Thursday, November 15, 2007

Stuffed squash

I remember when I was in my 20s and lived in Manhattan. My boyfriend at the time had a car, and we drove up to New England one beautiful fall day to drink in the autumn colors and stop at the local food stands on the sides of the roads. We found a farm that would sell milk to us, practically straight from the cow. We didn't bring any containers with us since we didn't know that such a treasure existed. The farmer was kind enough to rummage around and come up with a large glass jar with a tight fitting lid. He filled it for us and I think we might have paid a dollar for it.

We turned south and began heading back to New York when we saw a stand by the side of the road selling apples and squash. The colors demanded our attention, so we stopped and browsed among the heaps of acorns, butternuts pumpkins and gourds. I remember looking at the rich colors and textures and realizing that I had never cooked a squash before. Determined to remedy this hole in my education, I selected an acorn squash - firm and dark with flecks of orange. There was something so honest and appealing about this vegetable - a rugged, no-nonsense skin meant for someone who was comfortable using tools. This was not a painted fingernail kind of veggie - this was a hammer and saw kind of thing. Since I had never met a vegetable I didn't like, I was ready to roll up my sleeves and wrestle this thing into the oven.

Which is pretty much what it took. I had sharp knives, it's true, but still, this thing wasn't going to give up easily. I handed it over to the boyfriend, and thankfully he didn't hack off any fingers cutting that thing in half. There it lay, it's orange flesh and large seeds exposed. As I recall, all I did with it was to scoop out the seeds, put some olive oil on it, lay it on a cookie sheet cut side down and bake it for about an hour. I remember liking it, but not being convinced that it would be a mainstay of my diet.

Then I moved to New Mexico, and my husband was the master of the kitchen. He's the one who taught me most of what I know about cooking. One of the things he used to love to do was to cook potatoes and squash in the fireplace. He'd cut them in half, put some oil on them, wrap them in aluminum foil and use tongs to poke them deep into the fire we kept burning to heat the living room. So while he was busy making his fantastic concoctions in the kitchen, the house began to smell of roasting squash and potatoes. If there's anything that can stimulate an appetite more, I'd like to know about it!

These days I lack the fireplace, and the barbecue really isn't the same. So even though we're having an insanely warm fall, I have this necessity to cook squash. Here in San Diego, temperatures are hovering close to 70 degrees. In the past, I used to congratulate myself if I managed to make it to November without turning on the heat. These nights I'm sleeping with the windows open and only one blanket. I'm tempted to turn on the ceiling fan at night. But next week is Thanksgiving, and I cannot imagine being this close to our yearly food festival without some winter squash on my plate.

As a woman with a crazy-busy acupuncture practice, I like to cram in as much healthy food as I can, and if I can make it a one dish meal - all the better! Stuffing vegetables seems to be the ideal solution for this - the bigger the vegetable, the better. (This was not always the case in New Mexico, where we grew zucchinis. Anyone who has ever done this knows what I mean. It's about the ones that get away. You look under those elephant ear-sized leaves one day and pick every zucchini you can find. The next day you go back, lift up a leaf, and there's a zucchini the size of a small sedan lying there!) But I digress....

For this stuffed squash I chose a carnival squash, probably as much for the name as well as for the size. Perhaps it's years of practice. Perhaps it's sharper knives or the different variety. I don't know, but I didn't find it that difficult to cut it in half. I scooped out the seeds, coated the squash lightly in oil and filled it with what I had available. In this case it was:

about 1/2 cup of rice - a combination of wild and brown
about 1/2 cup of ground turkey
1 apple, cored and cubed
1/4 portobello mushroom, cubed
1 cauliflower floret, cut up
dash of cinnamon, nutmeg, fennel, salt and pepperAmazing that I didn't use any onion or garlic. I used to think that if you wanted to cook anything with the exception of oatmeal, you started with onion and garlic. I'm not completely over my addiction to those two, but I've learned that with the right combo of other spices, it's possible to survive. Instead, I sauteed all of the above except for the apple and then added the apple just before stuffing. I popped the whole thing into a 350 degree oven for about 50 minutes, pulled out an old Cesaria Evora CD, and finished reading "Eat, Pray, Love." Between the book, the music and the food, I was livin' large.....For more health news, visit Mission Valley Acupuncture
For a place to share which natural remedies work for you and which don't, visit my other blog: Second Opinion


Susan said...

