Roasted Squash with Hazelnuts and Pomegranate

This beautiful dish is perfect for a special occasion but it is so easy and delicious that it really works for any day.  It makes a wonderful side dish, and could be used as a main dish or as part of a salad. It can be served either hot or at room temperature.  Don’t you just love the versatility? You need this!

I love to use buttercup squash for this dish. In the stores, it is often labeled as kabocha.  Buttercup squash has the deepest, most intense, orange colour and thick dense flesh that when roasted has a buttery, slightly sweet, slightly nutty, very satisfying flavour.  It is not a watery squash and roasts beautifully, much like a root vegetable, firm but tender and creamy inside.  Simply roasted with orange zest, olive oil, salt and pepper, that alone is a delicious dish.  Top it with hazelnuts and pomegranate arils and you really have something special.

Hazelnuts add richness and make the recipe more substantial.  They have a mild, sweetly nutty taste and add some crunch. Roasting improves the elegant, distinctive flavour.  To roast hazelnuts place on a baking sheet in a low oven, about 300° for 10 to 12 minutes or until they smell toasty.  When cool enough to handle, rub the hazelnuts between your hands to remove the skins. I have tried towels but find it really makes a mess of my towels and my hands work just as well.  I suggest roasting more than you need because it will be hard to resist sampling them.

The finishing touch is the pomegranate.  Lively, sweet, tart, garnet coloured arils from pomegranate add some acidity that balances the creamy squash and rich nuts.  This unique fruit brightens the flavours of the whole dish and most importantly makes it pretty!  Although there are several methods of getting the arils out of the pomegranate, I prefer to make a small cut in the flower end (the end that looks like a little crown), enough to open it up with my hands and pull the pomegranate apart.  It naturally breaks into section pieces and preserves most of the arils intact.  Although it is unlikely that we would ever find a farm that grows squash, hazelnuts and pomegranate, somehow they are all in season at the same time and taste terrific together.

Roasted Squash with Hazelnuts and Pomegranate
Roasted Squash with Hazelnuts and Pomegranate

To turn this dish into a salad, start with a bed of salad greens and top with roasted squash, hazelnuts and pomegranate. Dress lightly with a drizzle of olive oil, a squeeze of fresh orange juice, salt and pepper. Toss together and serve.  So easy and so delicious.

Roasted Squash Hazelnut and Pomegranate Salad
Roasted Squash Hazelnut and Pomegranate Salad

Roasted Squash with Hazelnuts and Pomegranate

Serves 8

6 cups buttercup squash*, cut into cubes (about 1/2 large buttercup squash)

1 tablespoon olive oil

Zest of 1 large orange

Fresh black pepper

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 cup chopped roasted hazelnuts

1/4 cup pomegranate arils

Fresh parsley, chopped (optional)

*Other squash or even pumpkin will work but the texture may vary.

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and line baking sheet with parchment paper. Put olive oil, orange zest, black pepper and salt in a large bowl.  Mix together and add squash cubes.  Toss to coat and spread out on baking sheet in a single layer. Roast until done, about 30 minutes.  Place in serving dish, top with chopped roasted hazelnuts, pomegranate arils and chopped parsley if using.