My Food Journey

Meditations on a Squash

This is what the rodents who live close by are eating! They’ve been gnawing on the last few apples in our tree and knocking them down one by one. Every morning when I leave for work there’s one or two more on the sidewalk. At least we can be sure that none of the apples are going to waste, and no rodents are going hungry!

To make up for my lack of imagination on Thanksgiving, I decided to make an elaborate meal this Sunday. I had a very large Long Island Cheese squash that was beginning to develop spots that would eventually turn soft, so I took the opportunity to to cook it. I wanted three separate courses that all featured the squash, but were different enough to still make an acceptable meal – Kind of like the Iron Chef, except I took my time. I think rushing things the way they do can only lead to compromised results.

Johnny had to cut the squash. It was just too big for me to handle. He cut it into quarters and I baked three of them. I could hardly fit them in the pan! The texture of this squash is nice – It’s a tiny bit fibrous, but very creamy at the same time. It’s a nice dark orange color, with a relatively mild sweet taste. It’s an heirloom from Long Island – named “cheese” because it looks like a cheese wheel. This one was grown on Full Belly Farm in the Capay Valley (about an hour North of Sacramento.) Unfortunately none of our local farmers grow this squash – perhaps next year I’ll convince one of them to.

Coordinating the three dishes was a bit of a chore. I basically made all three recipes at once. I’ll describe them in the order we ate them.

For the first course I used the quarter of the squash that I hadn’t baked. I peeled it and cut it into bite-sized chunks. I tossed them with a little flour and deep fried the squash chunks in batches for about 5 minutes per batch. They cooked up really nicely – there wasn’t much breading so they weren’t too greasy, but the little bit of flour that stuck to each piece gave it just a touch of deep fried goodness.

Here they are right out of the fry oil. I laid these out in a pie plate and sprinkled sliced garlic, chopped anchovies, chopped sage sage, olive oil, and a tiny bit of apple cider vinegar on top.

I mixed it all together lightly and let it marinate for a few minutes while I quickly browned a few pine nuts in a skillet. Once the pine nuts were added it was done. The whole thing was unbelievably delicious. The recipe I started with called for mint instead of sage, but I decided I’d rather have sage. It was such a great taste combination with the spicy garlic the salty anchovies, and the sweet squash. Mmmmmm……

For the main course I made an Italian potato squash “pie” (I’d call it more of a casserole, but maybe I’m being too picky.) I pureed 1 quarter of the squash (already cooked) in the food processor with about the same amount of boiled potatoes. Into that, I mixed butter, 4 egg yolks, Parmesan cheese, and salt and pepper (yes this is a decadent recipe!) I cooked up a little sausage into tiny bits and added that too. Finally, I whipped the egg yolks until they were stiff and folded them in. I spread bread crumbs on the bottom of a pan and added half the squash potato mixture on top. I sprinkled grated mozzarella cheese on that layer and then added the rest of the mixture. I topped it off with more mozzarella and Parmesan and baked the whole thing.

Here it is coming out of the oven. It was like the lightest, most buttery, creamy mashed potatoes you’ve ever had. The squash is mild, so it didn’t overpower, but it did add a nice twist. It was very filling. We only ate about a quarter of it – we’ll be eating it all week!

For dessert I made pumpkin flan with the third quarter of squash. I’d never done it before, but it worked amazingly well. The first step was to make the caramel. I didn’t have any white sugar, so I used Sucanat, which is unrefined. The recipe said to warm the sugar over a burner till it caramelized. I did, and at first nothing happened. I got nervous when I started to smell burned sugar and it had still not changed texture at all, so I added just a touch of bourbon (which I was planning to use as flavoring anyway.) Immediately the sugar liquefied perfectly. I poured the carmel into the pan I would bake the flan in and set it aside while I mixed up the flan: pureed squash, eggs, brown sugar, and cream. I poured that on top of the carmel in the pan. Finally, I filled a large pan with hot water and baked the flan in its pan within the hot water pan. I have no idea why that’s how you do it, but that’s what recipe said, so that’s what I did.

It’s hard to see in this picture, but this is the flan going into the oven…..

And here it is just out of the oven. I put it in the freezer to cool. After we were done with the rest of the meal, I made a simple warm cranberry sauce with just fresh cranberries, bourbon, and brown sugar.

I pulled the flan out of the freezer and flipped it upside down so that the carmel on the bottom (which had liquefied again as it cooled) dripped down over the flan.

The only problem was that I didn’t quite get it centered on the plate….ah well, next time…..

Here’s my portion with the cranberry sauce on top. I love cranberries with sweet things – they added such a great sour to balance the carmely sweetness.So this was my 3 course meditation on the Long Island Cheese. It was one of the most satisfying (and time consuming) meals I’ve had in a while! We still have one quarter baked squash left… we’ll probably just eat it plain. What a versatile thing winter squash is!

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