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Monday, October 10, 2011

Butternut Squash, Ricotta & Sage Crostini

A few nights ago I put together the quickest, easiest meal and appetizer for my weekly dinner (and Fringe-watching ) with my friend Sophie. I got home less than half an hour before she arrived, and the meal (compromised of this tasty crostini to start and a hearty doctored can of pre-made tomato soup) was ready to be served by the time she rang the doorbell.
I have been living in my apartment for two years and I still jump about 2 feet in the air every time our doorbell rings. That sound is terrifying. So, needless to say, when she rang the bell at 5:30, and I was standing above a plate of crostini, carefully placing fried sage leaves on top of each, I jumped in alarm and dropped a few of the aromatic crisp fried leaves. Bummer.

I have long felt confused about sage. Most other common herbs I have a good sense of when to add here or there, what flavors they will compliment, and what quality they will bring out in a dish. Thyme? Basil? Bay leaves? Parsley? Rosemary? Yep. I can (for the most part) taste a dish I am cooking and think "this would be enhanced with                    ." But sage? Well, honestly, I didn't even quite know what it tasted like. I have really only had it paired with brown butter and butternut squash ravioli. I think I'd like to look into other recipes that use sage, get to know this herb a little better.

This recipe also paired the flavor of sage with butternut squash. But the crispy fried sage leaves were the statement making part of this combination. The ricotta was smooth and subtle, enhanced only with a little bit of lemon juice and zest, the bread that made up the toasted base of this crostini with toasted with just a bit of olive oil, and the butternut squash was cooked up with olive oil, salt and pepper. So the crisp sage leaves spoke for themselves, not overshadowed by other flavors, but instead bringing interest to combination of subtle sweet squash and creamy ricotta.

I saved time on this meal and was able to prepare it so quickly because I had leftover roasted butternut squash from the dinner I made the night before. Feel free to prepare the components of this appetizer the day before if you wish, you can roast cubed butternut squash and set aside in the fridge (bring to room temp before serving), or even combine the ricotta and zest the night before and refrigerate. Assemble right before serving.

Butternut Squash & Ricotta Crostini
Recipe from Bon Appetit

  • 1 bunch or package of fresh sage leaves
  • olive oil
  • 1 baguette
  • 1 butternut squash (or cheat and buy the precut pieces at the grocery store. Cutting butternut squash is one of my least favorite jobs in the kitchen- they're tricky!) 
  • 1 1/2 tsp brown sugar
  • sea salt & ground pepper 
  • 3/4 cup fresh ricotta 
  • 1 lemon- zested & then squeezed for juice

Step 1. Roast the butternut squash- after cutting into 1-2" cubes, lay butternut squash on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper, and sprinkle with brown sugar. place baking sheet in preheated oven at 425 degrees.  Roast for 25-30 minutes, tossing occasionally. While this roasts, start the next steps!

Step 2. Fry the sage- in a small skillet or frying pan, heat olive oil until hot. Place sage leaves (stems removed) in oil and remove after they appear lightly golden and crisp. Place fried leaves on a paper towel and set aside. Reserve the used olive oil for the next step.

Step 3. Toast the bread-  cut the baguette into 3/8" slices. lay on a baking sheet, and brush on the oil from step 2. Add the to the already hot oven (if not making the squash ahead of time. Otherwise, set the oven to broil and keep an eye on the bread, it will brown quickly!) until golden.

Step 4. Prepare the ricotta- While the bread toasts and the butternut squash finishes roasting, zest and juice half of your lemon. In a mixing bowl combine the ricotta and the lemon zest and juice. set aside until the bread has started to cool a bit.

Step 5. Assemble it all- Spread some of the ricotta mixture on to each piece of toast. Place the butternut squash pieces on top of that, then squeeze lemon juice from the remaining lemon half over the top, and drizzle a bit of olive oil. Top each crostini with 1 or 2 fried sage leaves, and season with salt and pepper.

This was easy and so delicious, I will definitely make this again soon. So perfectly fall!

As I mentioned above, I served this as an appetizer with a simple "doctored" pre-made tomato soup. When I am short on time and want something warm and delicious, especially as the weather gets cooler, I am not above opening a can of soup. I use Progresso Tomato & Basil, and add lots of fresh basil leaves, heavy cream, cracked pepper, sliced fried garlic, and a little bit of herb oil. A quick salad and some hearty bread, and you have an easy nearly instant light meal, that I swear doesn't taste like it came from a can.

Ok, excuse me, I am going to go make some more of these now!

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