Thu Oct 6, 2016
The brutal heat made summer feel like forever this year, but the tides are finally changing and shorter days and a chill in the air has me craving the backbone of my fall diet—orange veggies. Sweet potatoes are my go-to, but butternut squash plays an import back-up roll when I'm craving sweet, long roasted vegetables that have the taste of seasonal comfort. I'll cook them every which way—as soups, salads, pasta sauces, etc.—but this time around I went for a new idea—stuffing some seriously delicious grilled cheese with grill-roasted butternut squash.
It's no secret my mind usually gravitates to the grill as the first method of cooking, but fall squash presents a unique challenge in that it can take a really long time to transform from hard and inedible to the sweet, soft stuff I crave. I've let butternut squash roast for almost the lifespan of an entire batch of briquettes to get it into its ideal state, and while that's no biggie for me, I know its not an ideal grilling scenario for most.
So this time I prepped my butternut squash in a way I thought would make the best use of a chimney of freshly lit coals. I figured if I were to slice the squash thin, it shouldn't take too long to roast, then the remaining heat on the grill could be used to toast the assembled sandwiches.
I employed my mandoline to cut a small peeled and seeded butternut squash into 1/4-inch rounds. I then placed all the slices in a large bowl and tossed with oil and seasoned with salt and pepper to taste.
Then I arranged the discs on the cool side of a two-zone indirect fire—where all the coals are situated on one side of the charcoal grate. In this size and configuration, the squash took just under 20 minutes to be softened throughout, during which time they picked up some nice color even without being over direct heat at all.
With the squash done, my attention focused on sandwich creation, and I spent some time thinking through how these would taste in the end before taking on this step. I started with some sturdy, quality white bread I picked up from my local bakery, and buttered each slice pretty liberally (I'm a fan of extra-buttery grilled cheese).
Then on the unbuttered sides, I placed two slices of butternut squash on each piece followed by a heaping spoonful of ricotta and a sprinkling of sage. I wanted the ricotta to provide a nice fresh creaminess and the sage to further enhance the fall profile of the final sandwich.
Ricotta doesn't deliver a lot of flavor though, so to do the job in that department I used a mix of Italian fontina and finely grated parmesan. The fontina had a mellow nuttiness, but most importantly it would provide the required oozy cheese, while the parmesan would lend its unique sharpness. I finished the sandwiches with a light drizzly of honey before placing them on the grill.
I let them cook on the cool side of the grill until the cheese was fully melted and the bread was pretty crusty, about 5 minutes, flipping them occasionally. Then I moved them to the hot side of the grill, which wasn't terribly hot by this point, to give them some color. Be careful here, because with already toasty bread, they can go from golden brown to blackened in a heartbeat.
The final sandwich came together to be a killer grilled cheese. All the pieces worked in harmony as I imagined when planning it out. The butternut squash set the base fall flavor that was amplified by the fresh sage. The cheese mixture was a combination of creamy and oozy with a great mildly sharp flavor that melded with the squash. The crusty bread was as satisfying as could be and it all added up to make this a very apt choice to start the shift here into fall eats.
Grilled Cheese with Butternut Squash, Ricotta, Parmesan, Fontina, and Sage
- Prep Time:
- 15 Minutes
- Cook Time:
- 30 Minutes
- Total Time:
- 45 Minutes
- 8 servings
- 1 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and slicec into 1/4-inch rounds
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 8oz ricotta
- 8oz Italian fontina, grated
- 4oz parmesan cheese, finely grated
- 1/4 cup finely minced fresh sage
- 1/4 cup honey
- 8 tablespoons butter, softened
- 16 slices sandwich bread
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Place butternut squash slices in a large bowl, drizzle on oil, and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Light one chimney full of charcoal. When all the charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and arrange the coals on one side of the charcoal grate. Set cooking grate in place, cover grill and allow to preheat for 5 minutes. Clean and oil the grilling grate. Place butternut squash rounds on cool side of grill, cover, and cook until tender throughout, about 20 minutes. Transfer butternut squash to a plate.
- Butter one slice of bread and place non-buttered side up. Place two butternut squash rounds on bread. Spread a heaping tablespoon of ricotta on top of squash, sprinkle with sage, and drizzle on honey to taste. Place small handfuls of fontina and parmesan on top of ricotta. Place a second slice of bread on top and butter. Repeat with remaining ingredients.
- Working in batches, place sandwiches on cool side of grill and cover. Cook until bread is crusty and cheese has melted, 5-7 minutes. Move sandwiches to hot of side of grill and cook until lightly browned, about 1 minute per side. Transfer each sandwich to a plate, slice each in half, and serve immediately. Repeat with remaining sandwiches.