Friday, November 19, 2010

For the Love of Squash

I've become fascinated with squash. There was a time when, like everyone else my age, I hated squash. No squash would ever pass these lips, I declared, no matter what sweet yummy stuff might accompany it. Squash was squash and it all sucked! Period!

Then I grew up. Squash is now quickly becoming one of my favorite vegetables if for no other reason than there are so many unique varieties, each one different in flavor and texture. I also seem to be fascinated by the bowl-like shape of the squash, and find myself compelled to use them as serving dishes. This was the case again tonight after I brought one of the many heirloom squashes we have in the basement upstairs. It was shaped sort of like a flat pumpkin and was kind of blueish green in color with an orange colored meat. I thought I would cut it in half at its equator and that would give me two shallow dishes. But what was I going to put in them?

I've made stuffings for squash, I've served soup in them, what next? My answer was quick in coming - PASTA! After all, why not? I wouldn't hesitate to serve pasta topped with squash, why not squash topped with pasta and a nice cream sauce? It sounded perfect to me! I promptly popped open The Flavor Bible and looked up "winter squash." I decided not to take the sweet route with maple syrup or brown sugar, opting instead for a more savory flavor with thyme, garlic, cumin and such.

I began by halving the squash as previously mentioned, along its equator. I scraped out the seeds and membrane and set aside some of this. I then applied:
4 T butter
1/2 t kosher salt
1/2 t garlic powder
1/2 t onion powder
1/2 t cumin powder
to the squash halves. I poked each several times with a fork and baked it at 350° for about 35-40 minutes, until the flesh was tender. I removed the squash from the oven and set it aside, covered in foil.
Meanwhile, in a large skillet over low heat, I melted:
1/2 c butter
Once the butter had melted, I added:
1 c squash membrane, large pieces cut up
6 sprigs fresh thyme
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1/2 t kosher salt
fresh ground nutmeg
I sauteed these ingredients for about 20 minutes. I then drained the ingredients with a fine mesh strainer, pressing down on the squash with the back of a wooden spoon to get all the butter out.and back into the pan. You should press through a little squash through the strainer, this is okay. Add:
2 T flour
Stir well and cook for about 5 minutes. Stir in:
1/4 c chicken stock
Stir to completely combine with the roux. Slowly add:
2 c milk
1/2 t kosher salt
dash of white pepper
Stirring frequently over medium heat, warm sauce just to a gentle simmer. Adjust seasonings as necessary. Add:
1/4 c grated Parmesan cheese
2 T lemon juice
1/2 t fresh grated nutmeg
In a small pot, boil water and cook angel hair pasta. When pasta is finished serve inside cooked squash, topped with sauce and fresh ground nutmeg.

The end result was good, the squash having a very nice, almost pumpkiny taste. The sauce was thick and creamy with the taste of the thyme and cheese being dominant. The dish was delicious but had plenty of room for further experimentation. This particular recipe is vegetarian - one could certainly add meat, or even other veggies. Chili peppers would spice it up quite a bit as well.

Play! Create! It's why God made so many ingredients!

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