Butternut Squash and Caramelized Onion Bruschetta

My Book Club has been meeting pretty much once a month for almost exactly 11 years. The group of us became aquainted when our oldest children (with few exceptions) were only months old. We were in that glorious haze of newness and uncertainty. Stumbling through the days with smiles on our faces.

We were a somewhat motley crew cobbled together through loose connections–a pre-natal fitness class, a new mothers’ support group at the local hospital, a work relationship, and some casual stoller run-ins during frequent neighborhood strolls.

From the very beginning, our emphasis was less on “book” and more on “club.” We recognized that what we had in common was more important than anything that preceded. We bore witness to many milestones and were each others lifelines when tragedy struck (I might hold the record of four minutes from receipt of emergency phone call to on-scene arrival but that record has been challenged too many times and nearly broken often).  History would repeat itself with each new baby’s arrival, our second-borns conveniently/eerily/not-surprisingly coinciding, slightly less strategically timed were our thirds and fourths.

It’s this connection, our shared precious history, that makes the Book Club work against all odds.  We have spread out geographically (albeit within a 10 mile radius), our kids have gone to separate schools, and our lives have become more complicated.  But fortunately, we all hold this bond dear and look forward to the evenings where we bare all.  You never know where the conversation might lead, and it would be indiscreet for me to share, but let’s just say that no topic is off-limits and the comfort level is dangerously high.

At this point you’re likely asking yourself, “What about the book?” Well, I will say that we actually do read.  As you would imagine over the course of 11 years, there have been some real conversation starters and some genuine duds but more often than not, we do get around to discussing the book.  The duration of these conversations vary from a quick poll, “Who read the book?” to in-depth analysis of the role of women in Muslim culture (“Nine Parts of Desire” by Geraldine Brooks), but clearly the book is just a vehicle or possibly even an excuse to maintain this cherished link.

This week was my turn to host Book Club (“turns” are as casually selected as books and dates–the relaxed nature, possibly a key to the Club’s endurance).  I’d like to think that turn-out was high due to my fabulous hosting abilities but admit that the good attendance can more likely be attributed to our annual “Our Favorite Things” gift exchange.  This ritual evolved from our yearly holiday party.  It became too difficult to find a date that worked for all during the holiday rush, so we decided to push our celebration into January.  That became a perfect opportunity to take advantage of post-season sales and the gifts got more exciting.  From here we decided to share some of our most cherished products.  Items we certainly could live without but would choose not to.  We employ a “White Elephant” format with plenty of stealing.  Ultimately, you get what you get and you don’t get upset.  How appropriate!  Following is our list of this year’s must-haves:

Our Favorite Things

Lululemon No-Show Socks and Headband

North Face Soft Fleece Gloves

Chalkboard Easel (for buffet display)

No-Pull Ribbon Hair Ties

“Lobe Wonder” (a quick fix for earring-pulled earlobes)

Rhinestone Earrings

Gift Card for the Hairdresser that the majority of the group shares

Microplane Grater with a Tray of Spanakopita to be delivered on demand by our resident Greek chef extraordinaire

Benefit’s “Hi-Beam” (a liquid highlighter for cheekbones)

Pacifica Lilac Candle

Chocolove Almonds & Sea Salt in dark chocolate

St. Tropez Tanning Mousse with application mitt

L’Occitane gift pouch (hand cream, foot cream, body cream, shower gel, soap)

Dermalogica Treatment Foundation

Gap butterfly border scarf

Needless to say, everyone left happy.

And what about the food? Well, in our Book Club the hostess serves an array of heavy hors d’oeuvres and desserts–the good stuff.  Everyone brings a bottle of wine.  When I am hosting, I take advantage of the opportunity to try out some new recipes, I mean what better guinea pigs than a group of nearest and dearest friends?  This time I served a couple of dishes that were instant hits, a version of cheese fondue and a play on Buffalo “chicken” but I am still perfecting those recipes so you’ll have to wait.  The dish that was most successful was an adaptation of the Fall Bruschetta from The Parsley Thief.  It fit my “make-ahead” requirement, made for an attractive platter, was easy to eat and tasted delicious.  Here it goes:

Butternut Squash & Caramelized Onion Brushetta
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Ingredients
  1. 1 baguette, sliced into 1/2" slices
  2. 1 medium onion, quartered and thinly sliced
  3. 2 Tbls olive oil, divided, plus more for toasts
  4. 1/4 c balsamic vinegar
  5. 2 Tbls agave nectar
  6. 3 cups peeled & cubed butternut squash (save time by buying pre-cubed squash in the produce section)
  7. 1 1/2 cups finely diced eggplant (unpeeled)
  8. 1 cup finely diced granny smith apple (unpeeled)
  9. 1 tsp paprika
  10. 1 cup ricotta cheese
  11. kosher salt & freshly ground pepper
  12. Maldeon sea salt, optional
Instructions
  1. Preheat the over to 400F.
  2. Lay the bread slices onto a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil and bake for about 5 minutes per side or until lightly browned.  Set aside.
  3. Note: These can be made a day in advance, cooled and stored in an airtight container.
  4. Heat 1 Tbls of olive oil in a non-stick skilled over medium heat.  Add the onions, balsamic vinegar (the 1/4 cup may seem like a lot but it works) and agave.  Cook until the onions are softened and all of the liquid is absorbed.  Set aside.
  5. Meanwhile, raise the oven temperature to 425F.
  6. In a mixing bowl toss the butternut squash, eggplant, apple, 1 Tbls of olive oil and paprika.  Season with salt & pepper. Spread the mixture onto a baking sheet lined with a Silpat mat and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the squash is tender, tossing halfway through the cooking time.
  7. Transfer the mixture back to the bowl, add the onions and toss well.
  8. Note: This mixture can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to two days. Bring to room temperature before assembling the brushetta.
  9. Place the ricotta in a small bowl and season with salt and pepper. Mix well.
  10. To assemble, spread a bit of ricotta on each toast and top with the squash mixture.  Transfer to a platter and if using, sprinkle with some Maldean sea salt crushed between your fingers.  Enjoy!
Notes
  1. If you like leftovers as much as me, I used this dish two ways the following day.  In the morning I warmed two assembled brushettas in the toaster oven (I had refrigerated them overnight) and topped them with two poached eggs, sprinkled with salt and pepper.  The eggs ran over this mock hash and toast, creating a breakfast dish that I will certainly replicate.  For dinner, I boiled some farfalle pasta while warming the squash-onion mixture in a skillet.  I added a 1/4 cup of the pasta cooking water to the skillet along with the drained pasta.  Served in a shallow bowl topped with some freshly grated parmesan...Voila!
Adapted from The Parsley Thief
Adapted from The Parsley Thief
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