Home Plate, January 2008: Winter Squash, by Hillary Nelson As the days begin to grown longer, something happens

to the garden produce we’ve stored for the winter. Even in a cool, dark root cellar, vegetables seem to sense the changing season. Suddenly carrots, onions, potatoes and garlic sprout green limbs, the first step toward flowering and setting seed for these biennials. Winter squash, those nutrient 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 to offer 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 acorn squash, the welcome progeny of a couple of volunteers that turned up on a load of rotted manure last summer. The easiest fix was to simply turn the acorns into puree and pop that into 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, and turn 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 bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for an hour or so, until a knife can be easily inserted into the flesh. When cool, I scoop out the flesh with a spoon and pack it in one or two cup containers. 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 is available in the following recipes, including pumpkin, buttercup, delicata, kabocha, Hubbard, acorn, and butternut. Just be sure your puree is nice and thick – you should be able 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 laborintensive cousin. For added texture, I start with fresh squash, but you can substitute a cup of squash puree. To complement the sweet, rich flavor of the squash, serve this risotto with a salad made of bitter greens (such as escarole, dandelions or radicchio) sprinkled with 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 will work) 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

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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 a simmer, reduce heat to low and cover. Allow the rice to cook for 15 or 20 minutes, until it has absorbed much of the liquid and is al dente. Stir in the butter and cheese and then add 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 a feather-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 it overnight, 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 the remaining ingredients, except the flour, in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until the mixture is smooth, scraping it down from the sides of the bowl once or twice so it mixes evenly (if you don’t have a food processor, either use an electric mixer, or mix with a wooden spoon). Pulse in the flour, one cup at a time, until the dough is smooth. It will still 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

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½ cup chopped walnuts sugar for sprinkling

Combine the raisins, orange juice, and vanilla in a microwaveable bowl and heat for 30 seconds or so on full (the mixture should get hot, but don’t allow all the liquid to evaporate). Stir and set aside so the raisins can cool and absorb the liquid. If you don’t have a microwave, you can heat the ingredients to a simmer in a small non-reactive pot then 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 with your hands to incorporate everything evenly. The dough will be a bit sticky. You can cover 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 to twice its original size. When the dough has risen, turn it out onto a lightly floured counter and pat it into a rectangle. Cut the dough into twelve even pieces. Sprinkle the tops of the scones with sugar to taste. Put them onto a baking sheet covered with parchment paper or a silicon sheet. 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 them in the top of the oven for about 15-20 minutes, turning the pan halfway through so they cook evenly. If they get too brown on the bottom, flip them over with a spatula to finish cooking sugar-side down. They are done when golden brown and no longer soft in the middle. 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 small amounts of flour, up to an additional ½ cup, until the dough is no longer sticky. It should still 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 at room temperature. While the dough is rising, butter and flour twelve fluted brioche molds. If you don’t have brioche molds, use two muffin tins, with every other cup floured and buttered.

When the dough has doubled, pat it out into a rectangle. Cut the dough into quarters. Set one quarter aside. Divide each of the other quarters into four pieces; roll each of these pieces into a ball. Cut the remaining ¼ into 12 pieces and roll them into balls. Push your finger firmly into the center of each large ball of dough to make a deep hole. Twist a point onto the bottom of each small ball. Top each large ball with a small ball, inserting the points into the holes. Press firmly but carefully so the topknots stick. Put the brioches into the molds, or into every other cup in the muffin pans (they rise too much to bake them right next to one another in muffin pans). Preheat the oven to 375. Beat the additional egg in a small bowl with a little water. When the brioches have risen, use a pastry brush to coat the top of each with the egg wash. Try to get a little in around the top-knots to help them stick during baking. Bake for 15 – 20 minutes in the center of the oven, turning once to ensure even browing. They are done when they are nut brown on top, dark gold on the bottom, and slip easily from the molds. Let cool for a few minutes in the molds, and then lift them out and set to cool on a baking rack. Two Kinds of Squash Soup The first recipe is based on one from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s wonderful River Cottage Cookbook. The coconut milk version is my own take on H. F.-W.’s great but ridiculously rich idea – a vegan twist with a Thai taste. You can use any kind of winter squash for this so long as it’s basically bowl-shaped to begin with. Squash Soup served in the Shell • • • • • • two or more smallish winter squash, like acorn, kabocha or buttercup, one per person freshly grated gruyere cheese, enough to fill each squash 1/3 of the way up (about ¼-1/2 cup per squash) heavy cream, enough to fill each squash about 2/3 of the way up (about ½ - ¾ cup per squash) nutmeg to taste (freshly grated is best) salt and pepper to taste small pieces of tinfoil or parchment, well oiled

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Cut the tops off the squash to form a lid. Cut a little bit of the bottom off of the squash so that it will sit flat. Be careful not to cut too deeply – you don’t want to make a hole in the bottom. Scoop the seeds and strings out of the squash. Fill each squash 1/3 of the way up with cheese, then pour the heavy cream over the top to about 2/3 of the way up. Add nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste. Carefully put the filled

squash into a baking dish, with a small piece of parchment or tinfoil beneath each squash (this will help you to lift the squash out of the dish without making a hole in the bottom of it). Alternatively, the squash can be baked in individual oven-safe bowls set on a sheet tray. Set the tops back on each squash to form a lid. Bake for about an hour, turning halfway through so they cook evenly. When the squash are done, a toothpick will slide easily into the soft flesh. Watch them carefully toward the end so they don’t collapse. Remove them very carefully from the baking dish so you don’t break them and let the liquid run out. Set into bowls, or serve them directly in their baking bowls. To eat, you simply scoop some flesh off the side of the squash and spoon it up with melted cheese and cream. Thai-flavored Squash Soup Follow the directions above except substitute canned coconut milk (well-stirred; low-fat is fine) for the cream and leave out the cheese. Add hot red pepper flakes, brown sugar, freshly grated ginger and a salt to taste (just a pinch of each is good). If you have some lime leaf or lemon grass around, chop off a small piece and throw that in, too. Bake as above. If desired, serve more crushed hot pepper, fish sauce, chopped fresh basil, and a wedge of lime on the side for diners to add as desired.

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