I think squash is best roasted, but sometimes, I'm just too hungry to wait that long. This was the case last night after a long day in the lab. The point of roasting a vegetable (or meat for that matter) is to get some browning reactions going. Browning reactions convert simple sugars and proteins into more complex flavors. This 1953 article in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry by John Hodge, one of the great food chemists, identified and integrated some of the early postulated reactions into a unified theory. Quite remarkable considering how much is still not understood about the mechanisms that make grilled steak or roasted veggies so delicious.
But back to the squash at hand... I decided to try to shortcut the research presented above; by first boiling the squash, then dehydrating it a bit, and then broiling, and making up for the lack of browning reactions with peripheral savory, sweet, complex flavors. I had one small, sad acorn squash that had been in the fridge for quite some time, and about 1/4 of a very large butternut, about 1/2 lb in all. Any firm winter squash would work. I left the skin on, cause again, I was hungry! I had picked up some thyme at the store the other day, having remembered how much I like it because Mary and Erin cooked with some at our Estes Park/RMNP mini-vacation last weekend. That along with some smoked sea salt takes care of the savory flavors; brown sugar is a shortcut to the sweet caramelized flavor roasting usually imparts, and the butter brings it all together. The bread crumbs are for a little crunch and visually, for some browning.
~1/2 lb. firm winter squash, sliced into fairly large chunks (peeling is optional)
1 T. butter
1 T. fresh thyme (leaves removed from twigs)
2 T. brown sugar
large pinch smoked sea salt
ground pepper to taste
bread crumbs (optional)
1. Preheat the oven to 400 and boil some water.
2. Cook the squash in the boiling water, till just tender, about 10 minutes.
3. In a casserole or baking dish, toss the squash with the butter, thyme, 1 T. of the brown sugar, and the salt and pepper.
4. Sprinkle the remaining 1 T. of brown sugar, and some bread crumbs on top.
5. Cook for about 10 minutes in the oven (to dehydrate), and then switch to broil. Broil for a few minutes till the bread crumbs and squash are starting to brown.
I think it would also be great with some parmesan cheese in addition or instead of the bread crumbs. I used some homemade wheat bread crumbs I have stashed in the freezer, but I think the crunch factor would be improved with crunchy Japanese style bread crumbs (panko), which are available in most supermarkets.