Butternut has been having what I believe the fashion industry refers to as a “moment” in our house lately – casserole, soup… even pizza. For a while I insisted on buying only the pre-chopped variety because I struggled to peel and slice it effectively myself, but the help of my mandolin and a change of chopping strategy have brought the longer shelf life and far friendlier price of the whole version back to our table.
Early on in the winter I discovered a delicious new recipe for roasted butternut squash soup – at last trying out a variety with cream – and it’s only a little but it makes a huge difference – instead of only stock. As a bonus, it got white pepper back on my radar – and kicked off a bit of a squash-roasting frenzy.
Next up I pulled out an old favorite from back when I did a Paleo Challenge, but substituted the sausage for italian-seasoned seitan to make it vegan. Incidentally, it turns out that paleo recipes are some of the very easiest to vegan-ize. Since they already avoid dairy you just need to substitute the meat. When I’m feeling like it, that also helps me split recipes into a half meat/half veggie situation to please the carnivorous and herbivorous factions in my home. The original recipe is here; it seems to have been updated to include optional cheese since I first found it years ago, but I never felt cheese was needed because of how the squash cooks down and gets velvety. I about doubled most of the ingredients – this is a “some method” friendly endeavor. It’s both delicious, and really pretty.
What remains of my three squashy victims didn’t fit in the casserole made a tasty snack roasted with olive oil, salt, and white pepper. I wasn’t ready, however, to stop there. Years ago when I first found the Health Bent recipe it talked about how the roasted squash could kind of make up for the absence of cheese – and it does in a way. It doesn’t taste the same, but it has a similar smooth, soft, comforting presence in the dish. That got me thinking about a big hurdle in my kitchen these days: with Casey avoiding cow’s milk, I have very few options for cheese… and without cheese, how can I make us delicious fresh pizzas? And while I was at it, since I loved my spinach/ricotta/cream sauce pie so much, how could I substitute the white sauce?
Enter the amazing cashew “cream” sauce I made on Christmas even to accompany some panko-crusted tofu (and take note – if you’re trying to make something special and indulgent for a vegetarian, you really owe it to yourself to try panko crusted tofu. I fried it in coconut oil and it was crispy and delicious and had not even the faintest killjoy aura of the healthfood-aisle). I cooked up some chard with onion, made my cashew cream sauce, and topped it all with slivered squash.
My one lesson learned was that even the slivered squash was slower to roast than I’d like – it should be pre-roasted, pre-sauteed, or grated instead. Next time (tomorrow!) I’ll be both shredding and pre-sauteeing. I am not vegan or even vegetarian, but we both agreed that this pizza was delicious (supporting evidence, I repeat – I’m making them again tomorrow). As with the panko tofu, the sauce was the major standout. The coconut oil and shallots give a smooth, sweet, almost buttery undertone and the wine really intensifies the flavor.
Cashew Cream Wine Sauce
2 T coconut
3 shallots, sliced
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 – 2 cups vegetable broth
1 cup raw cashew, soaked overnight
1/2 cup white wine
*2 T partly crushed peppercorns
*White pepper to taste
*For the tofu, I used peppercorns to mimic a peppercorn cream sauce, which was delicious. I thought that would overwhelm the squash and chard on the pizzas, however, so I used some ground white pepper instead, and I adjusted the wine upwards as I was tasting.
Heat the coconut oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat (I believe mine is 12 inch, 10 inch would be too small and you’d be better off with a sauce pan), and add the shallots to sauté. Add 1 cup veggie broth, reducing as the shallots cook to softness. Add the garlic. Continue cooking, adding extra broth as needed, until the shallots are very well softened.
Transfer shallots to food processor or blender (I had better luck with the food processor, although both worked) with drained cashews. Blend until as smooth as possible. Add a few tablespoons broth if necessary.
Return to pan and medium heat. Add wine. Cook, stirring constantly until well combined and wine has cooked off a bit. Add pepper/peppercorns as desired. Salt to taste.*
*I needed no extra salt when I make it for the pizza; the saltiness of your broth and how much you use may affect whether and how much you wish to salt.
We stopped by a local wine store the weekend of the initial pizza-making because I was looking for a solution to the problem of wanting to cook with wine without wanting an open bottle either because I can’t drink it fast enough to use it before it spoils on my own, or because we just generally don’t drink frequently (hard to combine with 5am workouts and all!) Originally I thought tiny individual size bottles were the answer but they are hard to find in a variety you’d really want. However, the shop owner overheard Casey asking if boxed wine might work and jumped in with a recommendation for the variety he uses himself. Apparently, an original motivator behind boxed wine was for cooking – because it keeps several months after opening – perfect! We’ve been reaping the rewards at dinner time ever since.