I love fall food so much: the long-simmered soups, the first roasts of the year, the warm herbs and spices, the hearty greens. And for those of us fall food lovers, Thanksgiving is our highest of holy days: mashed potatoes with gravy, turkey twelve ways, green beans almondine, stuffing for days!
But I have a confession to make: I really don’t like sweet orange winter vegetable dishes. I realize that sounds like an oddly specific confession, but they’re everywhere this time of year! Butternut squash soups that escaped from the candy aisle, yams dripping in sticky syrup, carrots glazed with a pound of sugar per 1/2 pound of root: yech. I can get on board with a sweet potato puree casserole with a crunchy pecan topping, but that’s about it.
And yet I love orange winter vegetables. Pumpkin and squash and sweet potatoes and, yes, carrots: they’re all a delight. But if I’m going to enjoy them, I’m just going to have to make them myself, my way. Stews and roasts and curries and gratins: I’m comin’ for ya.
This dish, though, is a bridge builder. Thanksgiving isn’t the time to blow people’s minds with an entirely new flavor profile, at least not in my family. At both my family’s and my husband’s family’s gatherings, we’re all about tradition with judicious exploration, which is where these chunks of honey-vinegar butternut squash come in.
Chunks of butternut squash are tossed with oil, salt, and pepper, then they go to the oven to brown and soften with onion and thyme. The onion melts into a caramelized sweetness, and the thyme perfumes the whole kitchen with its woodsy sharpness. After the squash is just tender, the whole roast takes a bath in a simple marinade of apple cider vinegar leavened with a touch of honey, just enough to please the candied yam crowd — I’m not a monster!
I’ll be bringing these to a post-Thanksgiving extended family gathering, and I’m hoping they’ll be a hit. If not, though, I’m not too worried about it: I’ll just barricade myself behind the pans of stuffing and eat the whole pan with a serving spoon. Happy Thanksgiving, y’all.
Honey-vinegar butternut squash
If you, like me, aren’t a huge fan of syrupy sweet squash and sweet potato dishes, this your antidote. Tender squash combine with deeply roasted onion, and fragrant thyme before marinating in a tangy-sweet honey-vinegar marinade. As-is, they’ll fit right in with the other traditional dishes on your Thanksgiving buffet, but if your family’s tastes run to the zingy, throw in the optional red pepper flakes: you won’t regret it.
Inspired by vague misrecollections of Mario Batali’s Scapece di Zucca
2 butternut squash
1 large white onion, peeled and cut into 1 inch chunks
1 dozen (or so) sprigs of fresh thyme
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 tsp kosher salt
A few good grinds of black pepper
2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
2 tsp honey
1/2 to 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (opt.)
Preheat the oven to 450°F. Place two rimmed baking sheets in the oven to preheat as well.
Peel and seed the butternut squash, and cut into 1-inch chunks.
The easiest way to peel a butternut squash is to use a chef’s knife to divide the squash into two pieces so you have a cylinder and a ball. Cut off the stem end from the cylinder, then slice down the sides to cut off the hard skin. For the ball, slice it vertically (though the blossom end), scoop out the seeds with a spoon, then cut off the blossom ends, standing the hemisphere on the cut end and then slicing off the skin in strips, following the curve of the squash.
Toss the squash, onion, and springs of thyme with the olive oil, salt, and pepper, then divide between the two preheated baking sheets. Roast for 30 minutes, tossing once or twice (and rotating the sheets between racks if they don’t fit on a single rack), until the squash is tender.
Meanwhile, combine the vinegar, honey, and pepper flakes (if using).
When the squash is done, pick out the hard thyme stems (most of the leaves will have fallen off, which is fine) and combine the roasted vegetables in a serving bowl. Pour the vinegar mixture over the vegetables and let marinate for at least 20 minutes, tossing occasionally. Serve warm or room temperature.
Have a different hard winter squash? That should be lovely. Ditto for different hard herbs — rosemary, oregano, or marjoram would all have different flavors, but would be equally delicious.
If you don’t have any fresh herbs, you can sub in a teaspoon of dry with no ill effect.