Archive for October, 2013


[Winter Squash, Part 2]

Squash!

After finishing off the last of the spaghetti squash, I decided to tackle the butternut squash that you can see lurking there in the background.  Weighing in at over 5lbs, it was an impressive specimen!  I’ve always liked butternut squash (despite the lack of recipes featuring it on this blog!), and I frequently use it in any recipe that calls for pumpkin, since it’s often more readily available than pie pumpkins.  This time, though, I wanted to do something a bit different.

5lbs+!

Inspired by Smitten Kitchen’s various squash salad applications (for example this or this), I decided to make up my own.  I contemplated various beans and grains before deciding on using red lentils because a) we had some in the pantry and b) you don’t have to soak them overnight.  Along with the squash and lentils, I decided to roast a few shallots that had been rolling around in the bottom of the fridge, and to top the whole thing off, I went with some feta, parsley, and toasted hazelnuts.  Of course the feta turned out to be the wrong kind for crumbling, but since the salad was warm, I rather liked how it melted and mingled with the squash and lentils.

Cubing a squash that big takes a while...

Parchment keeps your towel clean

So much for the main ingredients, but what about spices?  Normally I probably would have gone with a bolder spice palette, and no doubt would have added a healthy dose of cayenne pepper (or even added some fresh cayenne peppers for that matter–we had quite the haul this year from our balcony garden!) but alas, since pregnancy has given me the gift of heartburn, I had to get a bit more creative with my flavors.  In the end, I decided to roast the squash and shallots together with some whole cumin seeds and a bit of salt, and to cook the lentils with a cinnamon stick, bay leaf, and some black peppercorns, as well as a couple of tablespoons of tamari soy sauce (which is my favorite trick for imparting flavor to any sort of bean/grain/rice).  I also created a simple vinaigrette with olive oil, rice vinegar, and tamari–the acid from the vinegar definitely brightened up the dish, although in retrospect a bit of lemon juice would have been very nice too.

In the end, this dish turned out to be one of the best applications of butternut squash that I’ve ever made–it managed to be filling without being heavy, spiced without being spicy, and it was pretty easy to pull together with a fairly minimal amount of pre-planning.  It also made enough to feed a small army, and the leftovers tasted just as good cold as warm.  I think this dish is definitely going to be a permanent addition to the fall meal rotation.

squashlentils

Warm Salad with Cumin Roasted Butternut Squash and Spiced Lentils
(Serves 6-8)

For the squash:

  • 1 large butternut squash (approx. 5lbs)
  • 1-2 large shallots
  • 3 tbsp grapeseed oil
  • 2-3 tbsp whole cumin seeds
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt

For the lentils:

  • 1.75 c red lentils
  • 3.25 c water
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 9 whole black peppercorns
  • 2 tbsp tamari soy sauce

Dressing:

  • 5 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 tbsp rice vinegar or lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp tamari soy sauce
  • a few grinds of black pepper

Toppings:

  • 1/4 c crumbled feta cheese (or finely diced if your feta doesn’t crumble)
  • 1/4 c hazelnuts, toasted and peeled
  • small handful of fresh parsley, chopped

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and spread out the hazelnuts on a parchment-lined sheet pan (the kind with edges so they don’t roll off!).  Put them on the middle rack and toast for 8-12 minutes, giving them a good stir halfway through.  You’ll be able to smell when they’re done–don’t burn them!  Remove the hazelnuts from the oven, and turn up the heat to 400 degrees in preparation for the squash.  Allow the hazelnuts to cool for a bit.  Then take the corners of the parchment and bring them together, creating a little package.  Wrap the whole thing in a towel, and rub it around until the nuts are mostly peeled (they don’t need to be perfect).

While the hazelnuts are toasting, peel your butternut squash, halve it lengthwise and scoop out the seeds, and then cut it up into 1-inch cubes.  Peel the shallot(s) and cut into large chunks.  Line the sheet pan you used for the hazelnuts with aluminum foil, and spread out the squash and shallots in a single layer.  Drizzle the grapeseed oil over everything and then sprinkle on the cumin seeds and salt.  Mix it all together with your hands, making sure that all the pieces of squash are coated in oil, spread them back out, and then put it in the oven (which should now be at 400) for 20-30 minutes or until the squash is fork tender but not disintegrating.

Once the squash is going, rinse and pick over your lentils and then add them to a pan with the water, tamari, cinnamon stick, bay leaf, and peppercorns.  Give it a good stir and bring it to a boil.  Then reduce the heat and simmer until the lentils are fully cooked–probably about 20 minutes.

