October 12th, 2011

Butternut Squash-Heirloom Bean Chili, olive oil cornbread



How strange to think of giving up all ambition!
Suddenly, I see with such clear eyes
The white flake of snow
That has fallen in the horse’s mane.

I found this Robert Bly poem, “Watering the Horse” tucked in the back of a mottled recipe notebook, long untouched. It was on a sheet of mimeographed paper, that odd purplish ink, the public school printing method of long ago.

I still love this poem today, perhaps more than when I was a teen–the notion of ambition having altered with experience. At the other end of child-rearing and career building, I call it into question: what I embrace; what I give up; what has meaning.

And then I cook.

One clear ambition, I tell myself, is that each autumn, I seek out alternative ways to prepare butternut squash.

You may recall, in seasons past, that we’ve cooked up Butternut Lasagna layered with leek bechamel, swiss chard-butternut gratin, flan-like timbales with walnut pesto, and savory bread pudding , served with vegetable veloute, perfect for the holiday dinner table.

Each recipe, a tasty vehicle for this versatile gourd.

Now, that ambition could run wild: this being the first year that I tried my hand at growing our favored winter squash—and harvested a healthy basketful.


All sizes and shapes!


This morning, a cushy blanket of fog cloaked our neighborhood. Emerging colors of yellow, gold and burgundy fairly glowed as the fog gave way to an overcast day. I love how brilliant colors come forward in that kind of dull, diffuse light.

The air was cool, too. Chili weather! And then, it occurred to me that the meaty nature of the orange-hued squash would work well in a vegetarian chili.


I decided to give it a go. With Rancho Gordo beans in my pantry, assorted peppers: poblano, banana, jalapenos along with a few stray tomatoes from the garden, garlic, onions, and spices, I had the foundation for a hearty batch.


While the beans began their long simmer, I roasted the diced butternut pieces along with the poblanos. I let them get a little caramel crust, and set them aside to cool. Not wanting the squash to break down in the chili, I would add the chunks towards the end of the cooking cycle, to meld with the “pot liquor” the sauce made by the beans as they cook. I turned my attention to bread–cornbread.


My go-to recipe uses 12 tablespoons of melted butter–an ingredient I lacked. My friend Maggie has a skillet cornbread recipe that uses canola oil–another ingredient missing at the moment in my pantry. What if I made the cornbread with olive oil?


What if, indeed!

I hand whisked the batter. It came together quickly-easily, and went into the cast iron skillet, into the oven.

It baked into a firm but tender crumb, the olive oil imparting depth, an Old World sense to a New World dish.


I know I’ve mentioned this before, but the Rancho Gordo Beans (used in this recipe: “Good Mother Stallards” but other beans would also be delicious) are remarkable for their richness. Meaty beans make mighty good chili.

The butternuts proved their mettle in the mix, too. Slightly sweet, they latched on to the layers of peppery heat. A little allspice and cumin, perfect with this squash, added intrigue. It’s a worthy veggie chili, complex with minimal ingredients, hearty, full-bodied, aand satisfying on a gray autumn day.

And, not at all ambitious to make.



3 cups chopped (large dice) Butternut Squash (I used 2 small butternuts for this)
1 large or 2 medium Poblano Peppers
Olive Oil
1 heaping cup of dry Beans ( I used Rancho Gordo’s Good Mother Stallards. But, use a good bean of your choice. This recipe would work with black beans, too.)
2 cloves Garlic, minced
1 medium Onion, chopped
2 Banana Peppers, chopped
1 Jalapeno, sliced thin
Black Pepper
2 t. Allspice
1 t. Cumin

Heat oven to 425 degrees. Spread diced butternut squash and halved poblano peppers on a baking sheet pan. Coat with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and roast for about 20 minutes. The squash will roast and caramelize. Pepper skins will blister—peel, chop and set aside separately.

In a large saucepan on medium heat, saute diced onion, banana peppers, and garlic in olive oil. Season with salt and pepper, and cook until onion is translucent. Add dry beans, and stir until they are coated with the olive oil-onion mix. Pour in water, covering the beans by at least 2 inches. Add roasted poblano pieces.

Simmer until beans are tender ( at least 2 hours), adding more liquid as necessary. When the beans are “soupy” and yield tender flesh, add the roasted butternut. Season with allspice and cumin. Taste for salt, and spicy heat.

Serve alone, or over rice. Dollop with sour cream, garnish with green onion, if you like. Enjoy with cornbread.



1 1/2 cups Cornmeal
1 cup All Purpose Flour
1 T. Sugar
1 T. Baking Powder
1/2 t. Salt
2 Eggs
12 T. Olive Oil
1 1/2 cups Milk
1 cup corn kernels (optional)
1/2 cup shredded white cheddar (optional)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Sift the dry ingredients together. Beat the eggs, oil, and milk together lightly, then beat into the bowl of dry ingredients. Fold in corn kernels, shredded white cheddar.
Pour into an oiled cast-iron skillet (or bread pan.)

Bake for 20-25 minutes. Test for doneness. Cool slightly, cut into wedges and serve right out of the skillet.



Posted in Gluten Free, Recipes, Rice/Other Grains/Legumes, Soups/Stews, Vegan, Vegetables, Vegetarian Dishes

30 Responses to “Butternut Squash-Heirloom Bean Chili, olive oil cornbread”
  1. Magda Says:

    I love your ambitions Nancy :) It is a challenge, finding ways to cook butternut squash. I have yet to find my favorite way of cooking it. I would love to give this a try. Oh ad that cornbread looks delicious; you had me at olive oil!

