It's understandable how it happens. With all the attention given to buttery mashed potatoes, savory stuffing, doughy dinner rolls, tartly sweet cranberry sauce, and of course the all-important turkey and gravy, butternut (and other winter squashes) tends to suffer from afterthought syndrome.
Most people just steam and mash it, giving it the appearance — but little of the appeal — of mashed potatoes. Others go for roasting, a method I generally favour. But roasting can be hit or miss depending on the quality of the squash and how well it caramelizes in the oven. And that last part requires reasonably high heat, something hard to deliver when so many other foods are competing for oven time.
So I decided to devise a recipe that effortlessly delivers tons of flavour. The effortless part is key. Because while it's nice to talk about wanting to up the butternut ante, it's another to find the time to deliver it in the midst of making one of the year's most anticipated meals.
To get those results, I turned to a relatively new ingredient — powdered peanut butter. It came on the market several years ago, but only now is getting any attention. It is exactly as it sounds — peanut butter that has had nearly all of the fat extracted. The resulting fine powder has deep, rich peanut flavour, but can be used in ways conventional peanut butter cannot, such as in dry spice rubs.
The most common brand of powdered peanut butter is PB2. It's available in a variety of flavours (including chocolate!), but for most savory recipes you'll obviously want to stick with plain.
Mixed with a handful of seasonings, the powdered peanut butter creates a rich flavouring that works well not only with the natural sweetness of the squash, but also with the many other flavours and ingredients on the typical Thanksgiving table. The good news is that it's still as simple as chopping the squash, tossing it with the dry seasonings, then roasting. And since this recipe doesn't rely on caramelizing for its flavour, it can be done at 350 F, a temperature that will be agreeable to the many other dishes that need to get into the oven.
To find powdered peanut butter, check the natural foods aisle at the grocer. If you strike out, get online; it's widely available from web retailers.
SPICY PEANUT ROASTED BUTTERNUT SQUASH
Start to finish: 1 hour (15 minutes active)
5-pound butternut squash, peeled and seeded
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup powdered peanut butter
1 tablespoon garlic powder
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
Heat the oven to 350 F. Coat 2 rimmed baking sheets with cooking spray.
Cut the peeled and seeded squash into bite-size pieces, then place them in a large bowl. Drizzle the squash with the olive oil, then toss to coat evenly. Set aside.
In a small bowl, mix together the powdered peanut butter, garlic powder, smoked paprika, chili powder, cumin, salt and pepper. While using a silicone spatula to toss the squash, sprinkle the seasoning mixture over it, continuing to toss until all of the squash is well coated.
Transfer the squash to the prepared baking sheets, using the spatula to scrape the oil and seasonings from the bowl. Arrange the squash in an even layer, then roast for 25 minutes. Use a spatula to flip the squash, then roast for another 20 minutes, or until lightly browned and tender.
Nutrition information per serving: 220 calories; 70 calories from fat (32 per cent of total calories); 8 g fat (1 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 0 mg cholesterol; 37 g carbohydrate; 7 g fiber; 7 g sugar; 6 g protein; 300 mg sodium.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Food Editor J.M. Hirsch is author of the cookbook "High Flavor, Low Labor: Reinventing Weeknight Cooking." Follow him to great eats on Twitter at http://twitter.com/JM_Hirsch or email him at jhirsch(at)ap.org.