It’s no secret that my biggest guilty pleasure (of many guilty pleasures) is a parchment paper cone of crispy French fries. I talk about it so often that several of you have actually asked whether my twitter profile occupation “competitive French fry eater” is actually legit. Bless your hearts!
Though a girl can dream, my French fry eating has yet to win me any professional accolades. Mainly, it wins me disgruntled dinner mates who are less than pleased when the “share” plate of fries somehow goes missing halfway through their entrees.
That disgruntled dinner mate is usually Charlie. By now he knows what to expect in a fry share situation. So his disgruntledness usually results from the scenarios in which I pretend I’m going to be healthy by ordering a salad. And then after peer pressuring him to get a burger, I proceed to eat almost all the fries directly off of his plate before even having so much as a bite of my kale.
As you can tell, fries hold somewhat of a sacred place in my world of hedonism. So much so, that until this experiment with butternut squash fries, I had done very little to attempt to make my habit healthier.
During my year of wellness experiments, I found a lot of tactics for moderation—especially when it came to my other big vices. For alcohol, I’ve tried to become more of a wine snob. While this is not something I would ordinarily want to be, it does help set some limitations in the mindfulness department. Now, if I’m served a glass of three buck chuck that makes my nose wrinkle, I casually set the glass down and proceed to socialize hands free.
In the food department, my tactic was to add vibrancy whenever possible. If I wanted something slightly sinful, like fried rice or chili con carne, all I had to do was make sure to mix in as many colorful veggies as possible to balance out the beige grains or browned meat. For fries, this is a simple enough modification; just trade in your regular spuds for their bright, orange counterparts.
I’ve tried my hand at baked sweet potato fries before, and, lezbehonest, they can’t compare to what comes out of the fryer. I’m a purist, people.
So if I was going to be healthifying French fries, I knew I needed to go even more rogue. In fact, perhaps the idea wouldn’t be to healthify French fries at all. My mission would be to fry-ify something healthy. Something like butternut squash.
As I admitted in the context of this dip, butternut squash and I are friends on the plate, but less chummy on my kitchen countertops. Peeling that sucker is one of my least favorite culinary tasks. So I’m going to let you in on a little secret that allows me to make things like butternut squash fries without coming down with a case of hand leprosy in the process.
At the market, I try to find a squash that has the longest shaft possible. (There’s a that’s what she said joke to be had, but I will control myself.) Back home, I cut the squash in half lengthwise right above the bulb. I save that seeded section for another use—most likely, roasting it whole so I don’t have to deal with peeling it. Once you have that long tube, with two flat ends to work from, it’s pretty easy to stand the whole thing up on a cutting board and use your chef’s knife to shave the skin off. I have been known to take off many a knuckle on graters and peelers, so using my knife is always preferred!
To get my oven baked fries nice and crispy, I took some pointers from Cassie over at Back to Her Roots, who wrote this great post on pumpkin fries. She recommends four things: 1) cut your squash as thin as possible, 2) soak it in water, 3) coat it in cornstarch, and 4) don’t crowd the pan. I omitted number 3, but would perhaps reconsider next time and do a little shake ‘n bake prior to the oven.
I tossed these crispy fry-ified squash matchsticks with fresh sage and served them with a little anchovy aioli—which was a great tangy, salty compliment to those sweet fries. (It’s also great on these brussels sprout latkes!!).
Whether you’re looking for a healthier version of your favorite oven-baked fries, or a slightly more sinful way to eat your usual veggies, these butternut squash fries are your ticket to a healthy hedonism gold star. And, perhaps, the first step to earning official competitive French fry eater status.
Baked Butternut Squash Fries with Sage and Anchovy Aioli
For the aioli
Recipe Notes As I mention in this post, I tend to buy slightly larger butternuts than usual, and always look for ones with the longest straightest shafts. I’ll then cut it in half lengthwise, right above the bulb that contains the seeds. I’ll save this part for another use since it’s less uniformly shaped and annoying to peel. Usually, I roast it in the oven and then scoop out the flesh for a puree or soup. With the remaining cylinder, I cut the top off, so I have two perfectly flat sides to work from. Then I stand it on the cutting board and shave the skin off with my chef’s knife. This is WAY easier than using a peeler and trying to hold onto that slippery squash. You can then create thin planks, followed by matchsticks. Viola!
If you soak the butternut squash matchsticks in cold water for 30 minutes, drain and pat dry, you'll get an ever crispier fry!