What would the month of March be without something maple-y on the table?

I don’t know about you, but ever since I’ve lived in Maine, maple syrup has been a staple in my kitchen year-round and is my sweetener of choice in everything from my morning oatmeal to my cup of afternoon tea to glazing a pork chop at supper-time. I could fill a book with all the ways I use maple syrup and wonder if you could, too.

Here are three of my favorites.

You will never want to eat squash any other way again after it has been roasted on a sheet pan with maple syrup, garlic, sage and a bit of salty, meaty tidbits. No matter whether you choose bacon, pancetta, or ham, remember to use just a bit of it for flavoring so that the squash is the star of the dish.

I could eat squash cooked this way morning, noon, and night … and have … mashed onto toasted maple oatmeal bread for breakfast, enjoyed cold on a bed of greens or piled on top of Maple Season Salad for lunch, or for a quick and easy supper.

It can be made ahead of time and is delicious served straight out of the oven, cold from the fridge, or at room temperature. I have also roasted the squash without any meat at all and served it as a vegan main dish. One of my frequent ways of serving it is as a unique bruschetta. Squeeze the roasted garlic out of its peels onto small pieces of toasted baguette, moosh the squash on top, and sprinkle with sea salt.

I have been serving the Maple Season Salad to my family and guests for three decades now. It seems to please everyone and is a nice change from regular tossed salad fare. One of my most asked-for recipes, the dressing can be mellowed out to a silky, creamy version with the addition of a bit of half-and-half.

I have caught my grandchildren drinking this salad dressing straight out of the cruet and pretended not to see it happening. After all, what goes down at Gram’s house, stays at Gram’s house …

And speaking of being a grandmother, it was Maple Oatmeal Bread I was baking on the day nine years ago when my fifth grandchild came into the world. On a Sunday Winter Solstice with a blizzard raging, the bread had 20 more minutes to go in the oven when I got the call that the birth was imminent.

In a game of beat-the-clock, I raced outside to clear off the car and shovel the snowplow ridge while the oven timer ticked. I remember wrapping a steaming loaf in a kitchen towel and transporting it from my then-home in West Bath to the little home in Harpswell where my grandson was born. It was a loaf of this bread I was holding in my arms when I laid eyes on him for the very first time that makes it extra special.

I would love to hear about your favorite maple recipes and stories!

Maple-Roasted Butternut Squash
1 large butternut squash
1 large head garlic, separated and unpeeled
2 Tbsp. olive oil
3 Tbsp. maple syrup
1 tsp. sea salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
3 ounces bacon, pancetta or ham, chopped
1 small bunch fresh sage (about 12 large leaves)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Peel and seed squash and cut into 1-inch cubes. Place squash and garlic on a sheet pan in one layer. Toss with olive oil, syrup, salt and pepper and bake for 20 minutes, until the squash begins to brown on the edges, stirring once.

Add meat and sage evenly over the squash and continue to bake for another 20 minutes until squash and garlic are tender and caramelized. Season to taste. Yield: 4-6 servings

Maple Season Salad
1 (5-ounce) box spring greens
1 large crunchy apple or 1 large firm pear, thinly sliced
1 cup walnuts or pecans, toasted

Dressing:
1/4 cup olive oil
2 1/2 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
3 Tbsp. maple syrup
2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 small garlic clove, peeled and scored
1/4 cup half-and-half (optional)
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Whisk together all dressing ingredients and allow flavors to meld for at least 3 hours. If using half-and-half, be sure to refrigerate.

Divide greens, fruit and nuts between salad plates and drizzle on dressing. Yield: 4 servings

Maple Oatmeal Bread
1 cup hot coffee
3/4 cup boiling water
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/3 cup oil
1 cup old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp. salt
2 pkgs. active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water
2 eggs, lightly beaten
5 1/2 -6 cups flour

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a bowl, combine first 7 ingredients. Cool to 110-115 degrees. In another large bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water then add oat mixture, eggs and 2 cups flour; mix well. Stir in enough remaining flour to form soft dough.

Turn onto lightly floured board; knead until smooth and elastic; about 6-8 min. Place in a greased bowl, turning once to grease top. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about an hour.
Punch dough down. Turn onto lightly floured surface; divide in half. Shape into loaves. Place in 2 greased loaf pans. Cover and let rise until doubled; about 30 minutes. Bake for 40-45 minutes until golden brown. Remove from pans and let cool on racks. Yield: 2 loaves

Your questions and comments are always welcome and will be answered. Send your letters to [email protected] or in care of the Coastal Journal.

filed under: