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.