Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Chile-Lime Squash Fries

squash "fries"
Even as I write this, I’m looking out the window at the new blue November sky, against which Michael is silhouetted. Michael, who is cutting dead wood out of the dogwood, which is almost, at this point, entirely dead wood, and which is—from my very narrow, personal perspective—the only bad thing about the wild storm that has kept us without power for nearly 3 days now. Well, that and the tick-tick-ticking of a freezer full of produce and meat that may or may not be thawing because I’ve resisted the urge to open it and check.
Maple, October 30, 2011
Oh, but mostly it has been heaps and heaps of brilliant snow, the steaming glow of the woodstove, the sizzle of sausages cooking on it, board games by candlelight, a full and happy heart without the pesky distractions of computers, the internet, phones, school, work, or showers. Seriously. I have been in total powerless heaven. The neighbors congregate outside for updates and gossip and supply-trading, and to scheme about whether somebody’s generator can be rigged for the watching of the Patriots game (it cannot). The kids sit by the fire to sew themselves new fleece hats. I nap and read and do crossword puzzles saved up during busier times. The oaks break my heart a little, with their leathery leaves still clinging to the fallen branches that line every street in our neighborhood. We let the cat out, and he steps gingerly through the snow, shakes each paw after every step, and then meows to be let back in. 

I might write a collection of love poems called "Wood Stove."

Birdy, by the woodstove, looking at a picture of the woodstove. Do you know this book? The Midnight Farm. Don't spend $89 on it, but do consider buying it used for 1 cent if you still have small children. It is one of the most relaxing and beautiful kids' books I know.

I try to figure out how to post my column—this column. Will I go to Nicole’s, where their power is restored and there’s the promise of macaroni and cheese and cider? Probably.

But were you maybe here for the recipe, and enough about my fake pioneering life, complete with running water, flush toilets, and digital cameras? I understand. Onward and upward to the squash fries. I have to mention, though, that they’re not really fries, or even anything like fries. But there is chile and lime! And squash!!! But Chile-Lime Squash sounded like a recipe I’d need to apologize for—without the requisite marketing pizzaz! you need for warty old winter produce.

Now you don’t trust me, and I understand. But still, this is a lovely recipe. I, for one, require something spicy or funky to cut through the relentless sweetness of winter squash, and given that not everyone shares my great passion for blue cheese and/or anchovies, lime and chile work perfectly. (Oooh—would a few drops of fish sauce add a little je ne sais quoi? Je ne sais pas.) They stick to your teeth just the right amount, with a little crunch from the frizzled skin and a little softness from the tender flesh. Perfect.

Chile-Lime Squash Fries
Serves 4-6
Active time: 25 minutes; total time: 1-1 ¼ hours

Winter squash: 3 delicata, 2 acorn, 1 smallish butternut, or some other kind and amount
4 tablespoons olive oil
¾ teaspoon chipotle puree (more or less, depending on how spicy you like it)
1 teaspoon kosher salt (or half as much table salt)
1 tablespoon honey or maple syrup
Juice and grated zest of half a lime

Heat the oven to 450.

Scrub the squash well, then halve them and scoop out the seeds*. I no longer peel squash like acorn or delicata, but for some reason I do still peel butternut. Do what you like in this regard, bearing in mind that the skin is edible and wholesome and a pain in the ass to peel, and that it keeps the squash slices from disintegrating, but also that it might be the final straw for someone who’s already teetering on the back of the liking-squash camel. Michael, for example, at this very meal, said, “Didn’t you used to peel the squash?” the way you might say, “Didn’t you used to bring me flowers on our anniversary?” and it gave me a slight sinking feeling.

Trim the ends off the squash halves, then slice them into half-inch pieces, and toss the pieces in a large bowl with the oil, chipotle puree, salt, and honey or maple syrup. Arrange the pieces on a large, rimmed, greased non-stick baking sheet (or two), and put them in the oven. (If your sheets are not reliably non-stick, then I would line them with parchment paper).

Bake for 20-45 minutes, which I know is a big range, but your goal is to get them simultaneously tender, crisped, browned, and unburned. If turning them over seems like it would help, then do, but I find that to be sort of a diminishing-returns situation and don’t tend to bother. (“Didn’t you used to turn the squash over?” Next thing you know, I’ll give everyone a whole, raw squash and a spork. Enjoy!)

When the squash is done, grate the lime zest over it. Can I talk about my new grater? I am in love with it. I like it even more than my microplane zester, which had perhaps gotten dull? I’m not sure. Either way, this new one is razor-sharp, and you feel like you could leave a block of parmesan near it and walk away, and the cheese would turn into a flurry of shreds just from the proximity. 

Now squeeze on the lime juice, taste for salt, and serve. To really gild the lily, a little chipotle-lime-mayo wouldn’t kill anyone, now, would it? But I confess to serving ours with tiny dishes of honey for dipping, which is totally not like me, I know, but I never promised to be consistent.

