squash toasts with ricotta and cider vinegar – smitten kitchen

Lest you operate under the idea that when I go in the kitchen to work on a new recipe, adorable forest creatures gather around, bringing me my whisks and measuring cups, tiny birds whisper in my ear all the right seasoning notes and then, when I snap my last photo, my team of minions file silently in to wash the dishes while I go out on the deck to ponder my next free-form food essay, the single, completely unexciting reason I am late to share a new recipe this week is because I was chasing an exasperating salted peanut butter caramel-flavored ghost. Five rounds in, I have concluded that while there are no bad salted peanut butter caramels, the one I want isn’t yet within my grasp and it was time to take a break. One cannot live on peanut butter, cream, butter and brown sugar alone, after all, fun as it was for a few days there.

what you'll need + a new non-crooked label for me
peeling the squash

And so I shifted focus to the kind of simple dinner I’d love to eat before or after Friday’s candy deluge, a seasonal, cozy and hearty entry in one of my favorite food categories: meals masquerading as toasts. But don’t be deceived by the name; these are no simple, wan crostini. A winter squash of your choice is roasted in the oven while on the stove, you cook an onion with cider vinegar and maple syrup until it’s soft and jammy. You use a fork to half-mash this tangy confit together with the roasted squash, a pile it on bread you’ve toasted in olive oil and spread with ricotta or soft goat cheese. Don’t forget the mint on top; it makes something already good unquestionably perfect.

sliced squash

roasted squash
half-cooked onions
a jammy delicious onion mess
half mash the squash and onions together
toasting the thick slabs of bread

I realize I’m about the last person on the internet to discover this famous recipe from Jean-Georges Vongerichten. It’s served at the amazing ABC Kitchen, but when I’m there I’ve always been too busy gobbling up the veggie burger, mushroom and egg pizza or roasted carrot and avocado salad while pining over the dishes and chandeliers to order it. I will be making up for lost time henceforth, as this recipe perfectly embodies everything great that can happen when a famous chef pays serious attention to vegetables. If you have in your family someone like my husband, who is distrusting of both goat cheese and vegetables cooked with any sweet ingredients, or someone like my son, who we had to tell this was sweet potato to get him to eat it, you will be pleasantly surprised at how crowd-pleasing those tart onions weaving through the sweet squash are, and how filling of a meal it makes. We had it with a kale caesar salad (I use a riff on this dressing and ribbons of lacinato leaves), some Russian-pleasing pickled garlicky red peppers and sliced cucumbers and there’s enough leftover for it to be our lunch today, and look at that! It must be lunchtime already.

squash and goat cheese toasts

More toasts: In the archives, Leek Toasts with Blue Cheese, Spinach and Smashed Egg Toast, Eggplant Salad Toasts, Creamed Mushrooms on Butter-Chive Toasts and a Scrambled Egg Toast

But I want candy! And candy you shall have. I’ve gathered the candy recipes on this site to date on Pinterest this week, and hope it will give you some ideas if you’re looking for something homemade. My favorites? Salted Brown Butter Crispy Treats and Apple Cider Caramels, of course. But I would never turn a Buckeye away, I mean, I’m not crazy. [Smitten Kitchen Halloween Candy on Pinterest]

One year ago: Spinach and Egg Pizzettes
Two years ago: Apple Cider Caramels (my favorite candy to date, and possibly forever)
Three years ago: Homesick Texan Carnitas
Four years ago: Buckeyes
Five years ago: Baked Chicken Meatballs
Six years ago: Pink Lady Cake, Cabbage and Mushroom Galette and Peanut Butter Crispy Bars
Seven years ago: Cranberry Caramel and Almond Tart
Eight years ago: My Favorite Pumpkin Muffins and The Easiest Baked Mac-and-Cheese

And for the other side of the world:
Six Months Ago: Blue Sky Bran Muffins
1.5 Years Ago: Spring Vegetable Potstickers
2.5 Years Ago: Bacon, Egg and Leek Risotto
3.5 Years Ago: Ribboned Asparagus Salad with Lemon

Squash Toasts with Ricotta and Cider Vinegar
Adapted from Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s ABC Kitchen, via NYTimes Cooking

The original recipe uses the larger amount of olive oil (which felt like more than I needed), just 1/4 cup cider vinegar and maple syrup (but I preferred it with slightly more vinegar and slightly less maple syrup) and slightly different cooking times — for me, the onions were done more quickly but the squash needed more time to soften. If your store sells peeled, already chunked butternut squash, you can absolutely use it here instead (buy 2 1/2 pounds and cut it more thinly before roasting, for speed). Finally, my favorite bread for this and most savory things is the miche, a rustic whole wheat-rye sourdough baked in massive rounds, sold at either Balthazar or at the Le Pain Quotidien chain. Both can be purchased in quarters (the size of a small loaf), inexpensively. Note: I’ve updated the recipe (post-publication) to reflect that really great commenter tip (thanks, Anne!) that you can spare yourself the squash-peeling step as once the squash is roasted, it’s easy to cut the soft flesh from the peel, much easier than peeling it beforehand.

Serves 4 as a main, 8 as an appetizer. Takes about 45 minutes.

1 2 1/2- to 3-pound kabocha or other yellow-fleshed squash (such as delicata, acorn or butternut, which I used)
1/2 to 3/4 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon dried chile flakes, more or less to taste
Coarse sea or kosher salt
1 yellow onion, peeled and thinly sliced
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup maple syrup (though I’ll probably use 3 tablespoons next time)
4 slices country bread, 1-inch thick
1/2 cup (4 ounces) ricotta, goat cheese, feta or mascarpone
4 tablespoons chopped mint leaves

Heat oven to 450. Line large baking sheet with parchment paper. No need to peel your squash (as shown above), just halved, seed and cut your squash into 1/4-inch thick slices. Toss with 3 tablespoons olive oil, 1 to 2 teaspoons salt (Vongerichten recommends 2 teaspoons; I used a bit less) and chile flakes until evenly coated. Transfer mixture to prepared sheet and roast until tender and slightly colored, anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes (depending on the density of the squash you use), flipping once about 2/3 of the way through. Once tender, you can cut the flesh from the skin and discard it. Leave roasted squash on the tray.

Meanwhile, heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions and 1 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring frequently, until onions are softened and beginning to brown, about 10 to 15 minutes. Add vinegar and syrup and reduce heat to medium. Cook, stirring, until onions are jammy and broken down, another 10 to 15 minutes.

Pile onions on top of roasted squash, still on their baking sheet. Use a fork to gently half-mash the mixture; I like this best when the mixture is not uniformly combined. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil per slice of bread, and cook bread until just golden brown on both sides. Drain on paper towels. Spread cheese on toasts, heap with the squash-onion mixture, sprinkle with coarse salt and garnish with mint.

Do ahead: Now that we’ve finished lunch, I can note with great confidence that these reheat wonderfully, even fully assembled, with none of the sog you’d expect from day-old stuff on bread. (It helps if you use a sturdy bread, of course.) Reheat on a baking sheet in a 300 degree oven for 15 minutes.

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