Monday, September 14, 2009

Squash your blues away

Squash is actually fruit. Its seeds are on the inside like a tomato. It is the harbinger of Fall when the weather turns crisp and we all get nostalgic and contemplative. Sadness fills our hearts at the dying of summer, so we have to stuff our bellies with good food to compensate. This recipe is a celebration of the squash as a great, warming appetizer or accompanying side to any Fall meal.

A note on Parmesan: This is a very simple dish, the quality of the ingredients will make or break it. Use 2-3 year old Parmigiano-Reggiano; go to your local deli and ask to try a slice before you buy it. It's best when you can taste the punti bianchi in the cheese which are tiny amino-acid crystals that add a crunchy, satisfying texture to each bite. Don't be afraid to pay more for good Parmesan; you'll use less, because the flavour is stronger in a better quality cheese.

This recipe is for six portions as a side dish or small appetizer cubes with pear slices.

One 3 pound Autumn Cup, Buttercup or Kabocha Squash
1 tsp brown sugar
1 Tbs Walnut oil
2 tsp butter
10 leaves of fresh sage
50 grams aged Parmesan.
10 whole walnuts, crack and crush nut to desired size. I ask for whole because they should be fresher and more pungent then pre-crushed nuts.
coarse sea salt and cracked black pepper to taste

Optional appetizer version of this dish...
2 anjou pears(or whatever pear you can find)


Cut squash in half and scrape out the seeds. Mix walnut oil with sugar and rub over inside of squash. Wrap in tin foil. Bake at 400F for 30 min or until very soft(test with fork).

While it's baking, fry the sage in 1 tsp olive oil(or walnut oil) till it crisps up, then crush it with a spoon into small pieces. Crack the walnuts (with a hammer if you don't have a nut cracker) and grind with a mortar and pestle or just use the hammer. I like a fine crush on my walnuts. Grate Parmesan with the large grate size. Slice the pear into 1/8 inch sections if you are making appetizers.

Once the squash is cooked, melt the butter in the microwave or a pan and pour over squash. Then, cut squash into desired piece size. I cut a small 2cm square for an appetizer size or chop into 6 pieces for a side dish. Now, I would test one piece and balance the garnish proportions to your own taste first. Then, add all your garnishes, sage, salt, pepper, Parmesan and crushed walnuts to the rest of the squash. Stab each cube of squash with a slice of pear to add a fresh note to the mouthful. Enjoy.

Excellent site with pictures and flavour profiles of various squash:

If you aren't familiar with walnut oil, one of my favourites, read this before buying...

Excellent article on Decoding Parmesan in Jeffrey Steingartens, "It must have been something I ate"

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