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For a year, The Essential New York Times Cookbook author Amanda Hesser and food writer Merrill Stubbs ran weekly recipe contests on their website Food52. Late last month, they published the winning 140 recipes in their book The Food52 Cookbook (William Morrow). Four San Franciscans made the cut, including private chef and nextcourse instructor Michelle McKenzie Waltman. Her fregola sarda, a Sardinian pasta much like Israeli couscous, is rich with caramelized butternut squash, toasted pine nuts, and a musky charmoula that she says can be used as a marinade for meat or fish or a dressing on grains and vegetables. Pair the fregola sada with roasted chicken, grilled lamb chops, or a nice big salad with goat cheese for a mighty-fine dinner.
Serves 6 to 8
1 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1 1⁄2-inch dice
Extra virgin olive oil
1 pound fregola sarda or Israeli couscous
1 cup toasted pine nuts
2 tablespoons cumin seeds
2 medium garlic cloves
3 cups roughly chopped fresh cilantro
1 cup roughly chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon hot paprika
2 teaspoons sweet smoked paprika
1⁄2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Zest of 1 lemon
Juice of 2 lemons
1. Heat the oven to 475 degrees. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. On a large sheet pan, toss the butternut squash with about 2 tablespoons olive oil and a generous pinch of sea salt (make sure not to overcrowd the pan, and use 2 pans if necessary). Roast the squash for 20 to 25 minutes, or until tender and caramelized. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly.
2. Cook the fregola sarda in boiling water for 10 to 11 minutes, or until al dente. Drain and return to the pot; set aside and keep warm.
3. In a small skillet over medium heat, toast the cumin seeds for 1 to 2 minutes—or until they release a fantastic smell and start to make a popping sound (keep an eye on them, so they don’t burn). Transfer the toasted cumin seeds to a mortar; add the garlic and a big pinch of sea salt. Pound the cumin and garlic into a paste. Add the chopped herbs in batches, and continue to pound until a chunky paste forms. Add the hot and smoked paprikas, cayenne, lemon zest, and 1⁄4 cup olive oil; stir to combine and set aside. (Alternatively, you could process all the ingredients in a food processor.)
4. To the pot with the fregola, add the butternut squash, lemon juice to taste, charmoula, and the toasted nuts. With a wooden spoon, toss gently to combine (avoid mashing the squash). Serve warm or at room temperature.