The late-fall-early-winter produce season is more limited than summer and early fall, but some great treasures are available this time of year - and they go together beautifully.
One heavenly match is the pairing of golden winter squash and fresh, juicy, sparkling pomegranate seeds. Add the earthy flavor of walnuts and their exquisite oil, and you have a sublime side dish. Use any kind of squash — butternut, acorn or delicata.
The instructions do not call for peeling the squash because the ridged varieties (acorn and delicata) are too difficult to peel. Butternut squash — with its smooth complexion — peels easily, though, so peeling is an option if you use this very common variety. Squash peel is edible, but it is not everyone’s preference, so you can serve the finished dish with a sharp knife for those who want to trim the peel from their serving.
The sweetness of winter squash varies greatly from one specimen to another. The intensity of its golden color can be - but isn’t necessarily - an indicator. So, after you roast the squash, give it a taste. If it’s plenty sweet, just toss it with the walnut oil and salt - and top with the pomegranate seeds if it is pomegranate season - and you’re there. However, if it still tastes pale after the walnut oil and salt are in there, proceed with the lime-juice-maple-syrup treatment, and even the most retrograde squash will shine.
Roasted walnut oil is a deeply aromatic product that I use almost exclusively on salads or as a seasoning. Look for it in the gourmet section of your grocery store and, once it’s opened, keep it tightly closed and refrigerated.
Roasted winter squash with pomegranates and walnuts
Olive oil for the baking tray
4 pounds winter squash (butternut, acorn or delicata)
1 tablespoon roasted walnut oil
Dash of salt (optional)
1 tablespoon or more fresh lemon juice or lime juice (optional, to taste)
Up to 1 tablespoon real maple syrup (optional, to taste)
3/4 cup finely chopped walnuts, lightly toasted
Seeds from 1 large pomegranate
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking tray with foil and coat with olive oil.
Slice the squash in half lengthwise. Use kitchen scissors to loosen the seeds, then scrape them out with a spoon and discard them. Cut the squash into wedges or chunks 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick, and arrange them in a single layer on the prepared tray. (The size and shape of the pieces is highly flexible and is largely determined by the squash.)
Bake in the center of the oven for 15 to 20 minutes (possibly longer, depending on the squash and on how thick the pieces are) or until fork-tender. If you like, you can turn the squash (use tongs) about halfway during the roasting process to keep the browning even. Try not to let them get mushy.
Transfer to a serving bowl or platter and toss with the walnut oil and possibly some salt. Taste to see if it needs to be enhanced with lemon or lime juice and/or maple syrup.
Serve hot, warm or at room temperature, topped with walnuts and pomegranate seeds. Makes 3 to 4 servings.
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