We’ve arrived once more at that glorious moment of transition, where summer turns into fall. My Midwestern heart still dreams of the way the season sweeps in back home, like an eccentric aunt bursting through the door to descend on the family with noise and color. Summer was lovely, of course, with its picnics and sunshine and glasses of rosé, but autumn is rustic and moody, a different sort of stunning, and when it arrives, I am perhaps not quite ready but always thoroughly charmed.
When I was small, I loved jumping in piles of leaves, pulling on the big sweaters I’d been waiting to wear since school shopping back in August, going to football games with my family—where, though I cared only little about the game, I happily drank hot chocolate and huddled close to my parents to stay warm. We went on “color tours” each year, driving north with the sole purpose of admiring the brilliantly colored trees. My mom made a pumpkin muffin with chocolate chips that I started dreaming of as soon as the weather turned, and apple cider was a treat saved only for the darkening days of September. And even though I know it sounds premature, this all starts me thinking about the holidays. I can’t help myself; I adore festivity. My heart beats faster just thinking about decorations and parties and holiday treats…yet another reason to appreciate the season.
The whole thing is less dramatic here, it’s true, and I of course miss the autumnal splendor I left behind. But what I appreciate about seasons in the Bay Area is that they make you pay attention. I’m prompted to take notice of little things, like the wind blowing with just a bit more force, the handfuls of fallen leaves skipping across the sidewalk, the slightly cooler mornings, the crunchy apples I eat by the dozens, the fantastic array of winter squash suddenly filling the market. On top of that, I never before had access to so many varieties of squash or peppers or apples; local persimmons, pomegranates, figs, grapes and quince still make me swoon.
Squash is, perhaps, the most exciting appearance at the market for me, a sign that the season is truly here, whether or not I’ve noticed in the wind or weather. I am indiscriminate: I adore every kind, from pumpkins to spaghetti squash to the fat little ones known as sweet dumplings. Delicata and kabocha take the cake, I must admit, and I still remember what a revelation they were when I discovered them only a couple years ago. I’m already roasting those weekly, topping the burnished slices with a tahini sauce or a dollop of yogurt or a generous sprinkling of herbs.
But today what I have for you is the savior of butternut squash, the thing to change your mind if you’ve resigned your consumption of this oh-so-typical variety to something that is endured rather than enjoyed. This is the third autumn that this spread has been in regular rotation in my kitchen. Yet somehow I forget every time how fantastically good it is.
The recipe, yes. But glorious, too, the season that comes with it.
Butternut Squash & Tahini Spread
Adapted only slightly from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem
1 large butternut squash (about 2 1/2 pounds), peeled and chopped (about 7 cups total)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons tahini
1/2 cup Greek yogurt
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 1/2 teaspoon pomegranate molasses or maple syrup
1 teaspoon black and/or white sesame seeds
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
Crackers or pita bread, for serving
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Spread the squash in a medium roasting pan or on a baking sheet. Pour over the olive oil and sprinkle with the cinnamon and salt. Mix well, then cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil. Roast for about 70 minutes, stirring once during the cooking. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
Transfer the cooled squash to a food processor. Add the tahini, yogurt and garlic. Roughly pulse so that everything combines into a coarse paste, without the spread becoming smooth.
Spread the squash in a wavy pattern over a plate, then drizzle the syrup over top. Finish with the sesame seeds and cilantro.
Serve with crackers or pita bread.