Baked Butternut Squash Chips
There are obsessions and then there are cooking obsessions. The first kind can land you in counseling (and occasionally behind bars), the second will blow through your kitchen like a tempest, leaving every pot, pan, knife, cutting board, baking sheet and bowl lying in your sink like debris. I developed my first cooking obsession in the seventh grade after taking Wilton Cake Decorating classes with Debbie, the woman I babysat for. I learned how to make buttercream icing and transform it into pretty pansies and roses, shells and, of course, all of my friends’ names. Every time I made I cake I left icing fingerprints—leafy green and daffodil yellow—to dry on the kitchen drawers, the refrigerator handle, the doorknob and even the mailbox. By eighth grade the obsession had started to lose its sweetness, and I started scraping every inch of that pound of powdered sugar and Crisco off of each cake before I ate it.
As a food and wine writer, my cooking obsessions have turned my tiny apartment kitchen into a “test kitchen,” where I work to develop and refine recipes. My most recent obsession has run me through eight butternut squash, two mandolines, and a tiny sliver of my thumb (apparently the blade on the first mandoline wasn’t sharp enough to cut through butternut squash, but it was sharp enough to cut through my finger).
It all started on Thanksgiving when I made butternut squash chips with fried herbs and Parmigiano as one of my appetizers. They came out phenomenal, crisp and sweet with crunchy pieces of earthy rosemary and sage and the salty cheese. With tons of Vitamin A, way more flavor than a potato and the festive, seasonal aspect I knew I hit on a winning snack, but they were a pain in the arse to make without a proper fryer. I spent more than an hour standing over bubbling oil so hot it melted the numbers of my deep fry/candy thermometer, frying 10 chips at a time. Since then I’ve been trying to figure out the perfect way to oven-fry them—a feat that seemed easy enough, but actually posed some challenges.
The recipe I first followed said to slice the squash on the mandoline, soak the slices in ice water for a half hour, dry them and fry them. So I followed the same method for my oven-fried versions. Unfortunately my oven doesn’t really cook evenly (in case anyone at Viking is listening, I’d like a Classic Series Gas Range, please) so some of the chips were like shaved charcoal while others were soggy, sad translucent orange discs. Even when I left them to crisp up the centers remained limp. So after spending a couple of hours online researching baked potato chip recipes I decided to try blanching the squash first. And voila! The chips came out crunchy and sweet and were actually better (and much less greasy) than their predecessors. I had to watch the oven carefully and pull them as the turned golden brown since, unfortunately, blanching them didn’t fix my oven. They’re delicious with the herbs and Parmigiano or just dusted with Malden salt, or you can try spiking them up with some fresh ground cardamom and white pepper for a little spice. And since they’re baked, snackers can feel a little less guilty when the polish off a batch.
Baked Butternut Squash Chips
1 butternut squash, preferably one with a long, narrow neck
spray olive oil
Special tools: mandoline
Mise en place:
Heat oven to 400 degrees
Set up an ice bath
Spray a large baking sheet (or two small wines) with olive oil
Bring a pot of salted water to boil
Cut off the bulb part of the squash and set aside for another use. Peel the skin off of the squash and cut crosswise into 3-inch chunks. Using your mandoline cut the squash, crosswise into 1.3mm slices.
Blanch the squash in the boiling water, about two minutes then transfer it to the ice bath to cool. Dry all of the chips with a towel or paper towel and lay them out on the baking sheet. Spray them with olive oil and sprinkle lightly with salt or spices.
Set the squash on your oven’s middle rack and bake until golden brown and crispy. Keep and eye on them as some may cook faster than others even though they are sliced evenly.
Season and serve.