It’s day 4 of appetizer week and we’re rounding out the menu with a warm, rich canapé (I feel so fancy saying canapé…ooh, I just said it again!). These mini butternut squash tarts are the perfect vegetarian two-bite holiday party appetizer offering. They look so chic and elegant, but thanks to the magic of puff pastry, they’re a snap to pull together.
One of my favorite things about the holidays is that I feel free to indulge in foods that I don’t eat any other time of the year. And one of those foods is puff pastry. Puff pastry is magical. It can transform a handful of basic ingredients into an elegant canapé with minimal effort. You can certainly make your own, but I don’t. Who needs the fuss? Plus it’s okay to let go of scratch cooking just a little during the mayhem of the holiday season.
For day 4 of the OSK holiday appetizer party blitz, we’re celebrating the magic of puff pastry with these mini butternut squash tarts. These take a bit of prep work, but it can be done in advance; once you’re done prepping, you can tuck these guys (uncooked) into the fridge until just before party time. A short bake later and you have these adorable, colorful mini butternut squash tarts.
Mini Butternut Squash Tarts Recipe Notes
The flavor base of these tarts is a combination of caramelized onions and roasted butternut squash, with some fresh sage sprinkle throughout.
The onions take a bit of time to cook down properly, so you’ll get those guys started in an equal combination of olive or avocado oil and butter and let them slowly sweat it out on the stove. Towards the end, deglaze with a splash of balsamic, reduce it down for a few minutes, and then toss in a bit of fresh sage.
Meanwhile, peel and seed the squash, dice it into tiny pieces, toss it with oil, salt, and pepper and pop into the oven for about 20 minutes. By the time the squash is finished, the onions are just about done.
Next you’ll need two sheets of defrosted puff pastry. The most foolproof way to defrost puff pastry is by popping it into the fridge overnight. If you forget, you can set it out at room temperature for about an hour, but make sure it doesn’t get too warm. You want it to be cool and firm, but pliable, and it can go to soft and mushy pretty quickly. Just keep an eye on it if you go the room temp route.
Dust your work surface with a little flour, and then carefully unfold the puff pastry. Use a rolling pin to gently roll out any fold marks. Don’t use too much pressure or you’ll tear the sheets. Using a pastry wheel, pizza cutter, or sharp knife, divide the puff pastry into 16 equal squares. I use a ruler because I’m…special…but you can eye-ball it. Even with a ruler my squares are a little uneven, but it all shakes out fine in the end. Puff pastry is pretty darn forgiving (like I said, miracle food).
Transfer the squares to a parchment lined baking sheet, spacing them about 1/2″ apart. I put 12 on each sheet, but I could have easily squeezed in 15 (five rows of 3 each). The squares will puff up, not expand out, so there’s little chance they’ll bleed together, but I still leave a little room between each just to be safe. Score around the edges with your pastry wheel or knife, and then dock the centers. This will help the filling stay in the squares, instead of getting pushed out. Lastly, brush each square with an egg wash.
Now comes the fun part – filling time! My obsession with butternut squash runs deep, so this particular filling was a super easy decision for me. While Cameron isn’t such a fan and totally gave me the look when I expressed my intent for butternut squash tarts, even he admitted that these were the shit. You can fill these guys with anything, going along with the general rule that less is more. If you overfill the squares, they’ll explode. I went with roughly 2 tablespoons of filling in total. Start by adding a teaspoon of ricotta cheese to the center of each square (if you’re feeling brave, go ahead and make your own ricotta cheese – it only takes 15 minutes!). Then top with a few slices of caramelized onions and about a tablespoon of butternut squash cubes. You want to press the onions and squash into the cheese a bit, but try not to push too much filling outside of the score lines.
And with that, the prep work is done! Transfer the baking sheets to the fridge and let them hang out for at least 15 minutes or up to overnight. Chilling the tarts has the added bonus of ensuring the puff pastry is cool when it hits the oven, which will guarantee maximum puffiness (warm puff pastry will come out much flatter). I fit two trays into the fridge by setting a wire rack on top of one of the trays as a makeshift shelf, and then set the other tray on top of that. Then I carefully covered the tray stack with aluminum foil. This will depress the filling down just a little further, but take a deep breath and just do it. They’ll puff up beautifully once they’ve been cooked.
When you’re ready to bake the tarts, preheat the oven to 400*. Pop ’em in for 12-14 minutes, or until they’re golden brown and puffed. Sprinkle a little more fresh sage over the finished tarts, and voila. You’re done! I’m warning ya, these butternut squash tarts are addictive. For a cocktail party, plan on at least two per person.
Mini Butternut Squash Tarts
- 2 tbsp olive oil divided
- 1 tbsp butter
- 1 medium sweet onion thinly sliced
- 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 2 tbsp fresh sage chopped
- 1 2.5-3 lb butternut squash peeled, seeded, and diced into 1/2" cubes
- 2/3 c ricotta cheese
- 2 sheets puff pastry defrosted in the fridge overnight
- 1 egg
- sea salt to taste
- cracked black pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 400*. Line a baking sheet with aluminium foil or parchment paper.
Start the caramelized onions. Heat a cast iron skillet over medium heat. Add one tablespoon olive oil and butter, and heat until the butter foams and subsides. Add the onions and a pinch of salt, stir to coat the onions in the fat, and saute over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the onions are a deep golden brown, 25-30 minutes. Add the balsamic vinegar and stir continuously until the vinegar stops bubbling. Add 1 tbsp fresh sage, stir, and cook 1 minute longer. Turn off the burner and remove the onions from heat.
While the onions are caramelizing, prepare and roast the butternut squash. Trim the ends from the squash, then peel and seed. Dice the squash into ½” cubes. Keep the size small so that multiple pieces can fit into the tarts. Toss the butternut squash with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Spread the squash over the baking sheet and roast in the oven until golden brown and tender, 15-17 minutes.
Line two fresh baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside. In a small bowl, whisk the egg with 1 tsp water and set aside.
Dust a work surface with flour. Remove the puff pastry sheets from the fridge. Unroll one sheet and lay on the flour dusted work surface. Using a rolling pin, gently roll out any fold marks. Then, using a pastry wheel, pizza cutter, or a sharp knife, divide the puff pastry sheet into 16 even squares. Transfer the squares to the parchment lined baking sheets, spacing them about ½” apart (you can easily fit 15 on a sheet, and might end up with a spare square or two depending on the size of your sheets).
Use your pastry wheel or the tip of a sharp knife knife to score a square about ½” an inch from the edges of the pastry squares, then use the tines of a fork to dock the center. Brush each square with the egg wash.
Place a teaspoon of ricotta cheese into the center of each square. Top the cheese with a few slices of onions, and approximately 1 tablespoon of butternut squash cubes. Chill 15 minutes or up to 24 hours (see notes).
When you’re ready to serve, preheat the oven to 400*. Bake for 12-14 minutes or until puffed and golden brown. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with the remaining tablespoon of fresh sage. Serve hot or room temperature. Makes 32 squares. For a cocktail party, plan on two squares per person.
You can condense the trays for fridge storage by stacking them on top of each other. To do so, set a wire rack on top of one of the trays to create a makeshift shelf, and then set the other tray on top of that. Carefully cover the tray stack with aluminum foil, then transfer to the fridge.