Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Jazzing up winter squash

Around now, especially in the frozen north and northeast, tastebuds and tempers need a bit of revival, a bit of food that's bright and glamorous. The food most in abundance here at the end of January is winter squash, and that's ok. In fact it's perfect because that all vivid orange glory is beta-carotene, fiber and Vitamin A galore. Just what the body needs.

I've explained the various versions in How to Fix a Leek...the book, with hints for serving some of the more exotic ones. Red kuri is especially tasty stuffed with kale and mushroom or fruit studded saffron rice (recipes already on this blog or in that book). The ubiquitous green buttercup squash pictured here has dry flesh terrific for serving as deep fried wedges dipped in salsa. It must be baked first at 350º for 45-50 minutes until it softens, then cut in wedges, peel, dip in spiced raw egg, roll in cornmeal or breadcrumbs and deep fry until the crust is crisp. Salt and serve with fresh salsa for a colorful, nourishing treat.

In Veggiyana, the Dharma of Cooking, I offer the opportunity to grate butternut squash with other winter veggies into an elegant timbale or to chop it with potatoes and black beans into a Peruvian stew you can serve with quinoa.

Left: Winter Vegetable Timbale

Earlier on this blog, I've offered varying recipes for turning red kuri, sugar pumpkin or butternut squash (often used interchangeably) into the Libyan Tershi, a delicious dip to serve with warm pita. Here's a repeat from an earlier post, a definitely not humdrum winter soup but one that will galvanize you.

Chunky Squash Soup with Chickpeas

              1 butternut squash, peeled and diced, reserving the seeds* 
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 dried red chili, crumbled
2-3 tbsp olive oil
2 sticks celery, trimmed and finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
a few sprigs of fresh flat-leaf parsley, leaves picked and chopped, stalks finely chopped
2 small red onions, peeled and finely chopped
6 cups organic chicken or vegetable stock
2 cans (13/5-14 oz) chickpeas, drained
1/3 c ground/finely chopped almonds
½ tablespoon fennel seeds
½ tablespoon sesame seeds
½ tablespoon poppy seeds
      sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
              2 lemons, zest of
             a few sprigs of fresh mint, leaves picked and chopped
             harissa paste or hot sauce
extra virgin olive oil
*if you don’t have squash seeds, use ½ cup packaged pumpkin seeds

Preheat your oven to 400°F. Place the squash, cumin and crumbled chili on to a baking tray. Drizzle with olive oil, mix together and place in the preheated oven. Roast for 45 minutes until the squash is tender.

Once the squash is roasted, heat a large saucepan and pour in 2 tbsp olive oil. Add celery, garlic, parsley stalks and two-thirds of the onion. Cook gently with a lid on until the veggies are soft, about 5-8 minutes. Add the roasted squash and let it sweat for a few minutes, then pour in the stock. Bring to the boil, turn down the heat and simmer for 15 minutes.

Add the chickpeas and simmer for 15 minutes more.
Meanwhile, in 2 tsp olive oil, toast the squash/pumpkin seeds with the ground almonds, fennel, sesame and poppy seeds until they are nicely browned all over.

Season the soup well with salt and pepper.  If you have a hand-held blender, whiz the for a few seconds so it thickens, but there are still some chunky bits. If you don’t have one, pour about 2/3 of the soup into  a food processor and whiz a few rounds. Pour it back into the pot and blend.

Keep the soup on simmer. Mix together the lemon zest, chopped parsley leaves and mint leaves. Chop the remaining onion until it’s really fine, then mix into the zesty mixture.

To serve, spoon ½ tsp harissa paste or hot sauce into each bowl. Divide the zesty herb mixture between the bowls. Ladle in the soup and stir each bowl once with a spoon to blend everything. Sprinkle on top the toasted seeds and almonds, and finish with a drizzle of really fruity olive oil.

Serve this with toasted pita, naan or lavash and perhaps a cheese platter.

NOTE: if you use vegetable stock, this soup is vegan and gluten-free.

And finally, here's an English roasted squash soup recipe as it was posted in England: 

The choice of pumpkin or squash is key to the flavour of this soup and we have taken to using a mix – kabocha for starchiness, and butternut, hubbard or crown prince for sweetness. We roast the pumpkin to intensify its flavour.
pumpkin or squash 600g peeled and seeded (equivalent to about 1kg peeled and unprepared pumpkin), cut into 3cm cubes
olive oil 6 tbsp
medium onion 1, thinly sliced across the grain
garlic 2 cloves, thinly sliced
freshly ground cinnamon ½ tsp
crushed dried chilli a pinch
medium potato 1 (about 150g), peeled and cut into 2cm cubes
vegetable (or chicken) stock 1 litre, preferably hot
coriander 1 medium bunch (about 40g), coarsely chopped
caster sugar 1-2 tsp (optional, depending on the sweetness of the pumpkin)
To serve
unsalted butter 50g
pine nuts 30g
ground cinnamon ½ tsp
good-quality Greek yoghurt 100g, thinned with 1 tbsp milk
garlic ¼ clove, crushed to a paste with a pinch of salt
Preheat the oven to 220C/gas mark 7. Toss the pumpkin with 2 tbsp of the olive oil, a good pinch of salt and some black pepper and spread it out in a roasting tin. Roast for about an hour, until very soft and starting to colour.

