Meat Free Mondays – Butternut Squash Parmesan

Okay, okay, I know. Butternut squash isn’t exactly the first thing that comes to mind when you think “parmesan”

But I wanted to do a meat-free parmesan dish and my wife, Sandi, just won’t eat eggplant.

Plus I wanted to prove a theory: You can bread just about anything, pan fry it, top it with mozzarella and parmesan and serve it over pasta with a tomato sauce and it’s going to be delicious.

I’m reasonably sure you could make “Paper Napkins Parmesan” and it would taste pretty great.

This is not to take away from the flavor of the butternut squash. It’s mild, slightly nutty and sweet flavor worked very well with the parmesan and the texture was just perfect for breading and frying, at least after I helped it along by softening it in a 375F oven for about 10 minutes first.

The result was a delicious substitute for eggplant parmesan. The crunch of the breading was the perfect complement to the pasta and the combination of the nutty flavor of the squash and the sweet parmesan/gooey mozzarella mix was utterly fantastic.

I’m considering expanding this experiment with some other non-eggplant vegetables, such as sweet potato, acorn squash and even zucchini and yellow squash. Look for them in the coming weeks.

One final note: For this dish, I used the classic three-stage breading method. This is when you first coat whatever you are frying in seasoned flour, then submerge it in an egg wash, and finally dredge it in a bread crumb mixture, in this case Panko bread crumbs and grated parmesan.

The three stage breading method can be used to make just about anything taste great. The flour gives the egg something to hold onto, and the egg absorbs the bread crumbs so the result is a crunchy coating.

Panko bread crumbs are a Japanese-style bread crumb that are larger than regular bread crumbs. They just give you a little bit crunchier texture.

Butternut Squash Parmesan

1 Butternut squash, peeled, seeds removed and cut into cross sections

1 cup All-purpose flour

3 Eggs, whisked together

1 cup Panko bread crumbs

1/4 cup Grated parmesan

Pan spray

Sea salt

Fresh cracked black pepper

2 to 3 cups Cooking oil

1 box Pasta, any kind, cooked according to package instructions

1 jar Tomato sauce

1/2 lb Mozzarella ovalini, sliced into discs

1/3 cup Grated parmesan

1. Preheat oven to 375F. Spray sheet pan with pan spray, then lay out butternut squash discs. Spray with pan spray, season with salt and pepper and bake about 10 minutes, just to soften. Allow to cool.

2. Set up three stage breading station. Bread butternut squash and lay out on sheet pan.

3.  Cook pasta according to package instructions, drain in colander then return to pot. Add about 2 TBS EVOO, season with salt and pepper and stir. Cover and set aside. Meanwhile, heat up pasta sauce in a separate saucepan, cover and set aside.

4. Heat cooking oil in cast iron skillet. When hot (but not too hot), carefully place breaded butternut squash into pan, a couple at a time, and fry until golden brown on both sides, about 4 minutes per side. Remove to sheet pan and arrange in a shingle pattern.

5. Turn on broiler. Arrange mozzarella slices on top of breaded butternut squash slices, then sprinkle generously with parmesan. Place under broiler until mozzarella melted and parmesan starts to brown, about four minutes. Watch it carefully so it doesn’t burn.

6. To plate, use a tongs to pile pasta in center of pasta bowl, nap with pasta sauce, garnish with additional parmesan, then use a long fish spatula to transfer butternut squash rings on top. Garnish with fresh chopped parsley if you wish.

What sort of things do you like to make “parmesan”? Share your ideas in the comments section below. And thanks for looking at my blog!