The recipe exceeded my expectations

I’ve become increasingly aware of something over the past year: Despite the fact that I talk a lot about food, I don’t actually do a lot of cooking. Some might consider that this is because I’m married to a chef, but there’s more to it than that. Jamie gets most of his cooking out while at our Food Bar, and once we pass into the threshold of our home, I become the Primary Chef.

It’s not that I don’t cook, per say. It’s more that I’m not overly adventurous with my everyday cooking — that is to say, I don’t create a glamorous collection of weekday meals. When I come home at night, I’ve already put forth a lot of energy around food and am content to eat simple, understated meals, like roasted vegetables and scrambled eggs, or creamy beans with hot sauce. Oh! Or cold roasted chicken dipped in mustard, with more roasted vegetables and a couple of squares of dark chocolate for dessert. I have no hangups with eating honest, earthy meals that don’t require a lot of time in the kitchen day in and day out, but that, none the less, signify home and good eating to me.

But then, November rolls around and something starts to change. It starts off as a slow nudge to linger a little more in my kitchen. Then, by the middle of December, that nudge becomes a straight up shove. I want to linger over cookbooks, and carefully consider the perfect assortment of dishes for my family’s holiday meal. Dishes that offer a quietly thoughtful balance of flavor and texture, nourishment and pleasure.

I made such a dish last Christmas. Jamie and I had recently moved into our new home, and my mom and brothers (and their respective dogs) were sleeping over for Christmas Eve. The holiday season is a delicate time for me and my family. It’s filled with especially fond memories of my dad, who delighted in Christmas — memories followed by the heavy, enduring grief of his absence. I liken it to getting punched in the gut a few times a day throughout the month of December. (Or more accurately, what I imagine that would feel like, because I’ve never actually been punched in the gut.)

Last year, I wanted to break tradition a little and prepare a meal that comforted. We were ending our first full year in the food bar and coming down from the whirlwind of our wedding, so we were all in need of a low-key, restorative dinner. I wanted to eat simply, but well. The recipe exceeded my expectations.

Regretfully, it’s been too long since I’ve eaten the dish to provide an ample description for you. But I will say that it was one I wanted to eat straight from the refrigerator; never mind a plate and utensils, or a quick reheat. It was good either which way. I think you’ll agree.

Roasted-Squash Salad
From the Dec. 20, 2015 New York Times Magazine

  • 5 tablespoons dried currants
  • 1/4 cup, plus 2 tbsp white-wine vinegar
  • 1 kabocha squash (about 3 to 4 pounds)
  • 1/3 cup olive oil*
  • 1/2 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 tbsp plus 3/4 teaspoon ground fennel seed
  • 1 tbsp plus 3/4 tsp ground sumac
  • 1 tbsp plus 3/4 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/2 cup chopped parsley, packed
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro, packed
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice (about 3 to 4 limes)
  • 1/2 cup pistachios, toasted and chopped
  • 1/2 cup firm feta cheese, diced

You’ll want to start the currants several hours or the day before you want to serve this dish. Put the currants in a small bowl, and pour the white-wine vinegar over them. Let them soften for several hours or overnight.

Heat the oven to 450. Cut the squash in half and scoop out the seeds. If you want, you can peel both halves of the squash, but, you can skip this part, too. The skin is edible, but also easily removable after the squash has cooked. Slice the squash into 1/4-inch half moons. Brush the slices with 1 to 2 tablespoons of olive oil and season them with the salt.

Place the squash on parchment-lined baking sheet and roast for 15 to 20 minutes, flipping the half-moons once or twice throughout the roasting process, until soft and caramelized.

While the squash is cooling, combine the fennel seed, sumac and coriander in a medium-sized bowl. Add the parsley and cilantro and stir to combine. Add 1/3 cup olive oil and stir to coat the spices and herbs. You want a wet mixture, so add a tablespoon or two more, if you need to, to get it there.

Drain the vinegar from the currants, reserving the vinegar for the green sauce, and add the currants to the green sauce. Add the lime juice, pistachios, cheese, and 5 teaspoons of the reserved vinegar to the green sauce. Taste for flavor and add more olive oil, vinegar or lime juice, if you like. Season for salt after tasting as well.

Place the squash on a platter and spoon the dressing over the top.

Yields 4-6 servings.

*A note about the olive oil: The original recipe calls for about 3/4 cup of olive oil, which felt a little heavy for my taste. I started with adding 1/3 cup of oil to the green sauce, then added more in small amounts, after all of the ingredients were added to the sauce, to get a balanced flavor that suited my tastes. I trust you’ll find the amount that pleases your palette, too.