Feast on Winter Squash

Roam Artisan Burgers pairs squash, kale, tahini, za’atar, and roasted hazelnuts for a delicious side dish.


Photo by Lori Eanes

There’s an old New England saying that the only time of year you have to lock your car doors is squash season, lest a well-meaning neighbor unloads a big bag of them in your passenger side when you’re not there to refuse.

Similarly, in the Bay Area, gourds seem to be everywhere from late summer through fall. That’s particularly true of butternut squash. The hard-skinned, pear-silhouetted Waltham variety is among the best known and most prevalent of its ilk, especially leading up to Thanksgiving.

That’s no accident, said Lorraine Walker of Eatwell Farm. The classic butternut squash is prized for its sweet, nutty flavor and high yield of meaty fruit due to a small seed cavity size. They’re also versatile and can be mashed, roasted, puréed, and more.

Walker has one big prep tip: Bake it whole in an oven at 400 degrees for 10 minutes, which makes the squash significantly easier to peel, slice, and de-seed. When picking one out, she said to look for an even shape and solid tan-yellow color. But really, Walker said, if you source it from a local farm or farmer when in season, you should be in good hands.

Dana Katzakian from Roam Artisan Burgers agreed.

Belying its burger-centric name, the small local chain that opened a location in Uptown Oakland earlier this year, makes a point of offering a rotating selection of seasonal veggies year-round. In the late fall, Roam often unveils its winter squash and red Russian kale with tahini, za’atar, and roasted hazelnuts, a zesty butternut squash preparation inspired by Katzakian’s Mediterranean heritage.

One advantage for Roam is that the squash (and kale) can be blanched in advance allowing the restaurant to finish them in the pan quickly and easily. Katzakian said they then sauté the squash to further develop its flavors and sweetness through caramelizing.

Walker, for her part, prefers simple preparations, especially if the squash comes from local farms when it tends to be both sweeter and creamier. She’ll eat it roasted with olive oil and smoked chili salt (made in-house by Eatwell) or mixed with leeks and fennel. Despite its ubiquity, butternut squash maintains its popularity through most of the fall with a spike at Thanksgiving followed by a dip afterward as customers reach saturation point, Walker said. Just make sure to lock your car doors.

Roam Artisan Burgers, 1951 Telegraph Ave., Suite 2, Oakland, 510-922-1583, RoamBurgers.com.

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