I love autumn. I love wearing sweaters, snuggling under a blanket, comforting, slow-cooked stews, steaming bowls of soup. And my favorite holiday, Thanksgiving, which of course leads to a wonderful Christmas season. But I will admit, that when fall comes on in earnest, and I see the end of tomatoes at the farmer’s market, my herb garden fades and I am not quite ready to break into the stock of summer vegetables in the freezer I feel wistful. Then I remember the winter squash. Orange and amber and green, knobbly or smooth, heavy and solid. Butternut squash is one of my favorite vegetables. I love it in soups, pasta sauces, lasagna and even baked in bread. The color, the flavor, the gentle slow-roasting all sing to me of autumn.
Earthy roasted butternut and slightly sweet, nutty chestnuts are a match made in heaven. Add some woodsy sage and a swirl of rich crème fraiche and this is a bowl full of fall. It is a great alternative to sweet potatoes on the Thanksgiving table, but is wonderful with any roasted meat.
Roasted Butternut and Chestnut Purée
A few sage leaves quickly fried in olive oil until crisp make a nice garnish to this dish.
2 butternut squash, about 1 ½ to 2 pounds each
2 small yellow onions
1 head of garlic
5 – 7 ounces peeled chestnuts, from a vacuum packed bag or jar
10 fresh sage leaves
5 ounces crème fraiche
Salt to taste
½ Tablespoon butter
Preheat the oven to 350°.
Peel the butternuts, cut them in half and scoop out the seeds and fibrous innards. Cut the squash into evenly sized chunks. Place the chunks on a rimmed baking sheet. Peel and quarter the onions and place on the pan. Separate the garlic cloves and peel them then add them to the pan. Drizzle over a little olive oil and use your hands to toss everything around. You just want to slick the vegetables with oil, so use a little at first and add a bit at a time if you need more. You’ll only need about a Tablespoon. Don’t go all TV chef and dramatically slosh oil in the pan. You don’t want puddles of oil, or the vegetables will not get the nice caramelization going. Spread the vegetables into an even layer. Try to tuck the garlic cloves in on top of the squash and onions; they tend to burn if they touch the pan. Sprinkle over a little kosher salt. Roast the veg for 20 minutes, take the pan out of the oven and flip everything over using a spatula. Add the chestnuts and return the pan to the oven to roast a further 20 minutes until everything is soft when pierced with a sharp knife. Leave the vegetables to cool.
When the vegetables are cool, transfer them to the bowl of a food processor. Add the sage leaves and crème fraiche and puree until smooth. You may have some chunks of chestnut in there, but it adds a nice texture. Season with salt to taste. Scrape the puree into a greased 2-quartbaking dish. You may refrigerate the puree for several hours at this point. When ready to bake, very thinly slice the butter and strew it across the top of the casserole. Bake until warmed through and golden on top, about 30 minutes.