Thursday, November 09, 2006

It was bright green, and orange and bumpy?

Hard winter squash can be another sweet surprise beneath a monstrous exterior. Piled high in the market, attractive and colorful squash sing out a siren's song of soups, roasts and gratins; but those mysterious turban squashes still put my knife to rest. However, I have had my way with the likes of kabocha, delicata, sweet dumpling, hubbard and buttercup, and keep coming back for more.

Take advantage of the gorgeous selections available now. Even though these vegetables as a group are known as winter squash, the supply of many of the more interesting varieties dries up by Christmas time. Butternut and acorn are pretty much available anytime but you'll see a big drop in taste and texture outside of the September - January window.

As with apples, the more common varieties, acorn, butternut, calabaza, tend to be the least rewarding. Look for delicata and sweet dumpling in early fall. When their stripes are still green you don't even need to peel them if roasting. The edges crisp slightly and add great texture to the smooth flesh. As the squash mature in holding, the stripes become more yellow ochre and peeling is required.

I would most enthusiastically encourage you to explore kabocha squash. The name's a bit confusing as it applies to several varieties of Japanese developed squash. The two most common being the drum shaped green skinned Hokkaido, and the rounder orange Hokkaido. Its meaty flesh is beautifully balanced by its deep sweetness. Really a great squash.

Next I need to introduce (or reacquaint) you to a spice mixture called Garam Masala. It is a spice blend, similar in style to curry powders which typically includes cinnamon, black pepper, clove, cumin, coriander. etc. To my palate it has an incredible affinity for squash and sweet potatoes. I worship the blend available at More on this phenomenal store later.

OK, moving on ...

Roast Winter Squash, Yams and Green Apples with Maple and Eastern Spices
Preheat oven to 425* Prepare, peel and seed squash (you choose, though early delicata is a personal fave). Cut into 1 1/2 inch cubes or wedges. Toss with mild oil, pure maple syrup, salt and ground garam masala. Set aside.
Peel and cut yams into 1- 1 1/2 inch shapes. Toss with mild oil, pure maple syrup, salt and ground garam masala. Set aside.
Quarter and core Granny Smith apples (or another hard, tart apple that stands up to cooking). Cut into large chunks. Toss with mild oil, pure ma... OK you get the idea.
Please note that you don't want to over do the maple syrup. Think of it as a perfume, not a glaze.
Roast the squash, the yams and the apples on separate baking sheets. The squash and the yams should time out pretty similar. The apples will only take a deep warming before they break down. When finished, toss together and serve. It's so tasty too!

Here's one more, bound to piss off the vegetarians...

Butternut Squash, Apple, Pancetta and Port Wine Bisque with Apple Herb Salad

I know there are those who will choose to make this without the pancetta (Michael of NOT among them) Too bad for you.

Make the soup a day or two ahead. Peel, seed and cut up your squash. Feel free to substitute others for the butternut. I do. Set the squash aside. Clean and rough chop onions and a few cloves of garlic. Set aside. Peel, core and chunk a few great apples. Keep a tart, sweet mix. Set aside. Chop pancetta finely. You don't need too much to add the rich porkiness to the soup. Put the pancetta in a soup pot over medium heat and cook it slowly to medium crispness. Add some oil and butter as needed, and then add the onions and garlic. Saute to a limp translucence. Add some chopped fresh thyme with a generous dusting of ground garam masala and saute 2 minutes. Dump in the reserved squash and apples. Add a very healthy pour of Port Wine and chicken stock to cover. Season with a bit of salt and pepper, and simmer until the squash is tender.
Drain the solids and reserve the liquids. Using a food processor, puree the solids with a bit of the liquid to make a smooth puree. Continue to stir in the liquid until the soup is at your desired consistency. You'll probably use all the liquid.
Either chill the soup down now or proceed to serve. When ready to serve, add a touch of heavy cream to the soup while warming. It doesn't need any , but go ahead and gild that lily.
Reduce port wine until it has a syrup consistency. Set aside. (Can be done days ahead)
On a mandolin slicer, julienne an assortment of apples, toss with a touch of herb vinegar, chopped parsley, tarragon and chives. Set aside.
To serve, ladle the soup into warmed soup bowls. Dribble reduced port wine here and there in the soup. Garnish with the apple herb salad in the center of the bowl.

Very well my pretties. Looking back (always a dangerous move...), I see I might have subtitled this entry an ode to garam masala. Well, don't say I never take you new places. And if you are currently smirking, saying "I've known about Garam Masala for years...." Check out that Kalustyan's Website. They have some things you've never imagined.
Contented Eating,
Big Mary

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