Because I’m a food nerd, I sometimes like cooking with less conventional materials just to puzzle out how ingredients play off one another. These experiments rarely hit perfect. Mostly they’re learning experiences, with some good eating along the way. Like yesterday, when I surveyed the contents of our chest freezer, pulled out pork spareribs, and started a bisque made with sunchokes. Where this was going was not entirely clear.

After the chill came off the ribs, I applied a Memphis-style dry rub and slid them into a low-heat oven, to roast until the meat fell off the bone. They’d be tasty, I knew, but we needed something more. After head-scratching, I imagined the charred ribs arching over a mound of sweet potatoes — and settled on mashed winter squash flecked with fresh sage. We had a hefty buttercup squash on the counter, a volunteer from last summer’s compost pile, plus sage in the garden.

Dinner didn’t blow anybody away but was still very good. We started with the bisque, which tasted delicately of artichokes — more detail in another post — then dug into the sweet squash and the salty, spicy ribs. Happily, the flavors magnified one another as hoped, though next time I’d opt for a tangy beet salad with goat cheese, rather than soup. Or browned turnip slices with parsley. The key is that I now know about mashed squash and spicy charred pork. It’s fast, delicious, different, and easy to tinker with, with hard squash so abundant at the markets these days.

Mashed Winter Squash

1 butternut or other squash / 1 tbls minced fresh sage / 1 tbls butter / salt & pepper

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Halve squash and remove seeds, then turn face down in a baking pan and add enough water to cover the squash by half an inch. Roast 1 hour, until skin is browned. Remove from oven and scrape flesh into a baking dish. Mash flesh with salt and pepper (or spin in food processor) and mix in minced sage. Top with butter and return to oven for 15 minutes, until flavors are combined. Stir and serve. Feeds 4-8, depending on the size of your squash. Freezes well.