Sunday, November 28, 2010

Winter Squash- is it sweet? is it savory?

Winter squashes are really versatile -- as versatile as their cousins 'summer squash'. Zucchini can be savory or sweet (zucchini bread, muffins, cake...). And so can just about any winter squash. The most popular winter squash recipes are for pumpkin pie and butternut squash soup. Yum to both!  But I wanted to try some other recipes and ways to enjoy them--- but first, to the Turban Squash.
Turban Squash. A delightfully exotic and decorative vegetable! I actually didn't want to cut into it for about a week just because I enjoyed looking at it. But I am, at the end of the day, a chef, and had to cook it. Try to cook it.
I'd never prepared or cooked a turban squash before. It was hard! I don't mean difficult, I mean hard. It was nearly impossible to cut into. I tried a heavy cleaver- nope. Slender cleaver- nope. Variety of chef knives-nope. Nada. Nein. Non. Not happening. I thought about going into the garage for the circular saw, but dismissed that thought for sanitary reasons. I needed to soften it.. So I pierced the skin with a sharp paring knife, put it on a baking sheet and put it in a 350 degree oven to bake. I checked it at 30 minutes to see if it was soft enough to cut- not yet. And again at 45 minutes. And at 75. It ended up taking 90 minutes to get soft enough for me to even cut it in half! Even then it wasn't cooked through. I scraped out the seeds and put it back in the pan, cut side down with some water because it was getting a bit browned and I didn't want the flesh to dry out. Thirty minutes later it was done. Phew.
Here's a funny thing- about halfway through its roasting period, my house smelled like I was baking cookies! It had a really nice, mildly sweet aroma. It's flavor is a cross between pumpkin and butternut squash. Sweeter than acorn squash. Some of it I'm freezing, some I ate just mashed with a bit of Irish butter and salt, and some is going into lasagna for dinner tonight. This recipe is not at all traditional, but highlights the subtle sweetness of the squash while pairing it with the acerbity of sauteed endive (also part of my winter share).

Winter Squash and Escarole Lasagna
This dish is chock-full of veggies. I’d start with a classic antipasti platter of Italian meats, cheeses, olives and bread, and finish with a simple salad with a lemony dressing.
For the Bechamel Sauce:
2 Tablespoons butter
2 Tablespoons flour
1-1/2 cups milk
1 cup cooked winter squash
1 fat clove garlic, mashed
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
For the Escarole filling:
1 onion
1 bunch escarole
2 Tablespoons canola oil, or other vegetable oil
1/4 cup water
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
1/2 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
For the lasagna:
6 sheets ‘no-boil’ lasagna sheets
8 ounces mozzarella cheese

To make the Bechamel sauce: Melt the butter in a saucepan and add the flour. Stir to blend well. Add the milk and whisk until smooth. Mash the squash and stir into the milk mixture with the garlic. Cook until thickened (the consistency of whipped cream) and add the Parmesan cheese and nutmeg. Keep on a very low heat while cooking the escarole.
To make the escarole filling: Separate the escarole leaves and wash well in several changes of water. Cut into 2-inch chunks. Peel and slice the onion. Heat the oil in a skillet and add the onion. Cook until just beginning to wilt, and add half the escarole. Stir and cook until beginning to wilt, and then add the remaining escarole. When it begins to wilt, add the water and oregano and turn the heat onto medium-high. Cook until the water begins to evaporate. Season with balsamic vinegar and continue to cook until most of the moisture has evaporated.
To assemble the lasagna: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Spread a 9x13-inch pan with about 1/4 cup of the b├ęchamel. Top with 3 of the lasagna noodles. Spread all the escarole over the noodles and sprinkle half the mozzarella over the escarole. Top with the remaining noodles. Spread the b├ęchamel/squash mixture over the noodles, making sure to coat all the edges. Top with the remaining mozzarella. Place in the oven and bake about 25 minutes, until the cheese is golden and the sauce is bubbling. Let rest 10 minutes before cutting.

More winter veggie recipes to come! 

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