About 20 minutes before the pumpkin is ready, heat the remaining oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat. Add the onion and a pinch of salt, and cook for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onion begins to turn golden. Now add the garlic, cinnamon and chilli. Fry for another minute to release their flavour, then add the potato, and a little salt and pepper. Cook for 5 minutes more, taking care that the garlic doesn't burn, then add the roasted pumpkin and the stock and bring to a gentle simmer. Cook for 20 minutes or until the potato is soft.

Meanwhile, prepare the garnishes. Melt the butter in your smallest pan, add the pine nuts and cinnamon and fry gently until the butter begins to caramelise and foam and the pine nuts are starting to turn a very pale brown.
Scrape the bottom of the pan to release any bits that are stuck and pour the pine nuts and butter into a cool bowl to stop the cooking. In another bowl, season the yoghurt with the crushed garlic and some salt and pepper.

With a handheld blender or in a food processor, blend the soup until smooth. Return it to the pan, stir in the chopped coriander and check for seasoning. If the soup is not sweet enough, add a little sugar. Serve with the seasoned yoghurt, warm brown butter and pine nuts on top.

For unbeatable simplicity,  you can roast a kabocha squash until tender, cut open, remove the seeds and serve warm with gomasio (salt and sesame seeds ground together) and tamari. That's Japanese style.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Gadzooks! Broccoli is now hot.

Fourteen of the sixteen elementary school kids in my Cooking Matters class told me this week that their favorite vegetable is....broccoli!  If that is indeed the case, and they weren't just saying what they thought they should, this is a huge change of the times. Only a generation ago George HW Bush very publicly  maligned this most nourishing of vegetables.

As it happens winter is high season for broccoli. It's a cold weather crop. So now is the time to dig in.
You have choices: these days there's more than the just plain broccoli of the past. There's broccolini--a skinnier Japanese hybrid of Italian broccoli and gai-lin, often called Chinese broccoli. There's broccoli rabe aka rapini, an Italian attempt to take broccoli back to its roots when ancient Italians crossbred broccoli out of cauliflower and turnip: being closer to the turnip makes rabe leafier and more bitter than the original Calabrese or green broccoli. And now there's the sci-fi looking Romanesco broccoli with its bizarre prickly heads and weird colors. Obviously some broccoli or other for everyone.

0riginal Italian bred green or Calabrese broccoli, the thickest of the lot, is traditionally steamed. This retains most of its powerful medical benefits. Once steamed, it can be stir fried with mushrooms, red bell peppers and perhaps pork or tofu. It can be served with ginger and lemon, see recipe in How to Fix a Leek and Other Food From Your Farmers' Market, and it can also be blanched then quickly made into Korean cold sesame broccoli, recipe in Veggiyana, the Dharma of Cooking.

Better yet, original thick broccoli makes a warming winter soup. This way for 6-8:
3 cups broccoli, diced to 1/2"
1/4 c unsalted butter
1 cup chopped onion
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
2 tbsp flour
 2 c half-and-half
3 c chicken broth
3/4 lb sharp Cheddar, grated
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper, ground
1 1/2 tbsp Dijon mustard

Blanch broccoli in salted water, drain, and set aside.
Melt butter in a large saucepan, add onions and sauté until soft and translucent.
Add garlic and pepper flakes. Sauté 30 seconds. Whisk in flour and cook 2 minutes.
Whisk in half-and-half and broth. Bring to a boil. Reduce to simmer.
Stir in cheese. Add nutmeg, salt, pepper and mustard.
Put on minimum heat and add broccoli.  OR you can puree the broccoli for a smooth soup.

Being Italian, broccoli likes sausage and being atop pizza with it. It likes being in a pasta salad with sopresata salami, roasted red peppers and toasted walnuts and Caesar dressing.

Spiky Romanesco broccoli can be broken into florets and roasted for 15 minutes at 400º with olive oil, sea salt, a pinch of red pepper flakes, some minced garlic and grated Pecorino cheese.

I adore broccoli rabe and simply prepare it by chopping it up and blanching it in salted water to leach out its turnip bitterness. Then I drain it carefully and toss it in a sauté pan lined with hot olive oil and freshly ground black pepper. I add in four large minced garlic cloves, a pinch of red pepper flakes and sauté on medium heat about 5 minutes. Then I pour on a little bit of really fruity olive oil and sprinkle a healthy dose of sea salt and just dig in.  The next day I put this on pasta with canned fava beans and fresh lemon juice.  Or put it under tofu coated and fried in cornmeal crust (see Veggiyana, the Dharma of Cooking). I use up the last tidbits in an omelet.

Broccoli rabe under cornmeal crusted tofu and red pepper sauce:

Broccolini is skinnier and slightly sweeter than standard Italian broccoli. It's got Chinese gai-lin in it. You can eat it raw in salads or just steam it for a minute to do the same. I am working on a recipe for farro with broccolini, toasted pine nuts and fresh lemon so please stay tuned. Broccolini makes great goma-e, the Japanese sesame sauce salad. A spinach goma-e recipe is in Veggiyana, the Dharma of Cooking but all you have to do is grind toasted sesame seeds with soy sauce and sesame oil into a thin paste to put on your blanched broccolini. In honor of its Italian roots, broccolini will take a pesto dressing, which is to say dilute your pesto with oil and vinegar into a thin dressing. It's Chinese roots make it ideal for quick stir fries.  It can be sublime with chunks of sweet potato or yam roasted until the sugar emerges.

And then there are broccoli sprouts.....