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I was a jerk as a kid. Once, a family friend dressed up in an elaborate Santa costume—sack full of toys and all—to cheer up my brother and me, both of us absolutely miserable with the flu on Christmas Eve. He barged in the door with his heartiest ho-ho-ho, eager to bring some joy back to our fever-ridden holiday. My brother was eating it up. I, on the other hand, refused to be duped.
"Have you been good children this year?" he asked, his voice booming.
"Hi, Mark," I sassed. His face dropped.
Then there was the time that my mom was excited to try out a new recipe that promised to sneak nutritious butternut squash into a cheesy casserole, guaranteed to trick your kids into eating it. But Mama didn't raise no fool, and I pushed it aside like the little wretch I was, refusing to take a bite because I knew exactly what was in it.
Fortunately, I (mostly) grew out of that habit. As an adult, I now welcome a good surprise, some holiday wonder, and, most importantly, the intermingling of squash and cheese. You don't even have to try to trick me into it. There's something so decadent about rich roasted butternut squash in a blanket of bubbling and browned cheddar cheese that I'm practically thirsting for it these days.
In this riff, I transform that casserole into an unapologetically cheesy, creamy dip, rich with sweet and nutty roasted butternut squash, caramelized onions, garlic, crispy sage, and a generous amount of melted cheddar. Cream cheese and a bit of sour cream keep it scoopable, so you can load it up on your favorite dippers. Bratty kids aside, this is a must-have on your holiday party menu.
Cutting whole butternut squash can be a losing battle—the skin is very thick and tough to slice through. A sharp Y-peeler can make easy work of it, which you can read more about here. If you don't have a good peeler available or are still struggling a bit, there's another method I like to use that makes slicing off the tough skin and cubing up the squash simple: Cook it briefly in the microwave first.
I start by making a few shallow slices in the skin or piercing it with a fork to allow steam from the squash to escape, preventing any explosions. Then I microwave it for a few minutes, just until the skin is softened and peels without too much resistance. At this point, it's no longer a tedious ordeal to cut the squash into cubes for roasting, which saves me time and quite possibly a few fingers.
Roasting the squash brings out its natural sweetness and gives it a deeper flavor, while also making it soft enough for puréeing. While I generally prefer to roast butternut squash and sweet potatoes at lower temperatures to get them as naturally sweet as possible, it's not necessary in this case. The combination of squash and caramelized onions in the dip provides plenty of sweetness, so a quicker, higher-temp roast works perfectly.
While the squash is in the oven, I prepare the other add-ins. I pan-fry fresh sage leaves in foamy butter until they're crisp and the butter is infused with their flavor. Then I use that same butter to caramelize the onions so they're golden and sweet, and add a few cloves of minced garlic at the very end.
I reserve just a few frizzled sage leaves to top the dip, and purée the rest with the onions and squash in a food processor until smooth. At this point, I process in sour cream and cream cheese to make the dip thicker and richer, and to give it some tang to balance the sweetness from the roasted and caramelized ingredients.
Of course, I can't forget the cheddar cheese (and, let's be serious, I never would). I mix in half of the cheese with the dip and smooth it into a casserole dish, then sprinkle the remainder over the top. The dip can now be covered and refrigerated for up to three days before baking and serving, or baked immediately until the cheese creates a bubbling, lightly browned blanket. I top it all with the reserved sage and set it out with pita chips or crackers.
Everyone will dig in—no ploys necessary.
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