Thursday, September 19, 2013

Roasted Butternut Squash with Red Onion, Tahini and Za'atar

As an avid cook, you would think that my shelves are lined with cookbooks left and right, but truth be told, I currently own ten books, nine of which were gifts. I love cookbooks, but whenever I purchase one, I only come across a handful of recipes that I would want to make, and these days cookbooks are ess-pensive!  Also, let's be real.. you can pretty much find anything you want to know about food on the internet, with the millions of blogs out there, so I usually take that route when I'm looking for inspiration.

I DO, however have a particular affinity for pretty books. Books with lots of pictures so I can gauge if a particular recipe I'm making is going to be visually pleasing or look like vomit (curry, anyone?).  I can't count how many times I've made a particular dish with a certain image in my head as to what the finished product will look like, only to found out that it is nothing at all how I had pictured.  Those type of things cause me to have a breakdown in the kitchen.. BREAK-DOWN! 

Two of my favorite visually pleasing books, "Plenty" and "Jerusalem" happen to be from the same author, Yotam Ottolenghi.  Homeboy knows how to make things taste good and look even better.  We eat with our eyes, so this is always a good thing.

I've already featured a couple of recipes of his on my blog: Green Couscous, Leek Fritters, and Chermoula Eggplant with Bulgar and Yogurt. There are so many more recipes of his that I would like to try, but since I only have the energy to make one new recipe a week it may take me awhile before I can get through all of them.  With so many choices, I went with a recipe that featured seasonal ingredients and required the least amount of prep work. Ottolenghi's "Roasted Butternut Squash with Red Onion, Tahini and Za'atar" from his current book "Jerusalem" is hands down one of the best things I've made in a long time.... and easy too. You basically roast up some butternut squash and red onions, top it with a simple lemon tahini sauce, some toasted pine nuts and a scattering of one of my favorite spice blends, za'atar. 

Za'atar is a Middle Eastern spice blend of comprised of sumac, oregano, sesame seeds, thyme and sea salt (although it sometimes varies by region).  I've enjoyed it stirred into yogurt or hummus, spread on flatbread with a bit of olive oil and baked, tossed with popcorn, or sprinkled on anything from eggs to roasted vegetables to brown rice.  You may be able to find it in your local health food store or ethnic market or buy it on-line. I usually make substitutions when I can't find a particular ingredient, or leave it out all together but there really is no substitution in this dish.  I had a couple bites without it and it was still good, but the za'tar really brought it to a different level.  It's a great blend to keep on hand... so go buy some and make this recipe.

Roasted Butternut Squash with Red Onion, Tahini and Za'atar.
From "Jerusalem" by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi

1 large butternut squash (2 1/4 lb. in total), peeled and cut into 3/4 by 2 1/2-inch wedges
2 red onions, cut into 1 1/4-inch wedges
3 1/2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
3 1/2 Tbsp. tahini
1 1/2 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 Tbsp. water
1 small clove garlic, crushed
3 1/2 Tbsp. pine nuts
1 Tbsp. za’atar
1 Tbsp. coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley
Maldon sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 475 degrees.
Put the squash and onion in a large mixing bowl, add 3 tablespoons of the oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and some black pepper and toss well. Spread on a baking sheet and roast in the oven for 30 to 40 minutes, until the vegetables have taken on some color and are cooked through. Keep an eye on the onions as they might cook faster than the squash and need to be removed earlier. Remove from the oven and leave to cool.
To make the sauce, place the tahini in a small bowl along with the lemon juice, water, garlic, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Whisk until the sauce is the consistency of honey, adding more water or tahini if necessary.
Pour the remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons oil into a small frying pan and place over medium-low heat. Add the pine nuts along with 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook for 2 minutes, stirring often, until the nuts are golden brown. Remove from the heat and transfer the nuts and oil to a small bowl to stop the cooking.
To serve, spread the vegetables out on a large serving platter and drizzle over the tahini. Sprinkle the pine nuts and their oil on top, followed by the za’atar and parsley.

**** I served this on a bed of quinoa to make it a bit more substantial since I was having it as a main course***

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