I was floored the moment I split open a small bulbous farmers' market butternut squash. The splayed creamy pale skin exposed glistening vivid orange colored flesh. Unlike pallid supermarket squash, the flesh glowed like an ultra ripe midsummer Casey County cantalope. It was gorgeous.
Typically, I puree roasted butternut squash before thinning it with stock and transforming it into a hearty velvety soup. Problem: One small squash would have yielded two tiny demitasse cups of soup. Amuse-bouche? Nope. I decided to roast it, puree it, and serve it alongside pan seared chicken.
Recently, I ran across a recipe in Bon Apetit featuring an asian spin on twice baked sweet potatoes spiked with miso and topped with sesame bacon brittle. Bacon brittle? Uh. Hell, yeah. While fascinated with the notion of bacon brittle as a crackling topping for whipped butternut squash, I wanted a different flavor profile, so I used the method as a base and changed things up a bit.
I brushed the halved squash flesh with olive oil, seasoned it, and placed it cut side down on a sheet pan before sliding it into a 350 degree oven to roast for 45 minutes.
While the squash bubbled away, I sliced three pieces of thick-cut applewood smoked bacon into 1/4 inch lardons before frying them in a cast iron skillet until they crisped and caramelized. I scooped the bacon onto paper towels to drain and discarded the rendered bacon fat. After wiping the skillet clean, I placed it back over a medium flame and added 1 cup of sugar, 1/2 cup corn syrup, and 1/4 cup water.
Without using a candy thermometer, I cooked the mixture until it was the color of milk chocolate. Working quickly, I added 1 tablespoon of butter, a few fresh rosemary leaves, and the reserved bacon. With a frenzied desperate purpose, I carefully poured the molten mess onto a sil pat to harden. It was rock hard within seconds. Wow.
When the butternut squash collapsed from the heat, I pulled it from the oven, scooped out the soft flesh, and pureed it in a blender with salt, pepper, and 2 tablespoons of butter. I spooned the buttery squash into small ramekins before topping it with broken chards of rosemary-flecked bacon brittle and fresh rosemary leaves.
Ok, so here's the deal. The bacon brittle slowly melted from the steaming wetness of the warm whipped squash, oozing and puddling between bites. The crazy combination of salty sweet brittle, aromatic rosemary, and pillowy squash had the luxurious mouthfeel and texture of a desconstructed savory butternut squash creme brulee.