So often you see ‘add fresh cracked pepper’ in a recipe. Pepper that is freshly ground or cracked considerably bumps up the flavor of your pepper. There are many ways to achieve this. By way of mortar & pestle, putting it through a hand-cranked grinder or using an electric grinder like you would use for grinding up whole coffee beans. However you go about it, you will be pleasantly surprised by the fresh peppery difference.
Roasting vegetables at a high heat in the oven really brings out the natural sweetness of the veg. This rings ever so true with butternut squash, which is one of my favorite things to roast. I made Italian sausage & butternut squash risotto last night which is so truly comforting. Try also with arugula and dried cranberries for a healthy salad. Add to chicken stock and purée for a super simple soup. Smash up for a potato alternative next to a piece of roasted chicken. Serve the cubed pieces just as they are with rice and black beans for a tasty vegetarian option.
Preheat oven to 400 as you prepare the butternut squash. Carefully cut the long neck of the butternut squash from the bulbous bottom. Peel or cut away the skin of both. Scoop out the seeds from the bulb, discarding or roasting. Your call. Then cube all the veg into bite sized or larger pieces, scattering onto a baking sheet pan. Liberally coat with extra virgin olive oil, salt and a generous amount of fresh cracked black pepper. Put in the oven, roast away for 10 minutes, then with a spoon or spatula turn the pieces. Do this again in another 10 minutes. By the 30 minute mark your sheet pan of butternut squash should be nice and browned and caramelized and beyond tasty. These keep beautifully in the fridge for days so you can enjoy several different ways.
I wrote a few weeks ago about using leftover baguettes for croutons. Well, I am at it again. We seem to always have left-over pieces of baguette around, even more so during the Holidays. Today they become a super easy base for crostini. Cut pieces about a half to a quarter inch thick. Lay them out on a baking sheet. With a pastry brush, layer on a thin amount of extra virgin olive oil. Next, sprinkle on finely ground Pecorino Romano cheese, then grind over fresh cracked black pepper. Put in a 350 degree oven for 10 minutes to let the cheese melt. Then take out of the oven to cool a bit. This is where you can get creative and top with a host of things. Try spreading on herbed chèvre for a tangy treat. Or top with a dollop of store bought tapenade. Or a sliced tomato. A mound of tuna or chicken salad. Truly, whatever sounds interesting to you. The crostini become a great base for so many things. Lovely to serve with cocktails. A great way to get culinarily creative and use up those baguettes all at the same time.
Food books can make such great gifts. The above 2, ‘Salted’ and ‘Pepper’ delve deep into the history of both, while also being cool enough to leave out on the coffee table. Filled with recipes, they are also interesting cookbooks. The duo wrapped together makes for a quite special combo gift. We had a customer the other day buy the ‘Pepper’ book and we tied off a small pepper grinder to the package, which made for a festive, clever, and oh so useful gift.