Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Week 16: Roasted Butternut Squash Salads

Once you get past the idea that salad is synonymous with lettuce, you begin to see the possibilities in other vegetables. Take butternut squash, for instance. Cubed and roasted, squash makes an ideal base for interesting fall salads.

Peruse salad recipes and you’ll find butternut squash paired with strong, savory flavors that play against its inherent sweetness: onion, garlic, mustard, arugula, vinegar, olives, Roquefort cheese, feta. With a couple of large squash from the CSA, I tried out a pair of salad recipes that, despite some ingredients in common, have very different flavor profiles. Either of these recipes makes a hearty side dish or light stand-alone entree, with nary a leaf of iceberg in sight.

Roasted Butternut Squash Salad Variations 

Preparation Step
1 medium butternut squash (2 to 3 pounds), peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch chunks
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil

Preheat your oven to 425°F. Toss together the squash, garlic, and olive oil in a large bowl. Spread the mixture out onto a large baking sheet (use two, if necessary, to not crowd the squash pieces) and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast the squash for about 25 minutes, flipping the pieces about halfway through the cooking time, until the squash is soft and just beginning to caramelize. If you are using two baking trays, switch their position in the oven midway through cooking. Take care to not overcook the squash or the cubes will collapse when they are tossed with the other salad ingredients. Remove the squash from the oven and let cool.

Variation 1: Roasted Squash and Chickpea Salad With Tahini Dressing
(Adapted from Smitten Kitchen, by way of earlier adaptations. The tahini dressing is also wonderful on falafel.)

For the Salad
Roasted cubes from a 3-pound squash (as described above)
One 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed (about 2 cups)
1/2 cup finely chopped red onion
1/4 cup chopped parsley

For the Dressing
1 clove garlic, finely minced
Pinch salt
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
3 Tbsp tahini
3 Tbsp water
2 Tbsp olive oil

Combine the squash, chickpeas, onion, and parsley in a large salad bowl.

Whisk together the garlic, salt, and lemon juice in a small bowl. Add the tahini, water, and olive oil, blending well with each addition. Adjust seasoning to taste. Dress the salad, tossing carefully, or serve the dressing on the side (my preference).

Variation 2: Roasted Squash and Black Bean Salad With Spicy Chipotle Dressing
(Adapted from My Pantry Shelf. To beef up the salad (so to speak), garnish it with feta cheese.)

For the Salad
Roasted cubes from a 3-pound squash (as described above)
One 15-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed (about 2 cups)
1/2 cup finely chopped red onion
2 Tbsp parsley or cilantro (optional)

For the Dressing
1/4 cup canola oil
2 garlic cloves, peeled
1/3 cup lime juice
1 Tablespoon honey
1 chipotle chili in adobo
1/2 teaspoon salt

Combine the squash, beans, onion, and parsley (if using) in a large salad bowl and set aside.

In a small saucepan, heat the oil and cloves of garlic over medium heat just until the garlic begins to brown. Cool slightly. In a blender container, combine the oil and garlic with all of the remaining dressing ingredients. Blend until smooth. Spoon a couple of tablespoons of dressing over the salad and toss carefully. Serve salad with remaining dressing on the side.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Week 15: Apple Pielettes

It's not often that you can say “I ate the whole pie myself,” and not feel a twinge of guilt or indigestion.

This week's recipe falls right into two food trends -- pie and miniature desserts -- but I don't care. These “pielettes” are just So. Darn. Cute. And tasty. And relatively quick to make, provided you keep to small-batch cooking and you forgo the little lattices and just use a cookie-cutter shape on top of each pie. Trust me on this.

These pies have a short baking time, so you can use apple varieties that tend to break down too much to go solo in a full-size pie. I had some early-season Macs from the CSA and I'm happy to report that they didn't turn into applesauce inside the pie crust. Just stay away from super-sweet varieties of apples. You need some tartness to balance out the sugar, and you need the sugar for a decent pie filling.

Apple Pielettes
(Adapted from this recipe. Makes 6 single-serve pies. For the best crust, keep the butter and water very cold and don't overwork the dough.)
3 cups diced apples (from 2 to 3 apples, peeled, cored, and cut into a 3/8-inch dice)
3/8 cup sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
3 T flour

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cold butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 tsp salt
2 T chilled water

Mix all of the filling ingredients together and set aside.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Place flour and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Pulse once or twice to blend. Sprinkle butter pieces on top and pulse a couple of times until the butter pieces are about the size of peas. Sprinkle water on top of the flour mixture (you may not need all of it, depending on the humidity and temperature of your kitchen) and pulse a few times until the mixture just begins to stick together.

Turn the flour mixture out onto a floured surface and knead together gently. Roll out the dough to a quarter-inch thickness, using a floured rolling pin.

Cut out 6 circles, using a 4-inch cookie or biscuit cutter or an overturned bowl or container. (An empty container from a pound of cole slaw or cottage cheese works well for this.) Reroll scraps of dough as needed. Use the remaining dough to cut lattice pieces or small shapes for the top crust.

Press each dough circle into a muffin tin, making contact with the bottom and sides of the tin and folding the dough along the sides as necessary. Divide the filling among the crusts, mounding it up a bit to compensate for any sinking of the filling as it bakes. Top with dough pieces as desired.

Place the muffin tin onto a baking tray to catch any spillovers of filling. Bake for 16 to 20 minutes, or until the crust is lightly browned and the filling is bubbling.

Cool completely on a rack. Use a knife to loosen around the edges of each pie, and use a spoon or knife to gently push the pies out from the tin.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Week 14: Creamy Corn Chowder, Without the Cream

The Programmer and I have spent much of the past couple of weeks reconfiguring office spaces. The process has been akin to an archaeological expedition: We’re unearthing files and mementos that haven’t seen the light of day in several years. Just this week I came across cute letters from the kids, preschool-era photos, printouts of work emails from employers that no longer exist, a techie parody of The Hollow Men, and a raft of editing-related cartoons clipped from various newspapers.

