Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Butternut Squash with Caramelized Sweet Onions & Swiss Chard—A Simple Side Dish for Fall

After my cooking demonstration Saturday for the Farm Tour I had some peeled and diced butternut squash left over. If you like butternut squash, you have probably done the work of peeling, seeding, and dicing many times and you know what a great "leftover" this is.  I wanted to make sure that I used it so I put it in a visible spot in my fridge. But since I haven't cooked a meal at home since the tour, I had forgotten about the squash until today when I opened up the refrigerator to look and see what I had on hand to cook with for dinner tonight.

In addition to the squash, I had a bunch of Swiss chard from the farmers' market. Swiss chard and butternut squash are good partners—the slight bitterness of the greens compliments the sweet squash nicely. My original thought was to roast the butternut squash and serve it alongside the wilted Swiss chard. But as I was standing at the counter stripping the leaves away from the chard stems my eyes fell on a bowl of little sweet onions that I purchased at the market a couple of weeks ago. They seemed like the perfect addition, so I caramelized them and tossed everything together. I really liked the result—a definite keeper.

This side dish would go well with almost any sautéed, grilled or roasted meat that you wanted to serve with it.  It would also make a nice vegetarian entrée if served with a round of baked goat cheese.  I served mine with a very special roast chicken. On Monday evening I had dinner at a friend's house.  She has just put in an outdoor, wood-fired oven...that she built herself!  I will not attempt to describe the oven in detail, because in my ignorance I'm sure my description would include many inaccuracies.  I will just say that once it is fired up, it holds its heat for long periods of time.  Learning to cook in it includes learning how to take advantage of this property.  We were invited to bring a chicken with us so that while we enjoyed an incredible meal—that had been prepared from start to finish in her oven—our chickens (to be taken home with us) were happily roasting away.  The chicken has been a delicious treat. 

Butternut Squash with Caramelized Sweet Onions and Swiss Chard

I prepared this dish for two, but obviously it can be multiplied to feed as many as you like.

Olive oil
5 to 6 oz. sweet onions (2 small or one medium), halved, cored and thinly sliced
8 to 9 oz. diced (scant 3/4-inch) butternut squash—about 12 oz. before peeling and seeding (about 2 cups, diced)
1 bunch Swiss Chard, stems pulled away and discarded and leaves roughly cut cross-wise (see note)
Salt & pepper

Warm some olive oil in a medium sauté pan over medium high heat. Add the onions along with a pinch of salt and toss to coat in the fat. When the onions begin to soften and color, reduce the heat to low, cover and cook until the onions are very tender and caramelized. 

While the onions cook, toss the butternut squash with enough olive oil to lightly coat and spread in a baking dish  

or on a sheet pan and roast in a 425° oven until tender and caramelized—about 30 minutes. Stir once about half way through the cooking so the squash will color evenly. Remove from the oven and set aside until ready to finish the dish.

When the onions are cooked, remove them from the pan and add them to the pan with the finished squash. Return the sauté pan to the heat and increase the heat to medium high. Add a little more oil to the pan and add the chard a handful at a time.  Use tongs to turn and coat the chard in the oil as you add it. When all of the chard has been added to the pan and has begun to collapse, lightly season with salt and pepper, reduce the heat to low and cover the pan. Cook until the chard is tender.

When the chard is tender add the squash and onions to the pan, toss to combine and heat through. Serves 2.

Note: It isn't necessary to spin the chard dry after washing it. Just drain it well. Any water left clinging to the leaves will help it to wilt and will evaporate off quickly during the initial cooking.

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