Raid the Spice Cabinet
Olive oil, salt, and pepper is standard, but try adding a little brown sugar or maple syrup for sweetness and extra caramelization. Or use warming ground spices like coriander, cumin, fennel seeds, sumac, curry spice, chile powder, smoked paprika, or garam masala.
Toss squash in spicy chile paste like gochujang, which will both help the squash caramelize and add a punch of heat. Coconut oil is a good alternative oil that holds up to high heat and complements the sweetness of warm spices. Roast at 425° for 30 minutes, straight on the sheet pan so it can get caramelized.
Start with a Creamy Base
Doctor up tangy yogurt into a sauce with microplaned garlic, lemon juice, and salt. This gives you something to drag squash through and add flavor, cools down your palate if you use a lot of spice, and adds a nice sour note. Even though buttermilk is thin, it still works as another sour base when mixed with chopped herbs and garlic. An even better option is to mix the two ideas for a tangy ranch dressing.
Drizzle On Extra Flavor
Squash is lean, so it needs a little extra fat. Make a drizzle of flavored oil like mustard seeds cracked open in olive oil, chile flakes, or coriander, cumin, or fennel seeds. You can keep the seeds whole or smash a little before letting them sizzle over medium heat for 30 to 45 seconds. They should be lightly brown, but not burnt. If you want to go fresh, a bunch of chopped herbs in oil (like chimichurri) or thinned-out pesto also make good drizzles. For a little extra decadence, you could do this in brown butter instead of oil, or drizzle on some hot honey.
Have a favorite nut or seed? Try it! Pepitas make sense because you’re using squash already, but you can also try toasted hazelnuts, pecans, walnuts, sesame seeds, pine nuts, almonds, or peanuts.
Other crunch-factor additions: crushed pita chips, herby breadcrumbs, toasted grains like quinoa or groat, or pomegranate seeds.
You can toast nuts at the same time as you roast squash: put them on a separate sheet pan on a rack underneath the squash for about five minutes. With pepitas, let them only go for a minute in the oven or on the stovetop (in the same pan you sizzle your spices in oil!) because they cook faster. Texture makes all the difference, and now you have something creamy, tender-crispy squash, and crunchy topping.
Try these combos
Salt + pepper + olive oil on simply roasted squash. Grate garlic into mascarpone or crème fraîche. Add toasted pine nuts + grated Parm + hot honey on top for an Italian-ish squash dish.
Salt + about 1 tsp. curry powder + coconut oil on squash. Roast, then serve atop buttermilk with black pepper + ground cumin + salt. Sprinkle on cashews toasted with Indian spices and a squeeze of lime.
Chile powder + sumac + olive oil. Roast, then serve atop yogurt sauce (garlic + lemon). Drizzle on mustard seeds toasted in olive oil + pepitas + lemon juice.
Smoked paprika + salt + olive oil on squash. Roast, then serve atop yogurt + maple syrup + hot paprika or cayenne (sweet and tangy!). Sizzle sage, rosemary, or thyme in olive oil for drizzle, then sprinkle with toasted hazelnuts. This one is kind of like the flavor profile of sweet potatoes with marshmallows, and you could add a little more maple syrup at the end if you want.
Make gochujang-sesame roasted squash. Serve over thinly-sliced Asian or D’Anjou pear, which will be cooling, crunchy, and sweet to balance out the chile paste’s spice. If you’re not into pears, doctor up yogurt with miso or make a miso dressing and use that as a base. Add sesame seeds, cilantro, and toasted sesame oil on top.