There are days when the kitchen is bursting at the seams with meal options. These days usually follow a farmer’s market or grocery store trip, and on these days there are ingredients for anything you can possibly imagine cooking. Except that maybe you can’t really imagine cooking anything, paralyzed by the abundance of choices.
Then there are days that are exactly the opposite. There is a chunk of cabbage hanging out in the almost-empty crisper, a lonely apple in the fruit bowl, a couple of sprouting shallots, a bag of nuts. Days like this are my favourite to cook. It’s when I start to imagine ways to rescue the last of the dying ingredients. It’s when interesting meals start coming together and magical new combinations are discovered. The results of this kind of cooking are my absolute favourite meals. Partially because the results are (usually pleasantly) surprising, and also because I know that I’ve honoured each forgotten ingredient to make something that is more than the sum of its parts.
This lovely meal was initially made with buttercup squash. The squash looked cute in the grocery store – that’s a good enough reason to buy a vegetable, right? Then it sat around, looking cute in my kitchen, for a week. I also had some forgotten oyster mushrooms, a bag of nuts, and a couple of shallots. I tried to make the best each ingredient, roasting the squash, sauteing the mushrooms, toasting the nuts, marinating the shallots. My favourite kind of meal was born. This, of course, wasn’t the last time that I had this combination. The following times I bought the ingredients with a purpose in mind, and obviously experimented with alternatives.
This is the first winter that I’m actually exploring different squash varieties. I used to think they were all the same, but now laughing at my ignorance. Buttercup squash is very sweet and densely creamy, while acorn squash, still sweet, is a lot lighter in both flavour and texture. If serving this as an appetizer or side, I would recommend using acorn squash. Buttercup would make it more substantial for a main dish.
- 1 acorn or buttercup squash
- 1 shallot, thinly sliced
- large handful of oyster mushrooms
- red wine vinegar, for marinating
- butter, for sauteing
- olive oil, for roasting
- toasted hazelnuts for garnish
- 1 tsp. hazelnut oil
- 1 tsp. honey
- Preheat oven to 400°F.
- Slice squash into 2 cm wedges or slices.
- Toss with olive oil and a few generous pinches of salt.
- Roast for about 30 – 40 minutes, flipping slices about half way through.
- While roasting, blanch the sliced shallots by pouring boiling water over them and letting them sit in the water for a minute or two. This mellows the sharpness of the shallots and reduces shallot dragon breath, but optional if you like the extra kick.
- Drain the water and sprinkle with a few teaspoons of red wine vinegar. Toss to cover and set aside.
- When the squash is almost done, make the mushrooms and dressing. Heat butter in a medium skillet and saute the oyster mushrooms with a few pinches of salt until soft and starting to brown.
- Drain the vinegar from the shallots and reserve 2 teaspoons.
- Whisk reserved vinegar with hazelnut oil, honey, and a pinch of salt.
- When squash is ready, top with mushrooms, shallots, and toasted nuts. Drizzle with dressing and serve right away.