I'm not a huge fan of squash, only in the last few years have I been able to bring myself to eat it...and only if it is combined with other things, like caramelized onions, ricotta, cider vinegar and mint! It's all about hiding the veggies for me, and when they are sufficiently hidden, I will eat them with gusto! (I have posted over a dozen recipes using squash, everything from soups and stews to galettes and tarts...and speaking as someone who never reaches for veggies in any form unless they are disguised, I can tell you that those recipes and this one have so many other flavors that I now just think of squash as a color and not a vegetable!) When I came across this recipe for Squash Toasts from Smitten Kitchen, via NYTimes Cooking, I instantly knew it would be something I would love because even though squash is in the title, it's not the dominant flavor. And speaking of flavor, this has it goin' on! If the crunch of the toast doesn't woo you, then perhaps the finishing touch of fresh mint or the creaminess of the ricotta cheese will speak to you and if they don't, then there's still the caramelized onions, the hint of red chili flakes, a glint of maple syrup and cider vinegar...now you can't tell me that you're not salivating just a teensy bit thinking about that!
This morning I was up early, couldn't sleep after hearing the coyote howling behind our house, which woke little Rosie and sent her scurrying up to my pillow - at that point I knew it would be futile to just lay there. Before getting up though, I began to think about what to make for dinner, isn't that your first thought of the day?! And once again, Squash Toast was the winner! With a salad, Squash Toasts, made with a larger piece of bread, is a great Fall meal but it also works great as an appetizer! There is a bit of time involved with this recipe so I decided to break it up into two parts - and you can, too, this is totally do-ahead-able! In fact, you could make this over several days! Roast the squash one day (about 15 to 20 minutes) then caramelize the onions the next (another 15 to 20 minutes) and then assemble everything to enjoy on the 3rd day. Or make it all at one time, if you've got 45 minutes to an hour to spare. This may seem like a lot of time for toast...but please reread my first paragraph...these are loaded with flavor and will impress the heck out of any guests who might darken your doorstep just as you're sitting down to eat! (You know who you are and you're welcome any time!)
There I was, in the kitchen bustling about, stirring the onions while I peeled and chopped the squash. The mister walked in and since he was right next to the drawer where I keep my parchment paper, I asked him to hand me a sheet. Then I had to explain what parchment paper is. Then I had to direct him to the exact location. Then I had to watch him fumble around until he was finally able to pull one sheet out from the pad. He dangled it mid-air and said, "You mean to tell me you cut all of these pieces of paper to fit your pan?" My smirk was undeniable so I just kept my head down. I might have nodded or maybe it was a twitch, hard to say...I mean, why not let him think I'm that detailed and anal and I have nothing better to do than sit around cutting parchment with scissors for hours on end?? He is always asking me what I do all day, (usually he asks that after he's had a nice home-cooked meal and has donned freshly washed pj's) now he can visualize me cutting parchment! The thought amused me but alas, I am not a parchment cutter...I buy cut parchment, who has time to sit around cutting it?!?! (I buy it from Amazon, 200 pre-cut sheets for $7.99 - it's the cheapest place to get it even if I have to pay shipping and I certainly can't buy it locally for that quantity or price! I use parchment paper every time I pull out a cookie sheet - it saves me time in clean-up and nothing ever sticks. I'm a parchment believer and you should be, too!)
Start cooking your onions while you prep the squash. After they are caramelized, maple syrup and cider vinegar is added and they are cooked a bit longer until the onions become jam-like. At this point you may even consider, like I did, skipping the squash altogether, because if you think about it, jammy-onions over ricotta on toast would hit a lot of buttons! But, and I can't believe I'm going to say this, don't skip the squash!
After the onions are done and the squash has been roasted until it's smashable with a fork, you can scoop everything into a bowl, refrigerate and use at a later date. This mixture will keep for several days in the fridge. When you're ready to assemble your toasts, just nuke the squash mixture a bit in the microwave and you'll be on your way to making one of the best Fall treats you'll ever have.
Any kind of bread will work, but I like using a 9-grain bread, pre-sliced, when I make Squash Toast as an appetizer. After trimming the crusts, the bread is sliced into 4 equal pieces, making them the perfect size for an appetizer...it's just a bit surprising how easily they pop into one's mouth!
Squash on Toast Appetizer - Adapted from Smitten Kitchen and NYTimes Cooking by Jean-Goerges Vongerichten
1 butternut, delicata or acorn squash, about 2 1/2 to 3 lbs. (I used butternut squash)
1/2 to 3/4 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon dried chili flakes, more or less to taste
coarse sea or kosher salt
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and thinly sliced
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup maple syrup
5 slices of 9-Grain bread, or another type of grain/country-style bread, trim crusts, cut into 4 equal size pieces (or you can also use a French baguette, sliced 1/2-inch thick. The original recipe calls for 4 slices of 1-inch thick cut country bread. If you are going to serve this as a main dish, use 1 slice per serving or cut your bread of choice into thicker and larger pieces)
1/2 cup ricotta, or goat cheese or feta or mascarpone (I've made this with all 4 different cheese and I like ricotta and goat cheese the best, oh, cream cheese would be good, too!)
4 tablespoons (or more) fresh chopped mint leaves (don't skip the mint - you will love it!)
1/2 to 1 stick butter, softened, optional
Preheat over to 450 degrees. Prepare the onions: Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions and 1 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring frequently, until onions are softened and beginning to brown, about 10 to 15 minutes. Add vinegar and maple syrup and reduce heat to medium. Cook, stirring, until onions become jam-like, and are broken down, about another 8 to 10 minutes.
While onions are cooking, prepare squash. Peel squash with a vegetable peeler. Slice in half, remove seeds, then cut into 1-inch chunks. Place a sheet of parchment paper onto a cookie sheet (you can also use aluminum foil) and transfer squash to prepared sheet. Toss squash with 3 tablespoons olive oil, 2 tablespoons salt and chili flakes until coated evenly. Roast squash in oven until tender and slightly browned, about 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. (Squash will be done before the onions.) Remove from oven, leave on tray and set aside.
When onion mixture is done, pour over top of squash, still on baking sheet. Using a fork, gently smash the mixture together. Taste and adjust seasonings, if needed.
Slice bread (into desired thickness, thicker for an entree, thinner for an appetizer) and toast in toaster or in oven under broiler (my oven has a toaster setting so I can brown toast on both sides at the same time. Original recipes calls for toasting bread in batches in olive oil in a large skillet - which is more time/work than I wanted so I opted for the oven. Do what you have time for. Lightly butter toast on one side (totally optional but everything is better with buttah.) Spread a thin layer of ricotta cheese on top, add about a tablespoon of the squash-onion mixture, sprinkle with coarse salt and garnish with fresh chopped mint. Reheat any left-overs on a baking sheet in a 300-degree oven for 12 to 15 minutes, it will taste like you just made them, especially if your bread was a bit sturdy to begin with.
Makes 6 large pieces (regular bread size) for an entree or 20 appetizer-size (bread cut approximately 2 x 3-inches).