* You saved the seeds, right? Rinse them in a bowl of water and try to separate them from the stringy stuff, not that it matters that much since once that stuff bakes and crisps it will just be a wholesome little addition of flavor. Now shake the seeds in a colander, then spread them on a rimmed baking sheet, toss them with oil and salt, and roast at 325 until they’re crisped and toasty, about a half an hour. At this point I tend to put something else on them—Worcestershire Sauce or Frank’s Red Hot or Lime Juice or Bragg’s Liquid Aminos—and toss them again before putting them back in the oven to crisp up again. Yum. Better than pumpkin seeds, even, thanks to the more favorable shell-to-seed ratio.
I put Bragg's and jalapeno-spiked vinegar on these before they finished baking, and then I ate way too many of them. But I like the way it feels like they're scraping out your insides--like a Master Cleanse diet, but without all the pesky fasting, etc.
Delicata. Though they're hardly, like, spun glass or anything. Really quite sturdy, actually.


And again, squash.
Some of the stuff you need for it, plus my afternoon mug of tea.
Which segues nearly seamlessly into a glass of beer. Note the lovely grater.

Ready to bake.
Ben honey-dipping his squash, at a more normal volume. "Hey, honey," I said. "The people are asking about your hair. In a nice way. What do you want to say?" And he said, just a little bit sassy, "Um, that it's long? Because I like it long?"
Burger and "fries." Go heavy on the air quotes, and everyone will be happy.


  1. Catherine, your meals always look so healthy and delicious! I wish we were your neighbors who could conveniently pop over around dinner time. Thanks for the timely advice on roasting seeds too -- we have some from yesterday's carved pumpkins. Thanks for posting through your storm...stay cozy.

  2. Anonymous3:43 PM

    Dear Ben, I love your long hair. My 7yo is growing beautiful long hair also. Very handsome! I just wish he would let his mama kiss the top of his head more often.

  3. Anonymous3:57 PM

    Ben's hair is great! Both of my boys, Alex:7 & Ben:3, have longish hair, shoulder length. When we saw Ben's 12-year-old picture, I made sure Alex got to see it so he could see he is not the only one. I vote for Ben to start a blog for boys with long hair! :) -Jen VH

  4. Just when I thought I had maxed out the squash recipes, there's this! It looks fantastic and we're having it for dinner tonight. Thank you.

  5. What I hear Ben saying is "why is my hair an issue? Anyone's issue?" And he's right. Appropo (sp) of nothing, I just had a talk with my 6 year old about hate and homophobia (though not in those words.) I feel sad tonight, the things they learn and hear at school.

  6. postscript: we made the squash fries tonight (with lemon and chile powder because that's what we had in the house), and we all loved it!

  7. Looks delicious. But seriously? Why no mention of that sneaky kale in the last pic?! I will be hoping a recipe is forthcoming.

  8. I really really love reading your stuff. Really. Please keep finding lots of places to write/publish.

    I also think you should do create lists of your toy, game, and book recommendations that I could easily find on your home page. I love your recommendations. Bought the farm book immediately (for 1 cent).

  9. OK, so you do inspire me to want to try more cooking and stuff? But. Is it wrong to say that really, I just want to eat at your house? I won't take up much room, and I'll be quiet and polite and wash the dishes after dinner, and sneak quietly out again. Would that be OK?

  10. So glad Nicole has power at her house (my friend Traci bawled when she spoke to the linemen outside her house in Upstate NY after five days of no power) so you could post this. That was a great belly laugh!

  11. Diane2:42 PM

    Catherine- just so you know...I rarely come to your blog for the recipe. Not that I don't like to cook, I do and I have made several of your recipes that I love. But I come here for your writing, pure and simple. If I happen to try the recipe that is just a bonus! Oh and I come hoping for a glimpse of the kids as well since I feel like I've known them since before they were born!

  12. My friend/neighbor/fellow coop preschool parent told me about your blog today.

    I think I love you. Or at least your blog, your sensibility, your photos, and your reminder to use some lime, for chrissake! I always forget about lime, but I think you have given me a ladder up out of the heap of winter squash from our CSA, just a'starin' at me every time I walk into the kitchen.

    Anyway...I'm adding you to my blogroll and coming back here often!

  13. Laura9:51 AM

    Hi Catherine, I was lucky to pick up The Grief of Others from my library before the power outage so there I sat by my woodstove devouring the book...amazing writing. Thanks for the recommendation!

  14. Anonymous1:05 PM

    I immediately bought the farm book (for $.01). Relaxing and beautiful are just what I'm looking for in a children's book. Thanks for the recommendation. My 4 and 8 year olds insist on being read to (individually) every night. So, I'm always on the look-out for books that both they are I will enjoy! I also just bought a whirly pop since my son was selling extremely over-priced popcorn for cub scouts. After reading your blog, I got the idea to invest in the whirly pop and buy a few bags of popping corn from cub scouts at the *bargain* price of $10 a bag. (The already popped stuff was $18 a bag.) Thank you for that recommendation, too!

  15. Your blog is amazing and i can't wait to try some of the recipes. They all sound yummy. Thanks for sharing!!

  16. I finally made this the other night and...my husband ate squash and liked it. Miraculous!