What does this have to do with working through our CSA stash? Not much directly, but after spending hours sorting, tossing, and moving all of this stuff, I’ve had to contend with (a) limited time in the kitchen and (b) a strong desire for comfort food. Both of these conditions led me to pull together this week’s recipe, a quick and satisfying soup that makes good use of late-summer corn.

Creamy Corn Chowder, Without the Cream
(Inspired by a USA Weekend recipe)

6 ears corn, husked
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 onion, peeled and diced
1/2 cup diced red bell pepper
1 pound new potatoes, diced
3 cups water
1 Tbsp fresh thyme leaves
1 tsp salt, or to taste
Coarsely ground black pepper, to taste
1 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley leaves

Cut the kernels from 3 ears of corn, and scrape the cobs with the back of your knife to release any liquid. Puree the kernels and liquid in a food processor and set aside. You should have about 2 cups of corn puree.

Remove the kernels from the remaining 3 ears of corn and set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot or 5-quart Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the onion, bell pepper, and cut corn kernels (but not the puree), and sauté until tender, about 5 minutes.

Add the pureed corn, diced potatoes, water, thyme, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat. Simmer, partially covered, 12 to 15 minutes, until the potatoes are cooked through and the flavors blend.

Stir in the parsley. Taste, adjust seasonings as necessary, and serve hot. Serves 4 to 6.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Week 13: Eggplant Stackers (and a Basic Marinara)

Did you feel that? That shift in the cosmos when the calendar flipped from August to September? There’s something different in the air this time of year.

Ragweed, mostly -- but like so many others, I make the mental shift from summer to fall once we get past Labor Day weekend. You know … it’s the return of school, and routines, and activities, and all that.

Our CSA share is shifting, too. We’re seeing apples now, and more variety overall. This week’s bounty included beets, a most-fragrant cantaloupe, carrots, corn, cucumbers, peaches, tomatoes, one Thai chili pepper, and two perfectly matched globe eggplants.

I immediately knew what I wanted to try with the eggplant. I adore Eggplant Parmesan, and this variation lightens up on the breading and cheese. Use fresh tomatoes for the marinara sauce, and you have a seasonal meal for whatever season you put September into.

Eggplant Stackers
(Adapted from The Boston Globe. Serves 4; 2 stacks per person)

2 large eggplant, ends trimmed, cut into 1/2-inch rounds to make 24 slices
4 Tbsp olive oil, plus 4 tsp olive oil (divided use), plus a little extra for drizzling
4 cups fresh marinara sauce (recipe follows) or sauce of your choice
1-1/3 cups finely grated Parmesan cheese (divided use)
8 fresh basil leaves
About 8 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
1 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley

Set an oven rack 8 inches from the broiler element and pre-heat broiler. Cover two large baking trays with foil. Divide the eggplant slices between the two trays, making sure the eggplant is in one layer. Brush the eggplant slices on both sides with oil, using a pastry brush and the 4 tablespoons of olive oil.

Working with one tray at a time, broil the slices for 4 minutes on a side, or until the eggplant is cooked through. Let the eggplant cool briefly on the trays.

Turn off the broiler and preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cover two 9-inch-square baking pans with foil. (The foil just makes clean-up easier. Skip it if you prefer.) Slice the mozzarella cheese thinly into 8 slices and set aside. (You may not need the whole 8 ounces of cheese to do this.)

Spread 1/2 cup marinara sauce in each baking dish. Set 4 slices of eggplant in each dish, starting with the largest slices. Then build up each eggplant stack as follows:
  • Top each slice with a rounded tablespoon of sauce and a rounded tablespoon of the Parmesan cheese;
  • Place a second slice of eggplant on top, followed by a rounded tablespoon of sauce, a basil leaf, and a slice of mozzarella cheese;
  • Put the remaining eggplant slices on top, and spoon 1/4 cup of marinara sauce over each stack.
Toss together the panko, the remaining 4 teaspoons of olive oil, the remaining Parmesan cheese, and the chopped parsley. Top each stack with about 2 tablespoons of crumbs. This may seem like a lot at first, but the crumbs bake down. (Refrigerate any leftover panko-Parmesan mix and save for another dish.) Drizzle a little olive oil on top of each stack.

Bake for about 30 minutes or until the crumbs are golden brown and the cheese is melting at the edges.

Basic Marinara Sauce
(My own recipe, but similar to dozens. Makes about 4 cups sauce)

4 pounds red tomatoes, peeled (use any variety, as long as they are ripe and in season)
4 to 8 cloves garlic (depending on size), chopped
2 Tbsp olive oil
About 1 tsp salt, or to taste

Set a strainer over a bowl. Cut the peeled tomatoes in half (if they are plum tomatoes) or in quarters (if they are larger, round ones) and squeeze or spoon out the seeds into the strainer, reserving any liquid that accumulates in the bowl. Chop the remaining tomato flesh.

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Saute the garlic for about 2 minutes, but do not let it brown, then add in the tomatoes. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer uncovered for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally and breaking up any large pieces of tomato with a spoon or potato masher. If the sauce seems too thick, add in some of the reserved tomato liquid until the sauce is the right consistency for your taste. Add salt to taste.

To peel tomatoes: Bring a deep saucepan of water up to a boil. Have on hand a large bowl of ice water. Cut a shallow X into the bottom of each tomato. Plunge two to three tomatoes at a time into the boiling water for 30 seconds, then plunge them into the cold water. The peel will begin to curl back from the tomato and will be easy to remove. If the peel remains “tight,” repeat the process from boiling water to cold water.