In the early days of pandemic cooking, when many of us were trying to shake up our routine, a small twist in technique or the addition of an unexpected ingredient could make a depressingly familiar dish seem exciting. Applied to butternut squash, a few tweaks conjured up by the Atlanta chef Asha Gomez take an often ho-hum staple to places it never dreamed it could go.
Her version starts with scoring the surface of small squashes that have been halved and seeded. The hash marks should be deep enough so a mixture of honey and butter soaks into the flesh as it roasts on a sheet pan—a cooking method Gomez was using long before sheet-pan suppers rose to Instagram fame.
While the squashes roast, make a tomato gravy. Romas from the store will do fine, but late summer and early fall are the perfect time to use up any fleshy tomatoes still lingering in the garden.
Then comes the next twist: grated ginger. A generous amount turned golden in a slick of olive oil gets blended with the pureed tomatoes and a hit of brown sugar. The gravy is delicious poured over the squash as is, but I like to take a stick blender to it, which adds a lightness to the texture. Either way, a final sprinkling of fresh oregano is essential.
The dish has a kiss of India, where Gomez spent her childhood, but she wouldn’t call it an Indian recipe. “So many of us get boxed into this idea that we have to cook the food of our ancestral home,” she says. “One or two nights a week my kitchen will smell of curry, but every other night it smells of whatever inspires me. It could be from a trip to the market or the memory of travel or a friend who is coming over to eat with me.”
That philosophy is at the heart of Gomez’s new book, I Cook in Color: Bright Flavors from My Kitchen and around the World, out in October. It’s a follow-up to her first cookbook, My Two Souths, in which she explored a Venn diagram where food from her adopted home in the American South overlaps with the dishes she grew up eating in the southern Indian state of Kerala.
The new book is about cooking from a global pantry, which reflects her travels and friendships. She has recipes for za’atar-crusted lamb with apricots, smothered beef liver (“I just love liver,” she says), and a cherry pie with a double crust. And, of course, she includes her squash recipe. It’s one of her teenage son Ethan’s favorites. “The way I introduce my son to the world is through food,” she says. “It seems especially important now when we aren’t really able to go anywhere.”