Ok so the funny thing happened once I was home from the market. I couldn’t crack open the three-pound Amber Cup squash I bought moments earlier. I’d never tried this variety of squash but it was a little smaller than the kabochas (i.e., lighter to carry home) and, as the sign read, it’s “another orange kabocha”—sweet, orange-fleshed, perfect for roasting. The problem was, Jill was due to arrive at any minute for an impromptu lunch and the darn thing would not yield to the gentle, nor increasingly firm, pressure of my knife. Could we have eaten at one of the twenty-six restaurants serving brunch within a stone’s throw of my apartment? Yes. Would it have been easier? Faster? Cheaper? Yes, yes, and yes. But once I get a cooking idea there’s little stopping me.

And I had a very particular craving. Last December I had a memorable lunch at ABC Kitchen with my father and stepmother. I was going to buy my first real rug and it seemed fitting, and fun, to do this a) with my step-mom who is somewhat of a rug connoisseur and b) after filling our bellies with Dan Kluger‘s delicious seasonal fare across the street from the rug emporium. In addition to the pizza with egg, the veal meatballs, and the beets with homemade yogurt, we shared a piece of toasted sourdough bread with kabocha squash, ricotta, and apple cider vinegar. It was my favorite part of the meal that afternoon but I had nearly forgotten it until this week: Bittman wrote about this very dish as an impressive appetizer to serve on Thanksgiving.

But as the clock struck two p.m. in Brooklyn my guest arrived and I was standing in the kitchen with a cold, heavy squash, realizing I had to be on the Upper East Side in two hours no less. I put the squash aside (I’ll deal with YOU later) and came up with an instant plan B. I had the sourdough bread from Hot Bread Kitchen, the fresh ricotta, the sage, the onions—just not the roasted squash. So I decided to substitute it with honeycrisp apples I purchased that morning at the market, reducing them in apple cider vinegar with caramelized onions. Lunch in ten minutes: voilà.

But today was a new day. I took another stab so to speak at the Amber Cup. Mano y mano. Turns out, I just needed to roast it whole. After thirty or forty minutes in a 400-degree oven the flesh was cooked through and had separated from the skin on its own making it very easy to work with. While the squash roasted I caramelized onions in a medium saucepan with a generous amount of olive oil—when they got good and browned I added apple cider vinegar and maple syrup and reduced to a glaze. You combine this onion mixture with the flesh of the cooked squash and add salt, black pepper, and red pepper flakes and mash with a fork.

I toasted a slice of sourdough, slathered on a generous spoonful of the ricotta from Narragansett Creamery, and  topped it off with the onion-squash mixture and a tiny bit of fresh sage. There was some debate in my household whether to use sage or mint and I even found conflicting recipes, one calling for sage, the other mint. Sage just seemed to fit the season to me more, but the mint would also be delicious.

And when you’re going to make something with squash, consider this piece of advice from Bittman: almost any winter squash will yield to a sharp knife and some patience, though as I wrote a couple of weeks ago, thin-skinned varieties like delicata are easier to peel or can be left unpeeled entirely.

Squash Toast
Adapted from Jean-Georges Vongerichten

1 2 1/2 to 3 lb kabocha or other yellow-orange squash (peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/8 to 1/4 inch pieces if possible)
3/4 c extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp dried chile flakes
coarse salt
1 yellow onion, peeled and thinly sliced
1/4 c apple cider vinegar
1/4 c maple syrup
Thick sourdough bread
1/2 c ricotta (mascarpone, goat cheese, or feta would also work)
Chopped mint or sage

Heat the oven to 425. If you’re working with a hard to cut squash, you may need to roast your squash whole. Otherwise, toss the pieces with 1/4 c olive oil, chile flakes, and about 2 tsp salt in a bowl. Transfer to a baking sheet and cook until tender, about 15 to 20 minutes. If whole, you will need at least thirty minutes and up to an hour to cook through. Remove from the oven and let cool a little.

Meanwhile, heat 1/4 c olive oil in a medium saucepan then add the onion slices and tsp of salt, stirring occasionally, and cook until starting to caramelize, about fifteen minutes. Add the vinegar and syrup, stir, and cook for another fifteen minutes over low heat until reduced and syrupy. Combine the squash and onions in a bowl and mash with a fork until combined. Season with salt and black pepper.

Toast thick slices of bread. Spread cheese on top, followed by the squash-onion mixture and sprinkle with coarse salt, black pepper, and garnish with mint or fresh sage.

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