OPINION | FRONT BURNER: Spices enhance fall butternut squash

Orange-Cardamom Butternut Squash (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)
Orange-Cardamom Butternut Squash (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)

Here's a recipe to add to your fall rotation, and if you like it, maybe even your Thanksgiving menu.

Woodsy-minty cardamom and pungent black pepper are paired with fresh, bright orange zest and salt for a decidedly different way of seasoning. A drizzle of honey or maple syrup pulls all the flavors together and heightens the sweetness without being cloying.

This original recipe called for sweet potatoes and I'm sure it is delicious with sweet potatoes, but I had two butternut squash calling my name.

The process is a little time consuming — you have to peel and seed a whole butternut squash or two and grind the spices, but it pays off in flavor.

To save time, you could use butternut squash that's already been peeled and cubed, but I think round slices make a prettier presentation. Other squash varieties such as delicata or acorn would be excellent.

It is so good that even Mr. Picky who normally doesn't eat winter squash declared it "pretty good ... for butternut squash."

I highly recommend taking the time to grind the cardamom and peppercorns yourself — the flavors will be so much more fresh and pungent — but if you can't find whole cardamom, or if you simply prefer to use already ground pepper and cardamom, use 1 teaspoon or a little more each.

I use a mortar and pestle — in addition to the enhanced aroma, it's a safe and effective way to get a little frustration out. You could also place the spices in a zip-close bag and go to town with a hammer or meat mallet to get the job done, if you have a lot of frustration to work through.

The spice mixture can be made ahead and kept in an airtight container.

Orange-Cardamom Butternut Squash

  • Zest of 1 orange
  • 1 teaspoon cardamom seeds (from about 10 pods)
  • 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 2 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into ½-inch thick rounds (2 ½ to 3 pounds)
  • Olive oil
  • Honey or maple syrup, for drizzling

Heat oven to 425 degrees.

Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

Using a mortar and pestle, combine the orange zest, cardamom seeds, peppercorns and salt until thoroughly ground. Or, grind the cardamom, black pepper and salt together in a spice grinder, transfer mixture to a bowl and stir in the orange zest. Set spice mixture aside.

In a large bowl, combine the squash with 1 to 2 tablespoons of olive oil and toss to coat. Add the spice mixture and toss to coat.

Arrange squash in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet. Roast 25 to 40 minutes or until tender and deep brown on the edges and bottoms.

Drizzle with honey or maple syrup and serve.

Makes about 4 servings.

Recipe adapted from Nannydeb via Food52.com

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