I know what it's like to fight with a squash for its flesh; you need to hack it with a hatchet. Regular knives are meek by contrast.

I love this savory, complex stuffing you've created. Cauliflower, apples and mushrooms sound so darned good. I wish I could tuck into a rich golden bowl of this goodness right now (yes, at 6:40 in the morning!).

Katie Zeller said...

I love stuffing vegetables - any and all of them with room - squashes, tomatoes, onions, peppers, mushrooms...
I attack my squash with a big cleaver...but mon mari uses ther machete on the pumpkins!

Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) said...

I love stuffed squash -- and this looks and sounds delicious. It's definitely cold enough here in Rhode Island -- in fact, we're expecting our first snow showers this weekend!

Unknown said...

Susan - My eldest brother is fond of saying that ANYTHING can be eaten for breakfast. He has always been confounded by the "rules" that say what can be eaten at what time.

Do you happen to have a hatchet you're not using? ;-)

Katiez - Lucky you, to have a mari with a machete! I agree with you - I love any and all veggies stuffed.

Lydia - I have snow shower envy!! There's something profoundly wrong with having summer-like weather in mid November!

Anonymous said...

What a nice story Toni! I've always wanted to cook something in a fireplace... When I was a kid we would make popcorn that way, but nothing else. I can nearly smell the roasting squash... It's delicious.

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

Got you beat Toni, it was 80 in Dallas today.
Great story on the squash in the fire place. And your stuffed squash is lovely, I wouldn't ordinarily think of putting in cauliflower. I don't think I'll even try to get over onion & garlic.
Thanks for stopping by my place.

Nora B. said...

Lovely post, Toni. And I love the way you stuffed the squash. I am a fan of all things squash, so this will be a good one for me to try.

Unknown said...

What a lovely story, Toni! I can relate, totally! My first college roommate was a Manhattan girl who had never seen a farm stand before. We made a trip to Door County together and somewhere near then-somnolent Egg Harbor, we found a place that sold apples, squash and pumpkins. We bought a dozen apples and a squash of some sort and cooked it the next day with cinnamon, butter and brown sugar. I always love the aroma of a squash baking.

Once again, we are on the same page!

Chris said...

Toni - I love this! This is perfect timing. I have a carnival squash sitting in my counter bowl wondering if I am every going to cook it. This looks yummy!

Toni said...

Ann - Now popcorn is something I've NEVER made in a fireplace! My husband not only cooked food in our fireplace, but he also fired some small, hand-made pots of his. He was very much the artist!!

Tanna - I wouldn't ordinarily think of putting cauliflower in, either. But there it was - a lonely floret. What's a girl to do? ;-)

Your blog is an absolute pleasure and a treasure!

Nora - My approach comes from a very practical perspective - I just look and see what's in my fridge. I'm sure I never make the same thing twice!

Mimi - Thanks so much for stopping by again! I'm sure your roommate learned a lot about how to create wonderful, heart-warming meals with you.

Chris - Once again, we are in sync. I'm sure your squash will be slightly different and every bit as yummy!

Thistlemoon said...

Isn't New England great? I just love all the fresh veggies and especially squashes - pumpkins, acorn, butternut, carnival.

Toni said...

Jenn - I miss New England at this time of the year! said...

Gosh the story is as great as the recipe looks. We have an old family 'recipe' for stuffed acorn squash ... we add leftover mashed potatoes, pan roasted pecans, and some fresh sage ... delicious. And, for busy folks like you, it's easy to do and makes a meal especially if you pair it with some enzyme-laden fresh vegetables or salad! Yum. Do you make your own bread too?

Diane at Sand to Glass
(and Dogs Naturally)

Susan from Food Blogga said...

Mmmm... I really like the addition of cauliflower. What a wonderfully savory and warming dish this is, Toni. And I've done serious damage to myself with the carving. :(

Unknown said...

Diane - I've been making my own bread recently. Don't know what's come over me, actually. Well, I do, and I'm thinking of writing a post about it soon......

Susan - The cauliflower was added simply because it existed in the fridge. I'm always doing stuff like that!

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