  2. janet @ the taste space Says:

    I love seeing the heirloom bean recipes.. especially coupled with butternut squash, one of my favourite ingredients. :)

  3. Tracy Says:

    You always have me mesmerized from beginning to end. I sit here wishing for a bowl of chili and a hunk or two of cornbread made with olive oil. Indeed.

  4. Maria Says:

    How nice to come back to the blogging world after a long absence due to life’s demands. And how nice to come home to this warm, cozy recipe that doubles as a feel-good narrative. I think I will look for that Robert Bly poem and read it as spoon my chili. Thank you Nancy.

  5. Maria Says:

    How nice to come back to the blogging world after a long absence due to life’s demands. And how nice to come home to this warm, cozy recipe that doubles as a feel-good narrative. I think I will look for that Robert Bly poem and read it as I spoon my chili. Thank you Nancy.

  6. Michele | Cooking At Home Says:

    The scene is set, the beans are bubbling and the butternut squash is roasting. Two delicious recipes for the cool days ahead.

  7. heather Says:

    This is on my list for next week! Thank you for the poem too Nancy.

  8. goodfoodmatters Says:

    Magda–thanks! both recipes surprised me with their ease, and depth of flavor.

    Janet–thank you for your comment–and welcome to my kitchen.

    Tracy–this is cornbread that Roberto would embrace. indeed!

    Maria–nice to be back! I have loved Bly’s poetry for many years, I hope you will find his work as meditative as I do. enjoy.

    Michele-yes, you’ve set that scene beautifully.

    heather–you are welcome!

  9. Maggie Says:

    Nancy, this looks delish! And congrats on your squash harvest!!!!

  10. Faith Says:

    Love the poem! It really sets the mood for this gorgeous meal. The chili looks fantastic, especially with the butternut.

  11. Fluffy Says:

    With fall season change/ambition?
    fluff in the tail

  12. Barbara Says:

    Nancy, that is a really robust looking chili! I love the idea of butternut squash in it and lots of heat! And to have grown it yourself is icing on the cake. What a lovely crop…wish I was a neighbor!

  13. Angie@Angiesrecipes Says:

    I have been thinking to make a stew with pumpkin and black-eyed beans…;-)) Your bean chilli looks so comforting and loaded with flavours! Love your cornbread wedges too.

  14. Beth Says:

    What a gorgeous meal. I think your chili looks fantastic! (And anything is better with butternut squash in it!)

  15. Barefeet In The Kitchen Says:

    That cornbread and chili look perfect together. I have chili simmering on the stove today and it smells divine. I think chili is one of my favorite fall smells.

  16. foodonfifth.com, Teresa Blackburn Says:

    Beautiful, poignant post with a couple of great recipes as well. Your squash harvest I am envious of..maybe next year…the lament of the gardener. This is a wonderful post in all ways and I enjoyed reading it very much.

  17. Nic@diningwithastud Says:

    So delicious! Im such a sucker for chili and the cornbread looks great!

  18. kankana Says:

    I really like any kind of squash but the only problem i face is peeling off the skins and cutting those .. they require such strength!!
    This is great recipe you shared and will try that sometime.

  19. Kitchen Belleicious Says:

    Squash Chili! WHAT A FANTASTIC IDEA! I have never heard of such a thing but I guess if you can have veggie chili you can simply have squash chili. So flavorful and gorgeous!

  20. Melanie Says:

    Looks like a great comfort food, and the cornbread is such a nice addition!

  21. foodie @ Tasting Spot Says:

    i really like your food pictures and want to invite you to try out tastingspot.com. it’s for anyone that just wants another place to submit photos and share it will other foodies. It’s still in beta version, but would love for you to start adding some photos and help get it going.

  22. Chris and Amy Says:

    Wow. Sounds like the perfect fall meal. Love the idea of using olive oil in the cornbread. Delicious!

  23. FOODESSA Says:

    Being a teen has its advantages…however none as special as being older, wiser and more appreciative of the beauty that is right there in our presence.
    Through several moves, I too have stumbled on a few things here and there. I now realize, I should have maybe paid more attention. No time like the present…loved the small poem you attached to your wonderful squash presentation. I’m envious of that Butternut filled basket…stunning capture ;o)

    Have a wonderful week Nancy.
    Ciao for now,

  24. Juliana Says:

    Nancy, what an awesome meal…love the idea of butternut squash chili…looks perfect paired with the cornbread. By the way, the pictures are great, especially the little butternut squashes…
    Hope you have a great week ahead :-)

  25. Denise | Chez Danisse Says:

    Oh, Nancy… Beautiful squash and delicious looking recipe and photos. You are making me miss my kitchen.

  26. Sruthi @ Exercise, Food & Beyond Says:

    Looks delicious! Would make a great meal for a cold winter night. I am coming back here after a long time. Your recipes and pictures are as amazing as I remember them. I have been busy with work and haven’t been blogging much.

  27. 2 sisters recipes Says:

    What a wonderful chili and corn bread recipe! Great ideas for meals this coming winter. Thanks for sharing!
    Love your blog by the way…….

  28. Caroline Says:

    What a delicious and hearty meal. That cornbread paired with the chili must have been fabulous. Yum!

  29. Tammy Says:

    I enjoy all of your posts but this one is my favorite. I love the poem and the contemplation of ambition. I’m writing something a wee bit similar today and guess what, I have a few butternut squash in the pantry that need to be put to use. Thank you for this.

  30. goodfoodmatters Says:

    Hi Tammy, thanks so much. Your posts are always so provocative; I consider this a high compliment. I look forward to reading your next one, and see how we are aligned.

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