Recipe: Butternut Squash Cannelloni
This week, we are happy to welcome Susan Simon to our Recipes page. Simon has written five cookbooks, co-authored a James Beard award-winning book and a shopping guide to Marrakech, and translated a culinary guide to Italy. She writes a weekly food column for the Hudson-Greene Media Group, which includes the Register Star and The Daily Mail. She also writes the What We Eat Now series for Nantucket Today magazine. She lives in Hudson, NY.
Butternut squash makes its appearance on farmstands toward the end of August — maybe just a little earlier than we’re expecting it. Aren’t we still gorging ourselves with slurpy heirloom tomatoes, multi-purpose eggplant and a rainbow selection of sweet peppers?
I admit that I await the arrival of the first butternut in the same way as I wait for the season’s first asparagus, strawberries and still-warm-from-the-sun, vine-ripened tomatoes. However, I don’t get up to speed cooking with it until right about now.
I think of the squash, with its hard-ish skin, as the bridge that takes us from zucchini to pumpkins. The skin is easy to pare off with a vegetable peeler, and then its butterscotch-colored flesh made into wonderful dishes.
Butternut squash soup with multiple variations — with chicken broth, with a vegetable base, cream added, yogurt added, garnished with bits of roasted apples or pears, crispy bacon, fried sage leaves or a roasted rosemary sprig — is a perennial favorite way to turn the squash into a meal.
Douse chunks of the squash with balsamic vinegar or pomegranate molasses, olive oil and salt, and roast them until they’re golden brown on all sides. It’s crispy on the outside and as creamy as flan on the inside.
However, for this recipe I take my cue from Italy — where all hard-skinned squash is referred to as zucca — so you’re just as likely to get zucca-filled ravioli made with a squash that looks like what we call pumpkin as you are to get a zucca risotto made with turban squash. Or this, my recipe with butternut squash filling.
I make cannelloni with crȇpes rather than pasta sheets. I like how the almost custardy crȇpes, cooked in ever-so-slightly browned butter, add to the flavor of the whole dish.
Butternut Squash Cannelloni
Makes 12 cannelloni
For the filling:
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, coarsely chopped
1 cup dry white vermouth
3 cups 2-inch-cubed butternut squash, steamed until soft
2 rounded tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups milk
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
12 (or more) fresh sage leaves
For the crȇpes:
1¼ cups flour
3½ cups whole milk
Unsalted butter for frying
In a large, heavy-bottomed skillet, melt 1 tablespoon butter with olive oil over medium-high heat. Sauté the onion until translucent. Reduce heat and add vermouth and squash. Smash the squash with a potato masher or the back of a fork. Stir with a wooden spoon to combine with the other ingredients. Keep at a low simmer.
Meanwhile, make a white sauce: In a medium non-reactive saucepan over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons of butter. Add flour and cook for 3 minutes, stirring continuously with a wooden spoon. Add milk, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Stir continuously until the mixture is slightly thicker than buttermilk. Add to the squash mixture and stir to thoroughly combine. Remove from heat.
Make the crȇpes. Beat the eggs in a large bowl. Alternately add flour and milk, mixing continuously with a fork or a whisk (you’ll run out of flour before milk). Keep mixing until the batter is completely smooth and relatively thin – about the consistency of buttermilk.
Melt 1 teaspoon butter in a 9-inch omelet pan. Pour a scant ¼ cup batter into the center of the pan and tip it from side to side to let the batter cover the bottom, not the sides, in a thin layer. Cook for 1½ minutes, or until the edge begins to curl and pull away from the side of the pan. Add another teaspoon butter to the pan every other batch. Place the crȇpes on a platter.
Heat the oven to 350˚ F. Assemble the cannelloni: Line up the crȇpes – three at a time – and place about 5 tablespoons of squash filling down the center of each one. Roll them up as tightly as possible, leaving the ends open. Place each one in a large baking dish. Repeat until all the crȇpes are filled. Sprinkle the Parmesan cheese over the top. Arrange the sage leaves over the top, making sure each cannelloni gets at least one leaf. Dot the leaves with the remaining butter. Cover with tin foil.
Bake for 15 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 15 minutes. The cheese should be melted and the sides bubbling. Serve immediately.