A love affair with butternut squash….
I came late to winter squash. But like all new converts, I’m a zealot, especially about butternut, winter’s gold — endlessly versatile, packed with good flavor and nutrition. In my household, it’s a seasonal staple for soups, stews and more.
Butternut is widely available right now, from fall harvest until early spring. It keeps well at cool temperatures and, unlike most vegetables, actually improves over time as its moisture evaporates concentrating its sugars.
I’m dazzled by butternut’s culinary possibilities. And by following simple techniques and flavoring suggestions, you’re ready to cook it up numerous ways with or without recipes.
I especially enjoy roasting it whole to avoid peeling and cutting, then scooping out its aromatic orange flesh to cook into a variety of dishes, including Tropical Butternut Bisque. Just roast it whole in a 375 degree oven until it can easily be pierced through with a knife, about 1 hour, then slit lengthwise. Scoop out the fibrous center and seeds and remove the skin, leaving the flesh to puree it in a food processor or to mash. It’s fabulous simply mashed like potatoes, with butter and a touch of ginger, cayenne or cinnamon, or as a vegetarian pate, blended with plenty of butter and a touch of fresh sage.
Pureed butternut is also the locavore’s substitute for canned pumpkin puree in baked dishes. Adapt any pumpkin recipe using the puree. My two favorites are Spiced Butternut -Cranberry Squares and Butternut Pie with Ginger Snap Crust. (Butternut may vary in texture, so if your puree is not thick, just drain a bit in a colander before using, or use the necks, which yield a thicker puree.)
Cubed butternut is just as versatile as roasted puree. To cube: peel and half or quarter the squash, preferably with a large shape knife, and scrape out the seeds and fibrous innards using a spoon. Voila, you’re ready to dice the butternut into long strips and then across them into cubes.
I like cheering up chili or stew with bright orange butternut cubes. Just drop them in to simmer until soft but not mushy. Or stir little cubes into a half cooked risotto, then finish it up. (I like regional shiitake mushrooms and leeks in this too.)
Or roast cubes by tossing them lightly with olive oil with a touch of cayenne pepper and minced garlic, adding herbs or onion if you like. (Or chili, cumin and cayenne pepper.) Roast them in a single layer, either solo or with winter vegetables, at 400 degrees until cooked through.
And there’s sweetened squash— an American classic. While writing The Massachusetts Farm to School Cookbook, I found that kids had no trouble eating their vegetables in a sweet butternut recipe. I just tossed local butternut cubes in melted butter, maple syrup and pumpkin pie spices to coat, then roasted them until browned. What a hit!
For a nutty snack or garnish you don’t want to forget butternut’s seeds. After scraping them out, make sure to remove any squash fiber from the seeds. Rinse and dry them, then roast in a skillet, dry or with a touch of oil, stirring occasionally until crunchy, then add salt to taste.
After feasting on summer and fall bounty, Mother Nature sent us a bonus — butternut — something to look forward to.
You’re going to love this juicy bird, because it’ll perfume your kitchen with ginger and anise and arrive well-browned with hoisin glaze.
My old neighbor, Ruth, raised meat chickens and I’m the beneficiary. Hers were fed on whatever they could find around the yard during the warm months, along with grain raised up county, so they’re local all the way. Even if you like convenient rotisserie chicken, and I do, the clean flavor of local chicken leaves it in the dust and is worth the extra expense. And you can eat them with a clear conscience. (For more about chickens and a touch of local food news see below.) Serves 4 or 5
4 pound chicken
l/3 cup hoisin sauce
l/4 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons flavorless oil
2 tablespoons coarsely grated ginger
l/2 teaspoon anise seeds
1 garlic bulb, cut in half
sesame seeds, optional
1 large bunch scallions, optional
l. Wash and dry the chicken. In a bowl large enough to hold the chicken, combine the soy sauce, hoisin, oil, ginger and anise seeds.
2. Spoon about 2 tablespoons of the mixture inside the chicken cavity. Truss with a string, or at least tie the legs together. Add the chicken to the bowl and turn it a few times to coat. Marinate 3 hours to overnight.
3. Preheat oven to 450°F. Stuff the garlic inside the chicken. Place it on a rack in a roasting pan filled with about 1⁄2 inch of water. Reserve the marinade for basting.
