, but they have utterly different personalities.
Anyway, I’m addicted to savory-salty-tangy-sweet combinations, and caponata has it all. Anything that contains both olives and capers, salty brine on top of more salty brine, gets my vote. I pop olives like many people pop potato chips. Stir them in with sweet, slumpy, vinegary vegetables, add some plump raisins and plenty of garlic, and you get something marvelous.
Caponata is usually made with eggplants, but, I reasoned, butternut squash cooked into tender but sturdy cubes could make a reasonable stand in. Something quite different tasting, bringing its own mellow, mellow sweetness into the melange, but equally enticing. I also used fennel in place of the oft used celery, to add another gentle wintery flavor, its hint of anise offsetting the other flavors almost imperceptibly.
I’m in love with the result. If eggplant caponata is quintessentially Mediterranean, this is what happens when it goes for a winter vacation to a lodge in the alps. Still intense and vibrant, but bundled up, for cold weather (not that we’ve even been having any of that lately!) and languid apres skis. And, just like with more traditional caponata, this stew-like spread can be used on bruschetta or tucked into sandwiches – try it on a grilled mozzarella sandwich, seriously, do. It’s lovely as an accompaniment to fish (we had it with some roasted cod) or chicken, or add it to a pizza with crumbled goat cheese. It’s supposed to be served at room temperature, but I’m eating it warm, cold, and at room temp, and I can tell you that all of them have been just fine by me. Craving dismissed!
Butternut Squash Caponata (serves around 8 )
- 1 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into small cubes
- olive oil
- 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon Balsamic vinegar
- 3 tablespoons raisins (preferably golden)
- 1 yellow onion, chopped
- 1 fennel bulb, finely chopped
- 3 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon maple syrup
- 1 14 oz. can of chopped tomatoes
- 3 tablespoons heaping, chopped green olives
- 3 tablespoons capers (rinsed if of the salt packed variety)
- salt and pepper
- Toss the butternut squash cubes with a nice dousing of olive oil and a generous sprinkling of salt. Spread in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet, and roast in a 425F oven until just tender, around 25 minutes.
- Put the raisins and vinegars in a small bowl and set aside.
- While the squash is roasting you can do the rest of the vegetable chopping. Then, in a large pan, heat 2 Tbs. olive oil over medium high heat until shimmering. Stir in the onions and cook until soft, 3-5 minutes. Add the fennel and garlic and cook for another 5-7 minutes until they’ve started to turn golden.
- Add the maple syrup, the vinegars, the raisins, the squash cubes, and about 1/2 tsp. salt to the onion mixture. Reduce the heat to medium and cook for a couple of minutes, stirring until the squash is quite coated with the rest of the flavors.
- Stir in the tomatoes, olives, and capers. Turn the heat down to medium-low, and cook uncovered, stirring frequently, until the mixture is thick and almost sticky, the vegetables quite tender and almost falling apart, 15-20 minutes. Taste and adjust salt and pepper to taste. You can also adjust the amount of syrup and vinegar to suit your tastes.
- Allow to cool to room temperature and serve at room temp. It should keep in the fridge for several days, and the flavors will just get nicer as it sits (to a certain extent, we’re not talking 60 day aged caponata, or anything here). Use as you would eggplant caponata: on bruschetta, sandwiches, with meats and fish, on a pizza or pasta…you name it.