Jennifer Causey
Active Time
30 MIN
Total Time
1 HR 55 MIN
Yield
Serves : 4

Cooking smarter—not harder—is my mantra these days, and when I get an idea in my head, I tumble it around until I have it honed, rounded, and polished. I knock off the excess, shave off the gratuitous frills, and try to pare down the idea to the essentials: how can I make it delicious, make it easy, and cook it as simply as possible?

The idea for this Roasted Butternut Squash Parmesan occurred as I was making butternut squash schnitzel. Cut into planks, dipped in egg, dredged through panko, and fried, this was more or less the base layer for parm, except I used squash instead of eggplant (or chicken). I started thinking about how the sweetness of the squash paired with the acidity of marinara and the decadence of the melted cheese … I mean, what could not be amazing about this partnership? And flavor aside, if I could make a really great vegetarian parm without the hassle and mess of frying, it more or less qualifies me for sainthood, right?

I decided to try roasting the squash sheet pan–style from the bottom up, layering it with marinara, cheese, and finally a super, umami-packed toasted breadcrumb topping (thank you garlic, Parmesan, and nutritional yeast!). First, the squash: I roasted it until just tender—about 15 minutes—and then slicked it with soy sauce–spiked marinara (a trick I discovered when I was working on my book, Umami Bomb). Then it got showered with generous amounts of shredded fontina, mozzarella, and Parmesan cheese. Back into the oven it went until the cheese was molten, golden, and browned.

It was so good (I mean, those breadcrumbs … I could eat them by the handful like granola). But there was one problem—since I made it all on a sheet pan, the squash was in a single layer and gave off side-dish vibes. So the next time, after sheet-panning the squash, I layered it traditional-style in a baking dish. So instead of an open-faced parm, this was now a double-decker of squash–marinara–oozy cheese with main-dish gravitas. It was hearty, way less fussy than making a traditional parm, and my stovetop didn’t need to be degreased post-cooking.

How to Make It

Step 1    Make the breadcrumbs

Preheat oven to 375°F with oven rack in middle position. Combine torn bread, 1/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, garlic, nutritional yeast, and salt in bowl of a food processor. Pulse until fine breadcrumbs form, 3 to 4 times. While pulsing, drizzle in olive oil, and process until oil coats all of the crumbs (you should end up with about 1 cup breadcrumbs). Transfer crumbs to a rimmed baking sheet, and bake in preheated oven until golden brown, crisp, and toasted, about 7 minutes, stirring once halfway through. Remove from oven, transfer to a large plate, and set aside.

Step 2    Make the squash parmesan

Increase oven temperature to 400°F; keep one oven rack in middle position, and place another rack in upper-middle position. Use a vegetable peeler to peel squash. Separate the neck from the round base. Cut the neck in half crosswise, then cut lengthwise into 1/2-inch-thick planks. Cut the round base in half, and use a spoon to scoop out and discard seeds. Turn squash halves cut sides down, and cut into 1/2-inch-thick half moons. Place squash slices in a large bowl, and add sage, olive oil, thyme, honey, and salt. Toss to combine. Transfer squash mixture to a rimmed baking sheet, and arrange in a single layer. Roast squash at 400°F until slightly tender, about 15 minutes. Let cool 5 minutes.

Step 3    

Meanwhile, stir together marinara and soy sauce in small bowl; layer half of squash in a 11- x 7-inch baking dish. Spead 1 cup marinara mixture evenly over squash, sprinkle evenly with 1 cup mozzarella and 1 cup fontina. Repeat layering with remaining squash, marinara mixture, mozzarella, and fontina. Sprinkle evenly with Parmigiano-Reggiano. Cover with heavy-duty aluminum foil, and bake at 400°F 1 hour. Uncover and bake until squash is tender and cheese is golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs, and serve.

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