4. Roast for 15 minutes. Baste with the reserved marinade, then turn on one side. Reduce heat to 350 degrees, and roast for another 15 minutes. Baste again, and turn on other side. (You can stick a wooden spoon inside the cavity to turn it.) Roast for another 15 minutes. Cover the top with foil if skin starts to get too dark. Turn upright, baste again, and continue cooking for another 45 minutes, until the juices run clear when the thigh is pricked with a knife or the thigh is 175-180 degrees. Note that when you baste, don’t leave the door open too long, as it lowers the temperature radically. So baste and turn it quickly, or take the bird out of the oven and close the door, then baste and turn it before returning it.
5. Present whole, if you wish, then serve Carve or cut with poultry shears. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and garnish with grilled scallions, if you are using them. (To grill the optional scallions first remove their root endS. Toss the whole scallions with a touch of oil and salt. Grill using grill pan, outdoor grill or broil, turning once until soft, a bit browned and very wilted.)
Where to find it Regionally raised chickens that are not battery bred, but raised on small sustainable farms, can be hard to come by, but keep trying. Try co-ops, farms and stands, extension agents, winter farmers market and ask around. Local farm advocacy groups often post farm sources on-line. In the Berkshires, try Berkshire Grown. Local chickens are generally frozen this time of year. Don’t be put off, a local frozen chicken is still extraordinary.
The Price of Local Chicken We are used to cheap chickens that are raised in ways too grotesque to review in a recipe blog. But farming fresh chickens in a humane manner on wholesome food on a small unsubsidized farm is not cheap. Ruth bought her chickens from a hatchery in Pennsylvania through the US Postal Service, as there were no local sources. Twenty five chicks cost her only $65, but feeding them well is expensive, even on local grain that is not organic, because meat birds eat about 2 pounds of feed each week. and it takes about 10 weeks to raise a 4 pound bird. Chick to table, my 4 pound bird cost Ruth $14.00, which is exactly what she sold it for. My advice? If you want to eat clean meat, eat less of it!
What Kind of Bird? Ruth is new at raising chickens. She has a full time job and does it because she’s committed to eating local food, but also because she has an affinity for birds, something I’ll never understand. “They allow me to enter a completely different world and participate in it, a mix of wildness and domestication,” she told me while her parrot Boodle sat on her shoulder.
For a meat bird, Ruth wanted to raise The Delaware, a breed developed before factory birds. But they were sold out, so she went for the Kosher King,which are gray and white with bright yellow feet. They’re not the classic Tyson “cornish” hybrid, which apparently don’t care about moving around. But, these meat birds eat mostly grains and rejected other food like apples, which Ruth’s egg birds devour. Next year she’ll try The Delaware, who are more likely to enjoy food, grass and grubs, which will add to their flavor, Ruth says.
Hannaford Supermarket Helps Promote Local Dairy Farmers
State Agriculture officials joins farmers and Hannaford supermarkets to launch program to plromote local dairy farms. The program will help New England dairy producers brand their goods with a “Keep Local Farms” logo as a way to notify consumers that the product is locally produced.
(Don’t let the picture fool you; this is a gorgeous holiday dish. I didn’t have time to snap a picture before the kale was gobbled up, but it’s bright green, topped with hot pink seeds and light pink pickled red onions.)
Holiday Kale Salad with Lemon-Anchovy Dressing, Pickled Onions and Pomegranate Seeds*
Gorgeous, tasty, make ahead. This spunky salad adds vibrant greens to your holiday meal, and the spunky acidity of the dressing cuts its richness— all without stealing stove top space.
1-Make quick pickled onions. (I used about 1/2 a red onion per good-sized bunch of kale. Mine were quickly made and more lightly salted than is traditional, as the anchovies have plenty of salt.) Just cut your red onion very thinly, then plunge it into boiling water. Drain immediately. Toss in red wine vinegar, sugar and touch of salt to taste. Let sit for 3 hours to 3 days.
2-Pull or cut the greens off lacinato kale stems. Pile, roll and thinly slice the leaves (called a chiffonade).Wash and dry.
2-Mash one garlic clove per bunch of kale with 2-3 anchovy filets that have been lightly rinsed with water. Toss with a dressing — about 4 parts oil to 1 part fresh lemon juice. Drizzle in a tiny bit of maple syrup to taste.
3-20 minutes to an hour before serving, dress well, mixing to bruise the kale a bit, so it absorbs the dressing. (Start lightly with the dressing, adding more dressing if needed. This should be dressed more heavily than a green salad, but don’t drown it:)
4-Toss with some of the pickled onions and pomegranate seeds. Top with remaining onions and the pomegranate seeds.
* Full disclosure: This is a wild variation on an Amanda Hesser recipe from Food52.
My mother-in-law called my husband half lace-curtain and half shanty Irish. He calls himself neither, but has an Irish passion for cabbage and potatoes, which I have learned to embrace.
