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Fennel-Cumin Butternut Squash


Fennel-Cumin Butternut Squash

Autumn weather in Hong Kong is firmly upon us and I am reveling in the cooler temperatures… and that I have moved to a country with changing seasons again!

Autumn is my favorite season.  The weather is just perfect as the humidity has finally dissipated and there is a briskness about the air that signals fall has arrived.  I particularly adore the gorgeous autumn colors of yellow, orange, and red leaves.  Most of Hong Kong, particularly the island, maintain its lush green vegetation all year round.  But I did find that several parks in New Territories (Shing Mun Reservoir, Yuen Long Tai Tong Country Park and Tai Po Kau Special Area) do have some maple trees should you be seeking those brilliant red autumn leaves!

However, if you prefer to stay on the island side (and much closer to home), I find recreating autumn in the kitchen will suffice.  I love cooking with the traditional American fall harvest like pumpkin, butternut squash, sweet potatoes, cranberries, apples, and brussels sprouts.  The colors are warm, the food is comforting, and it feels like a family Thanksgiving every meal.

I recently made some Butternut Squash Soup to kick off the autumn menu, and decided to roast the leftover squash with a flavorful fennel and cumin seed boost.  This recipe is very similar to the Five-Spice Roasted Acorn Squash I have made before, but with one important tweak that involves seasoning the butternut squash after it has been roasted in the oven.  I think that it seasoning vegetables before roasting works perfectly when it is a simple olive oil, salt and pepper coating (Roasted Vegetable Salad, Roasted Brussels Sprouts).  However, when you get a bit fancier with your spices such as fennel and cumin seeds, the delicate flavors are not able to sustain the heat for prolonged periods.

The solution is to make a fragrant lemon vinaigrette with toasted spices which is gently tossed with squash that has been already fully cooked.  The bold yet delicate flavors stand out a lot more prominently with this method of seasoning roasted vegetables.  It just takes one extra step but yields a comforting dish that is perfect for the fall festivities.

Fennel-Cumin Butternut Squash (adapted from the recipe by J.M. Hirsch)

Yields: 4 servings
Ingredients:
  • 2 lbs butternut squash
  • olive oil
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1 T cumin seed
  • 2 T lemon juice
  • dash of paprika
  • kosher salt and ground black pepper to taste

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 400°F (205°C).

Peel and seed the squash, then cut it into 1-inch cubes.  You can reserve the seeds to roast separately for a delicious snack: Roasted Squash Seeds recipe here.

Roasted Butternut Squash Seeds

Mound the cubed squash on the baking sheet, then drizzle with a couple tablespoons of olive oil.  Toss with your hands to coat evenly, then spread in an even layer.  Roast for 15 minutes, then use a spatula to turn the pieces and roast for another 15 minutes, or until evenly browned.

roast the butternut squash with olive oil

During the final 5 minutes of roasting, in a small dry skillet over low heat, toast the fennel and cumin seeds, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 2 to 3 minutes.  Remove the skillet from the heat and stir in 2 tablespoons of olive oil and the lemon juice.  Season with salt and pepper.

toast the fennel and cumin seeds until fragrant

When the squash is done, transfer to a bowl.  Drizzle the dressing over it and gently toss to coat.  Serve warm.

toss the vinaigrette with the squash

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