While the lentils and squash are cooking, whisk together all of the dressing ingredients in a small bowl.  Taste, and adjust the ratio of vinegar/lemon juice to oil as needed.  You may end up wanting to sprinkle a bit more lemon juice or vinegar over the finished salad if the acidic flavor gets lost in the squash and lentils.

Once the lentils are done, drain off any excess water, and pull out the cinnamon stick, bay leaf, and (if you can find them) the peppercorns.  (If you can’t find them, just chew carefully!)  Put the lentils in a large serving bowl along with the squash and shallots.  Mix them together, and then pour on the dressing and add the toppings.  Give everything a good toss, add extra vinegar, lemon juice, or salt to taste, and serve immediately.

Enjoy!

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[Winter Squash, Part 1]

And just like that, it’s fall.

winter squash

I’m loving the cooler weather, changing leaves, and most of all the availability of winter squash!  Last night’s successful spaghetti squash experiment marked the first new dish I’ve created since June, when I made a mayonnaise-free, vinegar-free potato salad that I will definitely share with you at some point.  Why the lack of cooking, you ask?  Well, a certain new addition to the family is due to arrive in late December, and as it turns out, he seems to hate most vegetables (particularly the green, nutritious ones!), and he has somehow scrambled my brain such that I have become terrible at figuring out which flavors go together.  (I maintain that peanut butter, jelly, and cottage cheese is a perfectly normal and delicious sandwich combination!)  But since squash is sweet (and isn’t green!), it seemed like a perfect way to start eating vegetables again in a way the baby would let me tolerate, and sage was the obvious herb to combine with it.

sage

There are different schools of thought about the optimal way to cook spaghetti squash–whole or halved, seeds in or out, microwave or oven, covered or uncovered, steamed or roasted with oil and herbs–in the end, since I wanted the “noodles” to be all the same consistency, and since the half hour baking time would give me just enough time to make the sauce, I went with halved, seeded, face down in a baking dish with a bit of water, covered tightly with aluminum foil so it would steam.

The sauce was really easy to throw together–essentially it’s a basic white sauce (roux + milk) combined with shallots, sage, nutmeg, salt, pepper, and Parmesan cheese.  For a richer sauce, you could definitely use half and half or cream, but if you don’t have them, milk works just fine.  Definitely be prepared to add more salt after you toss it with the squash “noodles” — they will dilute the flavor of your sauce more than you expect.

If you want to get a bit more elaborate than just squash + sauce, this dish would definitely be enhanced by the addition of some toasted hazelnuts or perhaps a bit of crispy pancetta–I was too hungry by the time I was done with the squash and sauce to bother, but if you have the time, you should definitely try it out.

spaghetti

So without further ado:

Spaghetti Squash with Sage and Nutmeg Cream Sauce
(Serves 2-3)

  • a small spaghetti squash (approx. 2.5lbs)
  • 3 tbsp butter, divided
  • 1 large shallot, finely diced
  • 2 tbsp all purpose flour
  • 1.5 cups milk
  • a handful of fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
  • freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • salt
  • pepper

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.  While it’s heating, cut the squash in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds, and put the halves face down in a baking dish.  Add enough water to go up the sides of the squash about 1/4 inch.  (It took me about a cup and a half of water for my 9×13 pan).  Cover tightly with aluminum foil, and bake for 30-40 minutes or until a sharp knife slides easily into the squash.

Meanwhile, melt a tablespoon of butter over medium heat, and saute the shallots until they soften and just start to get a bit of color.  Remove them from the pan and set aside.  Add the remaining two tablespoons of butter to the pan, and when it’s melted, add the flour, whisking constantly until you have a nice, even roux and it darkens a bit.  Then add the milk, and continue to whisk until the sauce starts to thicken.  Reduce the heat to low and add the shallots back to the pan, along with the sage, freshly grated nutmeg, and pepper.  Taste, and adjust the amounts of nutmeg and pepper accordingly.

Remove the sauce from the heat, stir in the Parmesan cheese, and then add salt to taste.  Cover, and keep warm, stirring occasionally to keep it from thickening too much; the longer it sits, the thicker it will become.  When the squash is ready, carefully remove it from the baking dish and use a fork to separate the flesh into “noodles”.  Put your squash noodles into a serving bowl and toss with the sauce until well-coated.  Taste, and adjust seasonings as needed.

Enjoy!

P.S. If you can, wash the sauce pan right away–we let it sit a bit too long, and so even after an overnight soak it was hard to get clean!