I have been eating a shit ton of orange food lately, which, for the moment at least, makes me an expert.* Read on for a brief rundown of everything** you need to know about orange food.
First, sweet potatoes dressed up like their namesake casserole and stuffed into puff pastry pouches probably don’t constitute empanadas like Ina tried to tell me they do, but it’s very hard to care about what you’re calling them once you have one in your mouth.
Second, carrots seasoned with some form of sugar > all other carrots.
Third, the magic of Ottolenghi – which, in reality, we know now to be just barely unforgivably fussy recipes – is capable of turning even a pile of soft orange squash crescents into something of Michelin star proportions.
Fourth, and speaking of Michelin stars, Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s butternut squash and ricotta toast is the Crying Jordan meme of recipes - it is never not relevant. [Receipts here, here, here, here.] What’s more, we’re all lucky for it. And as the love child of “vegetables are good for me” and “stuff on toast,” two main tenants of my personal food philosophy, I hope it stays in rotation forever.
**Def not everything.
It’s breezy too. The hardest part of the whole thing is peeling and chopping the squash, which you could even skip by buying pre-chopped if that’s how you roll. The squash roasts in the oven while you cook the onions down with a splash each of maple syrup and cider vinegar, a sweet-n-sour combo that turns them all kinds of jammy. Then everything gets smooshed together quickly with a fork and piled up on a piece of toast that’s been covered with a cloud of ricotta. You can make your own ricotta, if you feel like it. I have a few times, but more often I use high(ish)-end stuff from the grocery, because some store brands genuinely do taste like grainy garbage in my experience. Whatever effort you choose to invest, the results will be worth it.
These toast are what happens when an earnest pile of vegetables gets an upgrade in flavor and presentation to become something fit for a rooftop cocktail hour. Gussied up, as someone not from a city (me) would say. And now I’m getting all nostalgic for those hazy nights we spent on the Lower East Side, paying way too much for dinners full of those irresistible hipster-made cocktails and unassumingly luxurious dishes just like this. Wait, what were we talking about? Oh right, orange food. These toasts the fanciest vehicle for orange mush you'll ever have.
Butternut Squash and Ricotta Toasts, adapted from Cooking for Jeffrey
Serves 3 as a main, 6 as an appetizer
1 lb butternut squash, peeled and diced ½-inch thick
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, divided, plus more for brushing the bread
1 tsp kosher salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
Crushed red pepper (to taste)
1 large yellow onion, sliced into thin half-moons
1 tbsp butter
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp maple syrup
6 slices of a rustic country bread, or 8 to 10 of a baguette
1 cup of fresh or store-bought ricotta (recipe below)
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Place the peeled and diced squash on a sheet pan and toss with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 teaspoon of salt, ½ teaspoon of black pepper, and red pepper flakes. Spread out in one layer and roast for 25 to 35 minutes, tossing with a spatula at the halfway mark. The squash is ready when it is very tender and browned around the edges.
Meanwhile, heat the butter and remaining tablespoon of olive oil in a medium sauté pan. When the butter has melted completely add the onions to the pan and cook over medium to medium-low heat for about 15 minutes. Add the cider vinegar and maple and cook for another 10 to 20 minutes. [Cook time depends on how much bite you want them to have.]
When the onions are well caramelized and all the liquid has evaporated, add the onions to the pan of squash and mash it together lightly with a fork.
Turn the oven down to 350 degrees.
Brush each slice of bread with olive oil and season them with salt and pepper. Once the toast is crispy and bronzed, remove them from the oven and rub them with the cut side of a garlic clove that's been sliced in half.
Assemble the toasts by layering on the ricotta first and then the squash and onion mixture.
Homemade Ricotta, adapted from Cooking for Jeffrey
Makes about 1 cup
2 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 heaping tablespoon lemon juice or white wine vinegar
Pour milk and cream into a stainless steel or other non-reactive saucepan (more info here). Stir in the salt and bring to a rolling boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Once boiling, turn off the heat and stir in the lemon juice or vinegar. Allow the pot to sit undisturbed for 5 minutes. The curds (solids) will separate from the whey (liquid) during this time.
Set a fine mesh sieve over a deep bowl and line with a couple layers of cheesecloth.
Pour the mixture into the cheesecloth-lined sieve and allow it to strain at room temperature from 30 mins to an hour. The long you let it drain, the creamier it will be. If this is your first time making ricotta, start checking for thickness at 30 minutes. Transfer ricotta to a bowl and discard the whey and cheesecloth. Use immediately or cover with plastic wrap and store in the fridge for up to 5 days.