Throughout the seemingly interminable winter months, we want bright, fresh flavors—without hours of effort. So do chefs like Jenn Louis, whose esteemed Lincoln restaurant in Portland, Oregon, has an open kitchen that transforms simple, locally sourced ingredients into stunningly craveable fare.
"It's really nutritious, and adds a warm and cozy wintry feel that's hearty and delicious to eat," Louis says. "It’s comfort food, for sure."
Using seasonal ingredients at their nutritional, flavorful peak is vital to Louis, so she simply tosses the squash in olive oil, roasts it and purées it without any seasonings—not even salt.
"You’re making a purée—you can always season it later," she explains. "That way, if you want to stir in something like mascarpone or brown butter, or garnish it with harissa salt, each layer isn’t going to be super salty." In addition, the unadulterated purée can add depth to multiple dishes in any kind of cuisine, from a simple chicken soup to a spicy curry to a sweet salsa.
"It makes you think creatively. It makes you confident to use something in many different ways," she promises.
Want to put her super-simple secret weapon to work in your kitchen? Here are eight ways to get started.
① Winterized Kale Salad
Smear the purée on the bottom of a plate and pile a kale salad on top of it. "It’s nice to have that heartiness underneath," Louis says. "It adds a little more depth to the meal for a cold climate, versus a light and airy salad in the summertime."
② Spicy-Sweet Brunch Tostada
Combine the squash purée with rehydrated ancho chiles to make a bright, seasonal salsa. Crisp up some tortillas, then layer with the salsa, chopped red onions, crumbled cotija cheese, avocado, fried eggs and a squeeze of lime juice. 'You can alter one ingredient any different way and still be able to utilize your squash," Louis adds.
③ Hearty Hummus
For a quick snack, whisk a little tahini into the purée with garlic and salt to taste. Or while making the purée itself, add garlic and cinnamon directly. For added bulk or protein, purée chickpeas into the mix or stir your squash purée into your chickpea hummus for a slightly sweet and nutrient-rich play on a classic.
"It’s a really versatile hummus," Louis promises.
To kick the whole thing up a notch, plate it as a dramatic, layered dish. Pair the squash purée hummus with roast seasonal vegetables, like fried matsutake or chanterelle mushrooms, or Brussels sprouts. Top with something crunchy (we're partial to toasted pumpkin seeds). Or spread a plate with some labneh, pile the hummus and a mess of veggies and nuts on top, and finish with a drizzle of pomegranate or balsamic dressing. The combination of classic chickpea hummus and sweet squash paired with creamy, toasted and roasted flavors makes for a "cozy, earthy, slightly sweet" winter dish.
④ (Almost) Effortless Side Dish
Instead of mashed potatoes, swirl browned butter or mascarpone cheese into your purée, and then season with salt and pepper. Done.
Combine equal parts squash purée and chicken stock for an easy, customizable soup. "Whisk in a little more if you want a thinner soup," Louis suggests. "That’s great if you dry out some bread in an oven, put it in the bottom of the crock, fill it with soup and drizzle some browned butter on top."
For a richer version, add half-and-half to your broth-purée mixture, and top with crème fraîche and pumpkin seeds fried in a savory or sweet spice blend. Louis suggests za’atar or harissa, "something that’s kind of bold to offset the quirky sweetness."
⑥ Pasta Filling
The squash purée shines in stuffed pastas like ravioli and cannelloni. Fold softened mascarpone into the purée with just a touch of finely grated garlic. Add a little nutmeg, salt and whichever seasonings you love, and crack some or all of an egg into the mixture. Squash contains water, so an egg helps bind the stuffing and keeps it from steaming or spreading in the oven.
(Extra credit: Those with unending appetites for pasta making can also incorporate the squash purée into pasta dough. Louis's stellar book, Pasta by Hand, shares step-by-step instructions for those and other noodles.)
⑦ Dessert Crepe
For a light and not-too-sweet crepe filling, whisk a little mascarpone into the purée with a touch of sugar, then fill and fold. For a richer variation, spoon browned butter over top, dollop with whipped cream and drizzle with caramel sauce.
⑧ Pumpkin Pie Alternative
"This purée is completely interchangeable with pumpkin in pie," Louis swears. "It’s like using maple syrup instead of molasses." For an especially dynamic dish, consider playing with local heirloom squashes, and fold the purée into your favorite pumpkin pie recipe instead of whatever you normally spoon from a can.
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