Sunday, December 2, 2012

Winter Squash-a-Paloooza

Last year was the first we planted butternuts in the garden and - 5 vines and more than 30 squash later - we learned our lesson about this plant's abundance. The season was one big "Iron Chef" episode in our kitchen, with nearly every week's meal plan incorporating winter squash. I earnestly clipped recipes from magazines and newspapers, searching for inspiration. Soups, stews, salads, purees, roasted sides, pastas and desserts - you name it, we tried it.

This year we planted only two vines and tried a new variety - Rogosa Violina vs. the traditional Waltham - resulting in a much lower yield but some mammoth specimens. Although there was a time when the thought of yet another squash dinner made me want to head for the hills - or at least the nearest restaurant - I'm enjoying dusting off what are now tried-and-true recipes and reintroducing this hearty seasonal ingredient to our dinner table.

Winter Squash Soup
Serves 8
Adapted from Gourmet

This soup is so simple and is utterly delicious. We omit the cream nearly every time as the soup has tons of flavor and a lovely texture without it.

1/4 cup ( 1/2 stick) butter
1 large onion, finely chopped
4 large garlic cloves, chopped
3 14 1/2-ounce cans low-salt chicken broth
8 cups 1-inch pieces peeled winter squash, any variety (about 3 pounds)
1 1/4 teaspoons minced fresh thyme
1 1/4 teaspoons minced fresh sage

1/4 cup whipping cream

Melt butter in large pot over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and sauté until tender, about 10 minutes. Add broth, all squash and herbs; bring to boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until squash is very tender, about 20 minutes.

Working in batches, puree soup in blender. Return soup to same pot. Stir in cream; bring to simmer. Season with salt and pepper. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Chill. Rewarm over medium heat before serving.)

Enchiladas with Spicy Pumpkin Sauce
Makes 12 appetizers or 6 entrees
Adapted from Catherine Bergen, C Casa

Everyone in Napa knows that the best place in town for tacos and Mexican fusion fare is C Casa. When I saw this recipe in our local paper, I knew I had to try it. We were not disappointed - the blending of flavors is outstanding. I've never been so happy to have leftovers!

For sauce:
4 cups pureed organic pumpkin (two 15-ounce cans) or any winter squash
2 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 jalapeños, chopped
6 large cloves garlic
3-4 Tbsp. curry vindaloo (depending on how spicy you want it)
1 tsp. sea salt
Puree above ingredients until smooth.

For filling:
3 cups shredded chicken, duck or pork
4 cups goat cheese and Oaxacan cheese (we use all goat cheese)
1/2 cup chopped green onions
Mix cheese with green onions.

12 white corn or flour tortillas

Possible Condiments:
Lime crema (Mexican sour cream with fresh lime juice)
Green onions
Toasted pumpkin seeds
Micro greens
Sea salt

To assemble:

Preheat oven to 425 F. Cover one large baking dish with olive or grapeseed oil spray. Pour enough of the sauce to generously cover the bottom of the baking dish.

Lay the tortillas flat. Add the protein of your choice. (You can also just do cheese enchiladas; in that case, use 5 cups of the cheese mixture.) Top the meat with some of the cheese mixture, then roll each tortilla tightly and place in baking dish, seam side down.

Pour the rest of the sauce over the enchiladas and top with remaining cheese. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes or until bubbling hot all the way though.

To serve, place one or two enchiladas in the center of a salad or dinner plate. Top the enchiladas with micro greens and toasted pumpkin seeds, then drizzle with lime crema. Finish with sea salt.

Barley Risotto with Winter Squash
Serves 4
Adapted from Real Simple

Last winter when we were working through our mountain of squash - and had a newborn baby - my Mom helped me whip up this risotto for dinner. Every ingredient needed was already in the kitchen (my litmus test for a good recipe) and the result was hearty and delicious.

2  tablespoons  olive oil
small winter squash (about 11/2 pounds)—peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch pieces (about 3 cups)
onion, finely chopped
kosher salt and black pepper
1  cup  pearl barley
1/2  cup  dry white wine
3  cups  low-sodium vegetable broth
5  ounces  baby spinach
1/2  cup  grated Parmesan (2 ounces), plus more for serving
1  tablespoon  unsalted butter

Heat oven to 400° F. Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or large oven-safe saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the squash, onion, ¾ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper and cook, stirring often, until the onion begins to soften, 4 to 6 minutes.

Add the barley to the vegetables and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the wine and cook, stirring, until evaporated, about 1 minute. Add the broth and bring to a boil; cover the pot and transfer it to oven. Bake until the barley is tender, 35 to 40 minutes.

Stir in the spinach, Parmesan, and butter. Serve with additional Parmesan.

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