Evenings in the fall are quite a magical time of the day for me.
They remind me of what it must feel like to enter into a fairy realm, where the golden-purple light twinkles ever so softly, and the slight haze creates an almost dream-like blur of anything in the distance.
Fall evenings are my favorite time to go for a walk in one of my husband's and my favorite near-by neighborhoods, the kind of neighborhood where the people get into the spirit of the season and adorn their doors with large, rustic and gnarled wreaths with colorful leaves, and their porches with big, whimsical pumpkins and inviting “Fall Is Here” porch mats, or perhaps little straw scarecrows that stare at you with their large, unblinking black-button eyes.
The cool evenings in the fall offer up that wonderful, ever-permeating scent of first-of-the-season fires being built in wood-burning fireplaces, and sweetly remind me that a storybook-like quality hangs in the air as the holidays come closer and closer.
I so adore getting a little lost in conversation with my husband as we walk in our favorite neighborhoods in the fall and drink in all of the soft and quiet surroundings; it's a time that we each give voice to our hopes, dreams and introspections, and give them permission to come forward and make themselves known.
There's no more of an exquisite and delicious way to spend a Saturday evening, in my book.
Time seems to slow down on a fall evening; it seems to create an atmosphere—an ambience—that is perfect for renewal and reflection to occur, and for the heart and soul to get in touch with what it longs for and craves.
And a part of what it craves is comforting warmth in the way of good food, the kind of food that is best shared with those that you love and hold dear.
Fall offers up a bounty of colorful possibilities to add to already-warming and cozy recipes that most of us already enjoy partaking in.
And the best time of year to plunge crisps into a warm and cheesy dip is during the fall and winter, when deeply-hued and vibrantly colored options such as sweet, roasted butternut squash are available, and make a stellar addition.
Creamy, salty-savory cheese; little bits of golden, caramelized onion and herbs; all give a wonderful depth to a comforting hot dip that is a perfect warming companion to conversation and togetherness on a cool fall evening.
And with the addition of the butternut squash and the emerald-green spinach, you have a tantalizing and unique take that will add just a bit of brightness for extra enticement.
It's just a simple and scrumptious little reminder to take a moment to savor the flavor of the fall.
Anything at all that can offer some warming comfort on a cool fall evening is well worth enjoying to the fullest; and it is best received in the spirit of gratitude, in the spirit of love and in the spirit of kindness; because then, and only then, will its flavors be the fullest and the most memorable.
Taste what's good and pass it on.
Hot Roasted Butternut Squash and Spinach Dip with Four Italian Cheeses
by Ingrid Beer
Yield: Serves about 8
• 6 ounces peeled and finely diced butternut squash (roughly 1 ¼ cups)
• Canola oil
• Black pepper
• 1 large onion, finely diced
• 2 cloves garlic, pressed through garlic press
• 3 ounces (about half of a 6 ounce bag) baby spinach
• 12 ounces cream cheese, softened
• 1 cup sour cream
• ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
• 1 ¼ teaspoon Italian seasoning
• 1 ¼ cup shredded Italian four cheese blend (I used “Quattro Formaggio” from Trader Joe's)
-Preheat your oven to 400°, and line a baking sheet with foil; also, prepare a small/medium baking dish with a light misting of cooking spray.
-Toss the diced butternut squash with a drizzle of the oil, plus a couple of pinches of salt and pepper; turn out onto the baking sheet, and roast for about 20 -22 minutes, until tender; when roasted, allow to cool (I like to put mine in the fridge to expedite the chilling process); afterwards, turn the oven up to 425°.
-While the squash is roasting, place a large skillet over medium to medium-high heat, and drizzle in about 3-4 tablespoons of the oil; once hot, add in the diced onions, plus a pinch of salt and pepper, and allow the onions to caramelize and soften until brown, stirring frequently, about 10 minutes.
-Once caramelized, add in the garlic, and stir just until it becomes aromatic, about 30 seconds; remove from heat and allow the onion/garlic mixture to cool.
-Blanch your spinach by adding it into salted, simmering water for about 20-30 seconds, then shock it in ice water for a moment; squeeze the water out of it, and use a paper towel to dry it well; roughly chop it, and set it aside for a moment. (You can omit this step and just chop up raw leaves, but this locks in the vibrant green color.)
-Add the cream cheese, sour cream, mayonnaise, 1 teaspoon of the salt, ¾ teaspoon of the black pepper and the Italian seasoning into a large bowl, and using a hand mixer, mix on a medium-high until completely smooth and creamy.
-Next, fold in the cooled butternut squash, the onion/garlic mixture, the chopped spinach and ¼ cup of the shredded cheese with a spatula to completely combine.
-Spoon the dip mixture into the prepared baking dish, and smooth out the top; sprinkle with the remaining 1 cup of cheese, and bake for 15-20 minutes until golden on top, and melty and gooey.
-Allow to slightly cool before serving with your favorite crispy things.