- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 9, 2008

My friends all love to entertain, but, like me, they work full time and are often dealing with frenetic schedules. The answer for all of us has become the “planned potluck.”

That phrase might sound like an oxymoron since the very nature of a potluck is that it is serendipitous, but we have found that discussing the menu and delegating who will be responsible for the main course, the sides and the dessert make for a winning formula.

In our circle, the person who hosts usually prepares the entree, and the rest of us bring special fare to complete the meal.

This weekend, for example, my husband and I are looking forward to a casual Friday-night get-together with some neighbors. As soon as I accepted the invitation, I volunteered to make a side dish.

The hostess had not decided on the entree when we talked, but she was leaning toward roasted chicken. When I mentioned that I had just created a new recipe for roasted butternut squash with a walnut and goat cheese crumble, she loved the idea.

It would pair beautifully with roasted poultry, but would be just as tempting as a garnish to broiled lamb chops, sauteed veal and pork, scallops or grilled steaks.

This dish, simple to prepare and made with a minimal number of ingredients, boasts big, robust flavors. Peeled and cubed butternut squash is tossed with olive oil, seasoned with kosher salt and pepper, then roasted for a little more than half an hour until tender and lightly browned.

The squash can be baked early in the day and reheated. Then, at serving time, crumbled goat cheese, chopped walnuts and chopped parsley are sprinkled on top.

My local supermarkets sell butternut squash already peeled, and if you can find it in this convenient form, it will shave a few minutes off the prep.

Next time, I’m planning to be the host for one of our unique potluck dinners. I’ve got a delicious new lamb dish I can’t wait to share, and I know my inventive friends will come up with just the right accompaniments.

Roasted butternut squash with walnut goat cheese crumble

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided

8 cups peeled, cubed (1-inch dice) butternut squash (2½ to 3 pounds; see note)

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

½ cup walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped (see note.)

½ cup goat cheese, crumbled

2 tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley

Arrange a rack at center position and preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Brush a heavy, rimmed baking sheet with 1 tablespoon of the oil. Spread cubed squash in a single layer on the baking sheet. Drizzle the remaining 2 tablespoons oil over squash, and toss to coat well. Season with 1 teaspoon salt and several grinds of black pepper.

Roast squash, stirring every 10 minutes, until tender when pierced with a knife and browned around the edges, about 35 minutes.

Remove and set aside. (Squash can be roasted 1 day ahead. Cool, cover and refrigerate. When ready to serve, reheat in a 350 degree preheated oven until warm, about 10 to 15 minutes.)

Place the roasted squash cubes on a serving platter and sprinkle with walnuts, goat cheese, and parsley. Makes 6 servings.

Note: Look for peeled butternut squash in the produce section of the supermarket. The packages are often 20 ounces; two of this size should yield 8 cups.

Note: To toast walnuts, spread them on a rimmed baking sheet and place in a preheated 350-degree oven until lightly browned and fragrant, 5 to 6 minutes. Watch carefully so that they do not burn.


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