Friday, October 10, 2008

Fall menu: what to do with a pumpkin

Now it's the California fall market at it's best:
the late summer vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants are still there, and at the same time we get all the fruits - many types of melons, grapes, figs, peaches, nectarines, pears and apples, - wild mushrooms, and, unfortunately, the tempting, but mostly useless decorative stuff like Indian corn and winter squashes. You buy them because they look good, and then you never get to cook them, and toss them before Christmas.

Well, the basket of fruits that I got will go to my birthday picnic to be eaten with cheese and wine, and I withstood the temptation to buy the colorful corn and ornamental peppers, but I just couldn't leave without a squash.

So I handled various exotic looking gourds, put them together, imagined how pretty they would look in my living room, in a basket, next to pale orange roses, on a bed of fallen leaves, and then I thought how I will have to through them away, dry and dusty, two month from now. Waste of food. I just don't eat squash.

Fortunately, a compromise was easy to find. Japanese Kabocha squash, although it doesn't look like much, is a kind of winter squash that really tastes good, and is of manageable size. So I put down the tastless ornamental stuff , and got one of these.

It's about 3 pounds, and, if you manage to cut it - use a very sharp heavy chef's knife and a lot of caution - has bright orange flesh with a wonderful nutty flavor, and a handfull of fat, delicious-looking seeds that I never managed to roast right. This time I was trying to turn them half way through roasting, burned my hand, and spilled the seeds in the 400F oven. The few that I saved were not yet roasted, so were very hard to crack, but tasted great. The rest burned, filling the place with awful black smoke.
So, cut the squash in halves, scrape out the seeds with a spoon, and discard.
Remove the skin, cut the flesh into 1 inch slices, toss with olive oil, salt and pepper, and roast at 400F until tender, about 30 minutes, turning once. Cover with aluminum foil to keep warm.
Then we can use the roasted squash in a variety of ways. Here, I offer a salad and a soup. For the soup I used one of my "boullion cubes" - home-made chicken stock that I freese in small plastic containers, - and the fire-roasted peppers that I make every time I buy pepper, and then keep in olive oil with some balsamic vinegar for up to a week. The salad in the photo is served with slices of a roasted duck.

Warm salad of Kabocha squash with walnuts
for 1 serving:
1/4 roasted Kabocha squash, cut into bite-size pieces
a handful of mixed salad greens
1 Tbsp walnut pieces
1 Tbsp dried sour cherries
1 Tbsp crumbled blue cheese - optional

2 Tbsp Olive oil
1 tsp Balsamic vinegar
juice of 1/2 lemon
salt, sugar, pepper

Arrange the squash pieces over the greens, scatter the cherries, walnuts, and the cheese (if using) on top. Wisk the dressing ingredients together. Dress and serve.

Fall Colors Soup
for 1 serving:
1 Tbsp grape seed oil (or vegetable oil)
1 small yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1/4 lb roasted Kabocha squash
1 large red bell pepper
1 cup chicken stock
2 Tbsp heavy cream
1 Tbsp minced herbs (parsley, chives, basil) to garnish

Place the pepper on a hot grill, under a broiler, or on top of a gas burner, and roast, turning, until the skin turns black and blisters. Put in a covered dish or a paper bag and let cool. When cool enough to handle, remove the pepper, peel off the skin and remove the stem and seeds.

In a deep large pan, heat the oil. Add onion and garlic, cook until soft but not colored. Add the squash, the pepper, and the stock. Bring to a slow boil, cook for about 10 minutes. Take off the fire, let cool slightly. Puree in a blender (make sure to hold down the lid. If the soup is hot it would try to blast the lid off and spill).

Pour into a soup pot, heat up over low heat (don't boil), stir in the cream, serve, garnished with the herbs.


Fatcat said...

Soup looks good, specially if one can sprinkle some Parmesan cheese on top. Salad? ....I'll pass, well... maybe with some dried raspberries (and shredded cheese)

amarillo said...

This soup has a very mild flavor, Parmesan would be too sharp for it. Some sour cream, if anything.