Though Meike Peters is German, her blog and cookbook just as often reflect summers spent in Malta with her American partner’s family. Like Sicily, the Mediterranean island is heavily influenced by Arabic ingredients, so we naturally assumed it inspired her to pair roasted squash with pistachios, cumin and feta in “365: A Year of Everyday Cooking and Baking.”
We were quite wrong. The idea actually originated in her aunt’s Berlin kitchen, where Peters found zucchini and bell pepper roasting over a slab of feta one summer. “It tasted very fresh, and not too heavy, so I started to play with that basic recipe,” says Peters, whose blog Eat in My Kitchen has become known for its fresh combinations of familiar ingredients. “And now I have versions for throughout the whole year.”
For this autumnal variation, she coats slices of butternut squash with olive oil and ground cumin, whose earthy flavor along with briny feta balance the squash’s sweetness. Crunchy pistachios lend a textural contrast to the tender flesh (a combination she actually picked up from a Sabrina Ghayour recipe, not Malta). This mishmash of influences gave us the vivid flavors we were looking for in a winter squash dish, but we had trouble with the feta. It came out rubbery when roasted as a thick slice, possibly due to the lower ratio of fat in the feta often available in the U.S.
Then we remembered a lesson from American chef Abra Berens, who helped us create a burrata-like cheese by mixing mozzarella with heavy cream. We wondered whether that could help us save supermarket feta.
So we crumbled our feta cheese and mixed it with 3 tablespoons heavy cream, lime juice and zest, and a bit of Aleppo pepper for a complementary fruity spice. The mixture mimicked the richness of higher-quality feta, and the additional tang of lime lent a cool acidity to contrast the warm squash.
With the cheese problem solved, we switched from ground cumin to lightly crushed seeds for pops of flavor as well as additional texture, and we added 11⁄2 teaspoons of light brown sugar to amplify the natural sweetness of the squash.
Roasting the squash in a 400°F oven stopped short of the deeper caramelization we normally want from roasted vegetables. But that was our plan. For this recipe, we wanted to let the other flavors shine through without needing to compete with deeply roasted squash. Meanwhile, the creamy feta and crunchy pistachios tied the dish together.
“It could be a side, but I often have it as a main with some good bread,” Peters says of her original version. “It’s a bold combination that’s so satisfying, if you have just this on your plate, you’re happy.” We couldn’t agree more, no matter where it comes from.
“It’s a bold combination that’s so satisfying, if you have just this on your plate, you’re happy.”