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January 2008 Winter Squash

January 2008 Winter Squash

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Published by hilnel

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Published by: hilnel on Dec 03, 2009
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12/02/2009

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Home Plate, January 2008: Winter Squash
, by Hillary NelsonAs the days begin to grown longer, something happens to the garden produce we’vestored for the winter. Even in a cool, dark root cellar, vegetables seem to sense thechanging season. Suddenly carrots, onions, potatoes and garlic sprout green limbs, thefirst step toward flowering and setting seed for these biennials. Winter squash, thosenutrient rich staples of dogged locavores, begin to succumb to the late-winter flabbies,giving in to soft spots here and there on their tough skins, as if they want to be ready tooffer up their hidden seeds to the compost heap in early spring.And so last week, I decided I had to get serious about my enormous basket of acornsquash, the welcome progeny of a couple of volunteers that turned up on a load of rottedmanure last summer. The easiest fix was to simply turn the acorns into puree and pop thatinto the freezer to use in a variety of recipes over the next few months.My puree technique is to halve the squash, scoop out the seeds and stringy innards, andturn them cut-side down on a baking sheet. Then I pour a little water into the bottom of the sheet (to help the squash steam) and cover tightly with tinfoil. The squash then bakein a preheated 375 degree oven for an hour or so, until a knife can be easily inserted intothe flesh. When cool, I scoop out the flesh with a spoon and pack it in one or two cupcontainers. It will keep for 6 months in the freezer or for a week or so in the refrigerator.Though winter squash varieties have subtle variations in texture, flavor, and sweetness,they are fairly interchangeable in recipes. Feel free to use whatever winter squash isavailable in the following recipes, including pumpkin, buttercup, delicata, kabocha,Hubbard, acorn, and butternut. Just be sure your puree is nice and thick – you should beable to stand a spoon in it.
Winter Squash Risotto
(4 servings as a main dish, 8 servings as a side dish)This risotto doesn’t require constant stirring but is just as creamy as its more labor-intensive cousin. For added texture, I start with fresh squash, but you can substitute a cupof squash puree. To complement the sweet, rich flavor of the squash, serve this risottowith a salad made of bitter greens (such as escarole, dandelions or radicchio) sprinkledwith freshly cooked bacon and tossed with a good Sherry wine vinaigrette.
1 lb. (about three cups) peeled, seeded and diced squash (about one acorn squash – a little more or less is fine)
3 ½ cups vegetable or chicken stock (homemade is best, but bouillon cubes willwork)
½ tsp. dried sage (2-3 crumbled leaves)
4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 ½ cups Arborio rice
4 Tbs. unsalted butter at room temp.
½ cup (2 oz.) freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
 
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
chopped fresh parsley, about ¼ cup (optional)
chopped fresh rosemary, about 2 Tbs. (optional)Combine the squash, stock, sage and garlic in a heavy pot. Bring to a simmer, cover the pot and cook for 5 or 10 minutes, until the squash is soft. Stir in the rice, bring back to asimmer, reduce heat to low and cover. Allow the rice to cook for 15 or 20 minutes, untilit has absorbed much of the liquid and is al dente. Stir in the butter and cheese and thenadd salt and pepper to taste. Serve the fresh herbs on the side for diners to add to taste.
Winter Squash Brioche or Scones
(12 servings)Both the brioche and scones start out in the same place – a squash-enriched yeast batter –  but halfway through the recipe, they head off down different paths. One leads to afeather-light, orange-scented roll, the other to a hearty raisin and walnut studded scone.Either is perfect for a Sunday brunch. Simply mix the dough on Saturday, refrigerate itovernight, then shape the rolls and let them rise on Sunday morning.
For the basic dough:
¼ cup warm milk 
2 tsps. instant yeast
1 stick (4 oz.) unsalted butter, melted
1 cup mashed squash
grated rind of one orange (about 1 tsp.)
1 tsp. salt
¼ cup brown sugar 
2 cups unbleached white flour Dissolve the yeast in the warm milk for 5 or ten minutes. Then, put it with all theremaining ingredients, except the flour, in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until themixture is smooth, scraping it down from the sides of the bowl once or twice so it mixesevenly (if you don’t have a food processor, either use an electric mixer, or mix with awooden spoon). Pulse in the flour, one cup at a time, until the dough is smooth. It willstill be a bit sticky.
For the scones
:
½ cup raisins (golden are delicious)
2 Tbs. freshly squeezed orange juice
1 tsp. vanilla
1 ½ tsps. freshly grated ginger, or 1 tsp. dry ginger 
1 tsp. cinnamon
¼ tsp. nutmeg, freshly grated if possible
 
½ cup chopped walnuts
sugar for sprinklingCombine the raisins, orange juice, and vanilla in a microwaveable bowl and heat for 30seconds or so on full (the mixture should get hot, but don’t allow all the liquid toevaporate). Stir and set aside so the raisins can cool and absorb the liquid. If you don’thave a microwave, you can heat the ingredients to a simmer in a small non-reactive potthen set aside to cool. Toss the spices with the walnuts in a large bowl until well mixed.Turn the basic dough into the bowl with the walnuts. Add the raisins and knead well withyour hands to incorporate everything evenly. The dough will be a bit sticky. You cancover with plastic at this point and let it rise in the refrigerator overnight. Otherwise,cover with plastic and leave at room temperature for an hour or two, until it has risen totwice its original size.When the dough has risen, turn it out onto a lightly floured counter and pat it into arectangle. Cut the dough into twelve even pieces. Sprinkle the tops of the scones withsugar to taste. Put them onto a baking sheet covered with parchment paper or a siliconsheet. Cover lightly with plastic and set aside to rise for a half hour or so, until doubled.Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. When the scones have doubled, bake themin the top of the oven for about 15-20 minutes, turning the pan halfway through so theycook evenly. If they get too brown on the bottom, flip them over with a spatula to finishcooking sugar-side down. They are done when golden brown and no longer soft in themiddle. 
For the brioche:
3 eggs + 1 additional egg for brushing the tops
½ stick (2 oz.) additional melted butter, cooled
¼ cup orange juice
2 ¼ cups additional flour (approximately)Add the eggs one at a time to the basic dough, pulsing or stirring well after each addition.Pulse or stir in the orange juice and additional butter. Turn the dough out into a large bowl.Stir in the additional flour one cup at a time. After adding the second cup, add smallamounts of flour, up to an additional ½ cup, until the dough is no longer sticky. It shouldstill be quite moist, but the butter will keep it from sticking to your hands. Knead for several minutes with your hands until the dough is smooth. Put it into a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and set it aside to double in size, either in the refrigerator overnight, or atroom temperature. While the dough is rising, butter and flour twelve fluted briochemolds. If you don’t have brioche molds, use two muffin tins, with every other cup flouredand buttered.

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