Right now my house boasts both the giant Chinese cabbage used here and large glass crock with half-fermented multicolored sauerkraut with ginger and anise. I picked up the giant Chinese cabbage at the Holiday Farmers Market, and it has served me well this week, because, like the rest of you, I’ve been in no mood to fuss in the kitchen after all that Holiday feasting.
So here are two simple recipes that shout, ” I’m cabbage, but won’t bite you!” They also use up my beautiful Chinese cabbage, which has a very light flavor and good crunch.
Weekday Noodles and Cabbage with Caraway
This simple toss works well, but you are welcome to stay loose; exact measurements aren’t necessary. Use whatever seasonal cabbage is on hand and any kind of pasta, though I love these cozy noodles. And you can easily leave out the carrot and dill if they’re not around. In other words, you can’t go wrong!
Makes 2 portions
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 teaspoon caraway seeds
About 5 cups or 10 oz shredded cabbage
1 carrot, cut how you wish, optional
Salt, preferably kosher or sea salt
About 8 oz dried egg noodles, medium or large
Generous amount of freshly ground pepper
Chopped fresh dill, optional
1-Melt the butter and set aside. Make sure the caraway, cabbage and carrot, if you are using it, are ready. (To shred cabbage, simply cut across it in thin slices.)
2- Bring about 2-3 quarts of water to a boil. Add salt and noodles. Cook until al dente, cooked but slightly firm to the touch, adding cabbage and carrots to the pot a minute or two before it is done. Drain, leaving some of the water still clinging to the noodles.
3-Toss the noodle mixture with the butter and caraway. Add a generous amount of salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Serve immediately in warm bowls, sprinkled with dill, if you are using it.
Quick Chinese Cabbage Slaw
Simple and fresh tasting. Perfect with a sandwich, and of course for using the last of that cabbage.
Makes 4-6 side dishes
About 4 cups shredded Chinese cabbage
2 teaspoons grated ginger or to taste
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1-2 tablespooons sliced scallions or chives
1 tablespoon roughtly chopped cilantro
Salt and cayenne pepper to taste
1/2 teaspoon sugar, or to taste
Toss all the ingredients. Taste. Adjust the seasonings if you like with extra salt, cayenne and ginger.
Tip:The freezer is the ideal place to keep herbs, spices, ginger, seeds and nuts. I store them, roughly alphabetized, in long door shelves.
My father adored family feasts. And every large meal ended with: “We need a sweet to shout finis!”
So on this Thanksgiving, the first since his he died, he was with us in spirit — cracking snappy, if harsh, jokes, mooning over my brother-in-law’s wine selection, criticizing my kale salad and “to shout finis,” savoring my butternut pie.
Thanks Dad for your sharp wit and warmth, as well as your food fanaticism, now mine.
Note: The picture is of my dad in his healthy days, on this 70th birthday, with my sisters, almost 20 years ago at The Rainbow Room in Manhattan. From the left: Ellie, the baby, me, the oldest, dad, and our middle sister, Joanna.
Thanksgiving has always been my mom’s favorite holiday, and leftover’s night was always one of my favorite dinners.
I often make a gigantic turkey for Thanksgiving with large batches of side dishes, because leftovers taste even better than the main event. (Especially once I’ve relaxed and the feasting is over.) This wrap uses the classic Thanksgiving leftovers you’ll probably have on hand, but feel free to improvise with whatever’s in the fridge, substituting cornbread for bread stuffing, or adding anything from pureed yams to brussels sprouts. If all the cranberry sauce is gone, don’t despair, try major gray’s mango chutney instead, it’s delicious. Serves 4
1-1/3 cups bread stuffing
2 cups shredded cooked turkey
1/4 cup gravy (if none left-over, see quick version below)
4 large burrito size flour tortillas
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup cranberry sauce
To assemble: Reheat the stuffing, turkey, and gravy in the microwave, just until hot, all at once or in batches, depending on the size of your microwave. Heat the tortillas, one at a time, in a large caste iron skillet or directly over a gas flame, turning frequently, for 15-20 seconds. Lay out a tortilla. Spread about l/3 cup of stuffing over the center, leaving a l-1/2 inch border around the edge. Scatter about 1/2 a cup of turkey over the top. Sprinkle with a pinch salt and pepper, then top with l tablespoon gravy and cranberry sauce, using a spoon to spread, if necessary. Fold in the sides and roll. Complete wraps with the remaining ingredients, or if you prefer, assemble all at once, assembly-line style.
