Stewed Squash with Tomato, Garlic and Black Olives (zucca con olive)

This may sound like an unusual combination to Americans, but it is a superb way to cook winter squash. The flavor of squash alone is bland, but the olives, olive oil, garlic and tomato give it zest. It is actually best to make this a day or two ahead of time, and keep it refrigerated until you are ready to use it. That way, the flavors have time to meld and the dish will taste better. Serve this alongside a main course that does not contain tomato sauce.

  •   1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  •   3 large cloves garlic, chopped
  •   1 cup tomato sauce, or 1/2 cup tomato paste mixed with 1/2 cup water
  •   1-1/2 pounds butternut or Hubbard squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch dice
  •   12 oil-cured sharply flavored black olives (wrinkled variety if possible), pitted and halved
  •   1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme, or 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
  •   3/4 cup water
  •   1/2 teaspoon salt
  •   Freshly milled black pepper

In a saucepan over medium-low heat, warm the oil and garlic together until the garlic is fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the tomato sauce, stir, and bring slowly to a simmer, about 4 minutes. Add the squash, olives, thyme, and water. Cover partially and simmer gently until tender, about 30 minutes. The squash should be thoroughly tender though not disintegrated. Season with salt and pepper. Ahead-of-time note: this dish may be made up to 3 days in advance, cooled, covered, and refrigerated. Reheat over low heat.