Butternut squash can take on various personalities, depending on how it’s cooked.
When slowly baked it collapses, turning meltingly tender and brown-sugary sweet. When sliced and roasted with searing heat, it becomes full-bodied and dense with a caramelized crust. This can be achieved in a hot oven, but it’s quicker and even more satisfying when done in a skillet.
Skillet-roasting leaves you that fond — the precious bits at the bottom of the pan that create an intense sauce that pulls together the finished dish. Here, all it takes is a generous splash of lime juice. Add a dusting of the Middle Eastern spice blend za’atar and a handful of cooked beans for heft, and this becomes a satisfying plant-based entree and a hearty side dish for roast turkey.
Right now, you’ll find butternut squash in a range of sizes at our farmers markets. I favor the bigger squash with long necks that offer a generous ratio of flesh to seeds. Because these are local and fresh, the smooth skin is especially tender and easy to peel. Butternut, like all winter squash, keeps nicely for several weeks in a cool, dry place, ready, when you are, to cook.
In this recipe, the white beans are also from the farmers market. Because they are freshly dried, they tend to cook more quickly than packaged dry beans. These don’t need to soak, and will turn tender in about 35 to 45 minutes. I like to make them in big batches to have on hand for soups, stews, pilafs and skillet dishes like this. They’ll keep in the refrigerator for up to a week. No time to mess with dried beans? No worries, canned beans work just as well.
As we rethink our upcoming Thanksgiving dinner, this recipe checks a lot of boxes.
It’s quick enough to prepare last-minute and yet so forgiving it may be made ahead and reheated when ready to serve. It can be scaled up or down depending on the number of servings. Vegetarian, vegan and gluten- and dairy-free, it meets most dietary concerns while also pleasing omnivores.
Any leftovers are delicious tossed with pasta and sprinkled with cheese or served over wild or brown rice.
Skillet Roasted Butternut Squash and White Beans with Warm Spices
Searing butternut squash in a wide pan yields a full-bodied, flavorful dish. A cast-iron skillet is best, but it’s most important that the pan is big enough for the squash pieces to spread out so they turn brown and crisp. Za’atar is a Middle Eastern spice blend that’s found in the spice aisles of most supermarkets and co-ops. To make your own, stir together 2 tablespoons minced fresh thyme, 2 tablespoons sesame seeds, 2 teaspoons ground sumac and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Store in a covered jar in a cool, dark place. From Beth Dooley.
• 3 tbsp. olive oil
• 1 medium butternut squash (about 1 1/2 to 2 lb.), seeded, peeled and cut into 1/2-in. slices
• 2 cloves garlic, crushed
• 1 tbsp. za’atar seasoning, or more to taste (see Note)
• 1 tbsp. chopped fresh thyme
• Juice of 1 lime
• 1 c. cooked or canned white beans, drained (see below)
• Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Film a 10- or 12-inch skillet with oil over medium heat. Add the squash and immediately toss to coat with the oil and spread in a single layer. Cook for about 3 to 5 minutes, stirring once or twice.
Lower the heat to medium, cover the skillet and continue cooking until the squash becomes tender, about 5 to 8 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove the cover and stir the squash, browning pieces while scraping the pan with a wooden spoon or spatula to lift off all the brown bits, for another 3 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic, toss, and cook for 1 to 2 minutes. If the squash begins to stick, add a few tablespoons of water.
As soon as the squash is tender and browned, toss in the za’atar, thyme, lime juice and a few tablespoons of water, and scrape the pan to lift and dissolve any of the brown bits on the bottom. Stir in the beans and toss together. Season with salt and pepper and serve.
To cook dry beans: Beans expand when they cook, so 1 cup of dry beans will yield about 3 cups cooked. Put beans in a pot and add enough water to cover by 4 inches. Set over high heat, bring to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, cover and cook the beans until tender, about 45 to 75 minutes, depending on the age and variety of the dried beans.
Beth Dooley is the author of “In Winter’s Kitchen.”
Find her at bethdooleyskitchen.com.