Use lavash instead of tortillas, substitute l/4 cup mayonnaise for the gravy, add l/4 bunch watercress leaves. To assemble, spread each lavash with l tablespoon mayonnaise first, and scatter with the remaining ingredient in this order: turkey, salt and pepper, cranberry sauce, watercress. Roll. Cut in half on the bias. Wrap in waxed paper or plastic to store or transport.
Low-fat versions that are no sacrifice at all: Hot: Add more cranberry sauce and omit the gravy . Cold: Omit the mayonnaise and add more cranberry sauce. Note: Stuffing can be quite fatty, but, if it isn’t stuffed into the turkey, a very low-fat version is a snap to assemble, using either homemade or packaged stuffing.
These sturdy wraps can be made up to a day in advance. Hot wrap can be reheated in the oven, wrapped in foil or in the microwave.
l tablespoon butter
l tablespoon flour
1/2 cup chicken stock
salt to taste if homemade
Melt the butter in a small skillet or saucepan. Add the flour and cook, over medium-low heat, stirring frequent, until it is nut brown, about 2-3 minutes. Pour in the stock, whisking constantly, until it is thick, about 2 minutes. Salt to taste if using homemade stock.
You don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy these honeys, which use local apples, parsnips, onions, sour cream and potatoes, if you can find them. (I had trouble, but don’t get me started.)
The parsnip adds a touch of earthy sweetness to the traditional flavor, and underestimated fresh apple sauce is always heaven sent. I use thick sour cream from Hudson Valley that is shockingly rich, but just a touch is all that’s needed.
Potato pancakes are best served hot from the skillet by a grandmother who runs back and forth to the table, but they may be kept warm in the oven, then served at once. Makes about 24
fresh lemon juice
4 medium russet (baking) potatoes
1 small onion, chopped
1 small parsnip, peeled and grated
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
Generous pepper, freshly ground
sour cream or creme fraiche
1. Quarter the apples. Simmer, with just a splash of water, covered, stirring ocassionally, until they are very soft. Put through a food mill. If you don’t have a mill,peel and core them before you simmer, then puree in a food processor or with a masher. Add lemon juice to taste and sugar, if needed. Set aside.
2. Grate* the potatoes into a colander. Let sit. After they have turned a brownish-pink, about 15 minutes, rinse them thoroughly. Press down in the colander to remove any excess water. Lay potatoes in one layer on a kitchen cloth. Roll and squeeze out any remaining liquid. Repeat if still wet.
3. Combine the potatoes with the onion, eggs, salt and pepper in a medium bowl.
4. Coat the bottom of a large skillet, preferably non-stick, generously with vegetable oil until hot but not smoking. Carefully spoon about 1/8 cup (2 tablespoons) of the batter into the pan. If you like, spread each a little thinner with a fork.
5. Cook over medium heat, until crispy brown, turn carefully with a spatula, then brown the other side, about 6 minutes total. Work in batches, adding oil to the pan if needed.
6. Serve immediately or remove to a newspaper on a large baking sheet, held in a 200 degree oven. Accompany with a bowl of sour cream and apple sauce. Or, using two spoons (or a finger and a spoon), top each with a little bit of apple sauce and sour cream.
*Of course you can use a food processor, but when you grate them by hand they’re better. They just are, but watch those knuckles.
At Leslie Taft’s shiitake farm in Housatonic before she moved to Maine
These nostalgic treats make a stress free Thanksgiving side, because they can assembled ahead, refrigerated, then cooked while the turkey is waiting to be carved. Local dried mushrooms, shallots and cheese abound. (Hawthorne Valley Farm makes what they call an Alpine Cheese with a touch of caraway.) And, if you like, add a few regional dried cranberries to the mix. Makes 18 large stuffed mushrooms
9 dried shiitake mushrooms
18 very large cultivated mushrooms
3/4 cup bulgur
1/4 cup olive oil
1/3 cup chopped shallots
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, or to taste
l-1/2 tablespoons chopped parsley
3/4 teaspoon salt or to taste
l/4-1/2 teaspoon ground pepper or to taste
1/3 cup grated hard cheese
4 lemon wedges, optional
1. Preheat oven to 425˚F. Place the bulgur in a medium bowl. Cover with boiling water and soak for 30 minutes. Drain through a fine sieve, pressing out any extra water. Return bulgur to the bowl.
2. Prepare the mushrooms: Cover the dried shiitakes with 1 cup boiling water in a small bowl. Let it stand until softened, 10-15 minutes. Cut off and discard their stems; chop the caps. Remove the stems from the large mushrooms and chop. Wipe the caps clean.
4. Heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the shallots, chopped mushroom stems, shiitakes and thyme leaves. Cook until mushrooms are tender, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Add the mushroom mixture to the bulgur. Stir to combine with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil, parsley, salt, pepper and, if needed, extra thyme to taste. (Don’t over salt, as the cheese will add salt.) Stuff the mushrooms very full, about 2 tablespoons each.
5. Arrange the mushrooms on a baking dish large enough to hold them tightly in one layer. When you are ready to bake them, add about 2 tablespoons of boiling water to the bottom of the dish. Cover tightly with foil. Bake until mushrooms are soft all the way through, about 20 minutes.
6. Remove the mushrooms and bring the oven to a broil. Sprinkle cheese over the tops of the mushrooms. Cook them close to the broiler until the cheese browns a little, about 2 to 3 minutes. (Watch closely!) Serve with lemon wedges, if you like.
**Want to skip the cheese? Mix breadcrumbs, preferably from fresh whole wheat bread, with a little oil or butter. Add salt and pepper to taste, and even a little chopped nuts if you like. Broil as you did with the cheese, but a little further way from your heat source.
No recipe needed
Seasonal roots make a perfect holiday side, but they’re also a winter staple in my home — eaten hot out of the oven, reheated just a bit and served on a sandwich, lathered with pesto, blended together, then added to broth for a soup,, even eaten cold out of the fridge as a snack.
Roots for a crowd
For Thanksgiving, cook them ahead on lots of trays, as they shrink down and go fast. Reheat in a hot oven while you’re putting everything out. (I like to cook some of them under the bird so they can soak up its juices, then toss them with the rest of the veggies.)
Works with any roots
Start with the best local roots you can find. In the picture above you see locally grown potatoes,multi-colored carrots, celery root, sweet potatoes and onions that I bought at the River Valley Market, my local food coop. But I joined a fall CSA, so I’m getting a new batch next week from Red Fire Farm.
I cut them all about the same size, on the large side, then toss them with fruity olive oil, fresh rosemary that I picked on my porch, lots of coarse salt, minced garlic and freshly cracked pepper. Add onion if you like too. Peeling the potatoes and sweets is optional. I like ‘em unpeeled when they’re organic; just make sure they’re well-scrubbed.
I like to keep the seasoning simple, as there are already so many flavors on the holiday table. But you can add all kinds of herbs and spices to suit your fancy, such as cumin seeds, onion powder — the works. It’s hard to go wrong, really. (I go wild when dinner is roasted roots topped with fried eggs.)
Cook roots on sheet pans on parchment paper in single layer with a little space between them at 400-425 degrees until VERY done, caramelized. Or roast at whatever temperature you roast your bird. (The key is to over cook ‘em a bit. You don’t want these al dente.)
Roasted roots and more for the holiday!
Try Brussels Sprouts and more in this Halloween Roast (so, it’s no Halloween:) I also like brussels sprouts roasted with bacon and shallots.
Here’s a stove top alternative side in an article I liked, featuring a Japanese take on root veggies. Burdock is hard to come by, but the recipe should work with any roots. Sesame oil can be strong, so I might cut it with some flavorless oil, but that’s me. A sprinkle of black sesame seeds might be nice too. Link here
After the holiday
When (or if) you’re ready to eat poultry again, try this for a one pot supper. Top a tray of roasted roots with organic chicken thighs — tossed in a touch of balsamic, olive oil, smoked paprika, rosemary and garlic — added chicken after the vegetables have cooked for 8-10 minutes. Crisp chicken, tasty roots.
Alert: Buried the lead at the bottom…..
I — and you too? — keep falling in love with food that gets “discovered,” then mangled.
Think Sushi, which I savored with my dad in the early 60′s, each piece lovingly prepared to order at the sushi bar by Ya Chan, who hand-picked crab right out of its shell. Grumpy me can’t stand those yuppie rolls with the theme “too much is not enough,” that include spicy mayo and zero fresh fish, just the farm raised salmon that’s fatty and flavorless. Why isn’t just-leapt-out-of-the-water enough? (The all mighty buck, I know.)
But this isn’t just about pricey food made cheap.
For the last several decades the food-o-my-people, bagels, are everywhere, pumped up and doughy. They’ve become dinner rolls pressed into bagel shapes, rather than crisp and chewy miracles.
Croissants? Don’t get me started. When McDonald’s serves ‘em you know it’s all over.
OK, I get it, America is about co-optation of everything, so I need to relax and go with the flow. But I get worried when we move on to produce. Broccoli? See the article below. Kale? How did kale get fashionable? I should be pleased! Can’t wait to see how they mess it up……
Article link: Creating the New Broccoli Craze