Just because the weather has turned crisp, doesn’t mean you have to put away your grill. Frankly, fall is my favourite time to grill. When the weather is cool, there is nothing more satisfying than grill-roasted or smoked meats and veggies.
One of my favourite things to grill is winter squash. It is a very modern and savory way to prepare squash and a nice change from the usual brown sugar-maple syrup-marshmallow recipes. Those dishes have their place at the table, for sure, but try savory squash and you may never go back.
My two favourite varieties are acorn and delicata, and both work well for this recipe. But you could substitute any thick-skinned squash, such as butternut or red kuri or even spaghetti squash. If you choose spaghetti squash, mix the cranberry-sage butter in with the strands as you separate them once the squash is cooked. That way, you can serve it (almost) like buttered noodles!
The beauty of this recipe is that you let time and the convection cooking of your grill’s indirect heat bring out the best in the squash. Since you are cutting the squash in half and grilling it open, the cut flesh gets beautifully caramelized in spots and the sweet, natural flavours are concentrated. A little olive oil protects the squash and keeps it juicy and the fresh sage leaves gently perfume the orange flesh.
While the squash is cooking, make the compound butter. You also can make the butter up to three days in advance and keep it in the refrigerator. I’ve added dried cranberries to my usual sage butter to provide a sweet tartness and also because the red-and-green-flecked butter is so festive and pretty. This is one fall squash dish you will make over and over again.
GRILLED ACORN SQUASH WITH CRANBERRY-SAGE BUTTER
Start to finish: 1 hour (10 minutes active)
2 medium acorn or delicata squash (about 3 pounds total), halved and seeded
8 fresh sage leaves
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
Cranberry-sage butter (recipe below)
Prepare a grill for medium heat, indirect cooking. For a charcoal grill, this means banking the hot coals to one side of the grill and cooking on the other side. For a gas grill, this means turning off one or more burners to create a cooler side, then cooking on that side.
Carefully trim off a slice of the rounded side of each squash half so that it will rest flat. Lightly bruise the sage leaves, then rub a quarter of them into the cavity of each squash, leaving the leaves in the squash. Drizzle the cut sides of the squash with oil, then season with salt and pepper. Wrap the bottoms of the squash with foil, leaving the tops (cut sides) uncovered.
Place the squash halves on the cooler side of the grill and cook for 40 to 60 minutes, or until the squash is tender when pierced with a knife. Cut each piece of squash in half, then dollop with slices of the cranberry-sage butter. Serve with additional butter on the side.
Nutrition information per serving (with 1 tablespoon of cranberry-sage butter): 170 calories; 100 calories from fat (59 per cent of total calories); 11 g fat (5 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 20 mg cholesterol; 170 mg sodium; 20 g carbohydrate; 3 g fiber; 1 g sugar; 2 g protein.
This compound butter is best if it is made ahead and given time for the flavours to combine. Three hours is ideal. The recipe makes extra; try it on toasted rye or sourdough.
Start to finish: 5 minutes, plus chilling
Makes 3/4 cup
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon dried sage
Zest of 1/2 lemon
3 tablespoons chopped dried cranberries
2 teaspoons apple brandy or bourbon (optional)
Pinch of kosher salt
In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients but the salt and mix well. Taste, then season with salt. Set an 8-inch sheet of plastic wrap on the counter, then spoon the butter into a rough log along the centre. Using the plastic wrap, roll the butter up into a log, twisting the ends to seal and smooth it. Refrigerate for several hours.
Nutrition information per 1 tablespoon: 70 calories; 70 calories from fat (100 per cent of total calories); 8 g fat (5 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 20 mg cholesterol; 40 mg sodium; 2 g carbohydrate; 0 g fiber; 1 g sugar; 0 g protein.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Elizabeth Karmel is a barbecue and Southern foods expert. She is the chef and pitmaster at online retailer CarolinaCueToGo.com and author of three books, including “Taming the Flame.”