My favorite chocolate bar is the Nibby bar from Scharffen Berger. If I could melt it down and pump it directly into my veins, well, I would. It’s a 62% semisweet chocolate embedded with crunchy bits of roasted cacao bean (nibs). The nibs are essentially what chocolate is made of. They have a rich intense chocolate taste, without any of the sweetness. Really smoky and complex, somewhat like a roasted coffee bean. At one point, Nibby bars were so popular that they were virtually sold out no sooner than they were put up on shelves. So… I went a little crazy when I visited the Scharffen Berger store at the Ferry Building in San Francisco earlier this year. (The elusive 3-oz. bar was all mine!)
The following recipe is adapted from The Essence of Chocolate, a beautifully written cookbook by John Scharffenberger and Robert Steinberg (the founders of the company) that honors the cacao bean. What sets this book apart from all other chocolate recipe books is that it truly optimizes all the flavors of chocolate, even the subtle notes. Many of the savory recipes were such eye-openers for me in that I never realized how well cacao could bring out the flavors of foods such as goat cheese, beans, and in this case, butternut squash.
The recipe calls for pancetta but I instead used bacon for a bit of extra smokiness. The cacao nibs intensified the subtle sweetness of the squash, which complemented the saltiness of the bacon. If texture excites you, then you must try this dish. Silky smooth squash with crispy bits of bacon and grittiness of the nibs. Trust me, it works.
Roasted Butternut Squash with Nib Vinaigrette
adapted from The Essence of Chocolate
1 4-lb. butternut squash, peeled, cut in half lengthwise, seeded
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 1/2 tsp cacao nibs, coarely chopped
1 shallot, minced
3 oz. pancetta, or bacon
1. Cut the squash into 1/4″ slices. Toss with 2 Tbsp olive oil and lay out onto a baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
3. Meanwhile, make the vinaigrette. In a skillet, cook the pancetta or bacon until crisp. Drain on paper towels. When cool, crumble into small pieces.
4. Combine the remaining olive oil, vinegar, nibs and shallot in a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Gently whisk.
5. Place the squash in a large bowl. Add half the vinaigrette and half the pancetta, gently toss to coat. Arrange the squash on a large platter, and drizzle with remaining vinaigrette and top with the pancetta.