Tuesday, 26 November 2013 | 28 comments

Skillet-caramelized winter squash

At this time of year, there’s a late afternoon sun that streams in during a pretty hour or so before early dusk.The place where we live is pretty shabby around the edges—it’s a very old house. I yearn to fix it up a bit more, but we rent it, so there’s a limit to the amount of work we will put in. It remains with peeling paint, crumbling plaster, and crooked corners. It’s amazing, though: at this particular point of the day, everything gets this bright-clear veneer on it, the disintegrating mortar and the detritus from the wood pile comes into focus, but in a way that looks very right, very appropriate.I guess there’s not much to report on if all I can talk about is some changing light, huh? I’m in one of those weeks where I’ve been reading too much serious stuff about human experience and the limits of our understanding, and I love it but can’t seem to make any sense of what to do with it, even though it feels very urgent.

It was a welcome change to hang out with two of my cousins last weekend, who burst into the house for a day and a night with all of their 6- and 9-year-old energy. Lemme tell you, you want to explore the limits of human understanding? Kids know this best of all. Imagine yourself a princess or in a time-traveling treehouse with someone who truly almost believes it. These are the people who know that there really is something, just behind that next corner, that you may never actually see, but its presence is important. There be dragons, I suppose.

I turn a lot to this essay (list?) by Terry Tempest Williams, but especially this part, because that’s how I feel all the time when I write:

I trust nothing especially myself and slide head first into the
familiar abyss of doubt and humiliation and threaten to push the delete
button on my way down, or madly erase each line, pick up the paper
and rip it into shreds-and then I realize, it doesn’t matter, words are
always a gamble, words are splinters from cut glass. I write because
it is dangerous, a bloody risk, like love, to form the words, to say the
words, to touch the source, to be touched, to reveal how vulnerable
we are, how transient.

I’m being lengthy for no reason when I should be talking about turkeys and such. So, briefly: I think a big panful of this squash dish wouldn’t be out of place on a Thanksgiving table.

I’m thankful for this space where I can ramble very clumsily about the limits of human understanding and also give you a recipe. Whether you celebrate the day or not, I wish you the same: space to explore, and space to be nourished.

Skillet-caramelized winter squash

This is a gorgeous, unusual recipe adapted from Deborah Madison’s Local Flavors that I had never cooked before because it doesn’t make much sense. The dish is billed as a “pancake”, but there’s no egg or anything else to bind the squash. You cook the squash in a way that caramelizes bits to near-burned and evaporates off a bit of the water content of the squash. It gets rich and more savory than I knew squash could be.

You’ll need

  1. 1 2-3 pound winter squash, roasted and flesh scooped from the skin
  2. 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  3. 1 tablespoon olive oil
  4. 10 sage leaves
  5. Kosher or fine grain sea salt
  6. Black pepper
  7. 3 ounces aged or smoked mozzarella, grated
  8. 3 tablespoons fresh parsley leaves
  9. 1 clove garlic


  1. In a non-stick or well-seasoned cast iron skillet, heat the butter and oil over medium heat until the butter is melted. Add the sage leaves and cook for a minute or two to flavor the oil. Place the roasted squash into the skillet, seasoning it with a good pinch or two of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Press it into the skillet, smoothing it over so it evenly fills the pan.
  2. Cook the squash, undisturbed, for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, scrape it up from the bottom of the pan and smooth it down again, exposing new parts to the hot metal. Do this as many times as you have time for—the more browned bits, the better.
  3. Meanwhile, chop the parsley and garlic together finely. When you’ve sufficiently caramelized your squash, smooth it over once more, sprinkle the mozzarella across the top, and cover. Cook 1-2 minutes more, until the cheese is melted and bubbling. Top with the parsley garlic mixture, and serve from the pan.

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§ 28 responses to Skillet-caramelized winter squash

  • Laurel Garcia

    I often read your writings, but never have commented. I appreciate your insights and willingness to share. Thank you! Can you tell me which book that Terry Tempest Williams essay is from?

  • Lovely light. Lovely words. Lovely squash.

  • That first photo looks so inviting, Sarah.

    I wish I’d known about this recipe about a week earlier! I never know what to do with all the sage that grows in the garden, but after this very chilly weekend, I think it’s probably too late for it. Anyway, I’ll have to try this recipe soon. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

    (When you’re a kind, the world is certainly more enchanted–the possibilities seem wider and wilder. I was sorting through things at my parents’ house last summer and found some stuff I’d written at the age of 8 or 9. There was a story about an undead cat who didn’t know that she was. I think I was reading a lot of RL Stein at the time. Kids are weird and wonderful.)

    • Claudia

      Katie, do you know about fried sage? You just saute in butter (my preference) or a good quality oil. And if the butter browns a bit, it’s heavenly to pour over roasted squash.

  • Emily

    I think you are really really great, both at writing and at life and at sharing both those things. I can identify with how you feel; I’m nearly finished with Lahiri’s latest (have you read her work? I think you’d love her) and am feeling the same range of emotions.

  • Those edges look soothing and beautiful through your lens.

  • So many gorgeous pictures, especially the steam of the teapot. It speaks to dual parts of me: lover of tea, and lover of beauty.

  • I have cousins of a similar age – there is nothing more inspiring than spending time with them and living in their world for a bit. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your loved ones : )

  • Terry Covington

    The tea kettle photo — all of them — so evocative. I’m at the same sense of loss in reading/hearing about the world; how to assimilate it, what to do? Today I was really drifting around for that and other reasons, then wrote a poem, read another, and made some homemade bread for the first time in years (I used to make my own all the time). These things brought me back into focus. Your visit from your cousins, you recipe, and photos have had the same effect. Sometimes I wish I could take one hurting person from somewhere in the world and just sit them down in a quiet place and cook a meal for them. If we cannot solve the world’s ills immediately or by ourselves, it is these healing moments and actions that give us a place to start. Happy Thanksgiving.

  • Sally

    That photo of the window. Th e light! The chicken in the background! Absolutely beautiful.

  • Samantha

    Prettiest pictures I’ve ever seen on your blog – and I’ve loved them all. Everything you write is so comforting to a fellow (over)educated public healthy mid-20s overthinker. At least I am sure I can make squash like this :-)

  • Susan

    Your home looks like a true Home. A place where one can feel safe, comfortable, and inspired.
    I’ve been enjoying your blog ~ thanks for sharing with us.

  • Beautiful post and so beautifully written. . love this, “Whether you celebrate the day or not, I wish you the same: space to explore, and space to be nourished.” Thank you so much for this post and lovely recipe. . wishing you the same on this Thanksgiving day!

  • Happy Thanksgiving, Sarah! I love that photo of the steam coming out of the kettle–fabulous!! This delicious-sounding recipe is yet another reminder that I really must get my hands on Deborah Madison’s cookbook(s). :-)

  • Brit

    Like Laurel, I often read your posts, but have never commented. So, here is my first ever comment/question: Don’t you think those who appreciate art, beauty and light often do so from “places a little shabby around the edges?” Your vision of beauty is so very appreciated. Thank you for blogging.

  • That kitty looks so elegant on that chair, beautiful! :)

  • Ingrid

    Hi Sarah,

    Is it possible to make this the evening before and eat it the next day at work during lunch?

  • what a beautiful house. I thought you were in England! A wonderful squash dish as well.

  • Your home has great character, it’s beautiful actually and so is your dish. Cast iron pans and skillets are the best.

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