Wednesday, October 21, 2009

I Cook the Squash Electric


Today, Chicago hosted Indian summer with its endless blue skies, 70 degree temperature and an electric landscape. It doesn’t make sense, but the sudden burst of warmth seems to draw my attention to the dramatic change in scenery. The trees, bushes, even the hostas have suddenly changed into their showy autumn attire. Shades of highlighter yellow, safety cone orange, and fuschia red dot the streets. How is it that the leaves seem most vibrant just before plunging to their death?

As I drove by the umpteenth blazing tree, I thought of the squash that I cooked on Sunday.

Have you tried a Red Kuri? Before Sunday, I hadn’t. In year’s past, I’ve stayed within a regular squash rotation – pumpkins, Acorn, and Butternut. Recently, I’d expanded the repertoire to include Delicata and Carnival. I love them so, and thus I’ve found it hard to move away from the favorites. Winter squash require a commitment – they aren’t the casual love of summer. They need love and coaxing to meet your needs, so it’s hard to move away from what you know.

Well, now I know the Red Kuri. With a firm, pumpkin like texture, it can be substituted easily for the sugar or pie pumpkin. The difference that it will impart is in taste and color, glorious color. The Red Kuri isn’t red, but bright fiery orange. A friend today described it as neon. The flavor, on the other hand, is mellow, with a touch of chestnut, which is what inspired the following recipe.

Red Kuri Squash Stew with Chestnut Crepes
4 servings

½ Red Kuri squash, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
2 ½ tablespoons butter
1 cup medium dice of yellow onion
2 small stalks of celery, cut into small dice
1 tablespoon minced garlic
¼ teaspoon cumin
1/8 teaspoon coriander
1 yellow carrot, cut into 1/8-inch thick half moons
2/3 cup tomato puree
1 1/3 cup chicken stock
½ bay leaf
1 small sprig of thyme
1/2 pint tiny brussels sprouts or medium sprouts halved

Heat 1½ tablespoons of butter over medium-high heat in a Dutch oven. Add the cubed squash and cook undisturbed lightly browned. Stir and repeat. Remove from the pan to a small bowl. Heat the remaining butter in the same pan. Add onion, celery, and carrot and sauté until softened about 5 minutes. Add garlic, cumin, coriander, and 1 teaspoon kosher salt stirring for 1 minute until the garlic and spices are fragrant. Return the squash to the pan and cover the vegetables with tomato puree and chicken stock. Add bay leaf and thyme and reduce the heat to very low. Cover and cook for 1 1/2 hours. Uncover and add the brussel sprouts. Return the lid and cook for an additional 1/2 hour or until the sprouts are tender.

Chestnut Crepes
Between 8-10 crepes, depending on how careful you are with the batter

1 cup cold water
1 cup cold 2% milk
4 large eggs
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup chestnut flour
4 tablespoons melted unsalted butter
4 tablespoons clarified butter

Blend water, milk, eggs and salt in a blender. Add flours and butter and blend for 1 minute. Cover and refrigerate the batter for at least 2 hours and up to overnight. When the batter is ready, heat a crepe pan or a non-stick saute pan over high heat. Brush a bit of clarified butter on the pan and add ¼ cup of batter, swirling to coat the bottom with a pan. Cook for 1 minute to a 1½ minute. I flip the crepes by easing it onto a salad plate, then covering the plate with the pan and flipping it over. Brown the other side for about 30 seconds. Crepes can be wrapped between sheets of wax or parchment paper and then frozen.

Kids' Cooking Tips
Kids help prepare the vegetables and in the stirring of the stew. The can mix the crepe batter. Older kids can help cook the crepes.

Squash, carrots, onions, and celery from Genesis Growers (IL)
Garlic from Growing Home (Chicago, IL)
Tomato puree from Tomato Mountain (WI)
Brussel sprouts from Green Acres (IN)
Chestnut flour from Hillside (MI)
Eggs from Cedar Valley Sustainable Farm (IL)
Milk and butter from Organic Valley (WI)

And forgive me Walt Whitman for bastardizing your language.

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