Butter-drenched roasted winter squash is a classic on the American holiday table. Unfortunately, the dish too often fails to offer much beyond one-note fatty richness. We prefer to be able to taste the natural sweetness of the squash.
Looking for a better way, we took our cue from Travis Lett, chef and owner of Gjelina restaurant in Los Angeles. In keeping with his distinctly Californian take on classic American fare, Lett created a roasted acorn squash that is lighter and brighter without sacrificing the richness we want at the holidays.
Lett retains the butter, which he browns to bring out deep, nutty flavors, but he lightens it by whisking in a combination of vegetable stock, brown sugar, fresh rosemary and lemon juice—essentially turning a simple melted butter sauce into a vinaigrette. The acidity of the lemon and herbal notes of the rosemary in particular balance the butter.
For textural contrast, he adds toasted hazelnuts, which offer both crunch and richness. When poured over the roasted squash, the dressing is both buttery and bright. It allows the sweetness of the squash to shine and doesn’t overshadow the caramelized notes you get during roasting.
At Milk Street, we loved this approach to enhancing a basic recipe. While we liked Lett’s use of stock and lemon juice, we wanted even more acidity to balance the butter. A combination of white wine vinegar and orange juice—the latter pairs particularly well with squash—lightened both the dressing and the starchy squash. For ease, we substituted pre-roasted pistachios for the hazelnuts.
The result: All the richness we want in roasted squash without sacrificing its natural sweetness.