Archive for the ‘squash’ category

bring me a squash in the wintertime

February 25, 2010

Sometimes it’s hard to wrap your mind around the idea that summer squash and winter squash come from the same family. They’re so different in flavor and texture. And they’re especially different in the responses they elicit from us.

When you invite summer squash into your garden, they come at you tender and exuberant and unrelenting as a two-year-old. Don’t think too hard, just do something! Fritters. Frittata. A quick sauté. Mixed grill. Chopped fine and marinated. A play date with pesto.  Zucchini bread, anyone? You don’t really have the time to imagine which of several potential flavor combinations might work best, and that’s OK, because there is always another harvest around the corner. Last summer I went away for a couple of days in the heat of squash season. I made a quick sweep of squash hills before leaving but somehow this managed to happen in my absence…(The smallest ones pictured here are about the size of my fist.)

Meanwhile, their hard-shelled cousins swell slowly in the back of the garden until the first frost warning. Compared to the yellow crooknecks and green scallops that keep me busy through July and August, the harvest of butternuts and acorns is meager indeed. It’s also finite. Which may explain why I tend to be so miserly with them… they are the jewel of my pantry, one of the few unadulterated homegrown ingredients that is available during the dark months.

Yesterday baked a couple of acorn squash in a curry-like concoction that included the first “harvest” from my windowsill garden—a few leaves from the kaffir lime tree.

These were the last of the precious acorns, but I guess I shouldn’t be too sad about that. While summer squash bless you all at once, these guys sustain us in a different way. And of course, I have seeds set aside for every variety… what seems like an ending is only the quiet part of the cycle.

hitting refresh

September 9, 2009

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I started working for a summer opera festival while still in college, and have organized my professional life around this summer idyll—if such an intense period can be properly called an idyll—ever since. So I’ve never lost touch with the back-to-school feeling; September, much more than the new calendar year, always feels like a fresh beginning to me.

Over the past few days, I’ve been emptying and scrubbing closets and cabinets. You have to be in the right frame of mind for such a task. The rules vary according to the object—a bag of dried chiles is one thing, a blazer another—but if it has gone unused for too long, whatever that is, it has to go.

Unless it can be used immediately. Saturday I found lots of half-bags dried fruits and nuts, plus a half-can of oats, so I made granola. The basic technique comes from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything, the idea of using some olive oil comes from something I read in the New York Times, the ingredients and proportions were dictated by my pantry, and the seasoning… well, that was just me.

Savory-sweet granola

1. Toast a scant cup of steel-cut oats in a baking pan set over two stove burners.

2. Once they begin to color, add 2 cups slivered almonds and 1 cup walnut pieces. Stir until these color as well.

3. Mix together about a tablespoon each of honey and olive oil, then drizzle over nut mixture.

4. Lightly crush about 2 tablespoons fresh dried coriander, and distribute this, along with some salt, over the nut mixture.

5. Combine so that nuts and oats are slightly sticky all over. Hands are the best way to accomplish this.

6. Bake in a 300-degree oven for 20 minutes.

7. Stir in about 2 cups of random dried fruit (I had cranberries, cherries, golden raisins) and several grinds of black pepper. Taste—maybe a little more salt? pepper?

8. Let cool in pan, stirring occasionally.

Fall cleaning is one way of marking the change of season. The Cherry Valley Harvest Party is another. And since it’s a potluck, it’s yet another opportunity to rid yourself of some excess. It’s tricky, though. Decluttering your garden for a potluck does not offer the easy virtue of packing up your unwanted stuff for Goodwill. For Goodwill, not only is the donator (of Dan Brown novels bought in an airport, of rayon dresses with colossal shoulder pads) anonymous, the recipients are theoretical: someone will surely be very glad for that coat with the enormous lapels. Surely.

At a potluck, no one is anonymous.  It is a performance, and for your neighbors—those who have always had their doubts about you, anyway, as well as those who have shown you so much kindness and generosity that if you sacrificed your few non-blighted tomatoes, it still wouldn’t be enough. If you’re going to get rid of squash in this forum, it better be good.

 Potluck Pasta Salad 

1. Pick all the summer squash that are ready to be picked (this year I have green scallop, along with the regular oblong yellow). Slice, salt, and sauté in olive oil. You only want one layer in the skillet, so you will probably need to do this in several batches. As you remove each batch, place in a bowl and tear lots of fresh basil on top. Continue layering warm squash and basil.

2. Start some water boiling for pasta. Put in a handful of peeled cloves of garlic, as well as some salt. When the water comes to a full boil, fish out the garlic cloves and throw in the pasta. The pasta shapes should be about the same size as the squash pieces.

3. Chop the garlic roughly, then use a fork and some salt to mash to a paste. Scrape into the bowl with the squash and basil. (If you like your garlic extremely pungent, use it fresh, without boiling. If you want it even more mellow, you can leave it to boil with the pasta… good luck finding it, though.)

4. Drain pasta. Add to bowl. Give it a stir. If everything isn’t nice and shiny, add a little more olive oil.

5. I should’ve mentioned this earlier, but I have a nifty pot with a strainer that fits right inside. So I can lift out the pasta and keep the boiling water for the next step. OR you could just start boiling the corn water at some earlier point. OR you could put another pot under the colander when you dump the pasta…. in any case, throw a few ears of fresh sweet corn into salted boiling water, then let it come back to a boil, then drain. When the corn is cool enough to handle, cut off the kernels and add them to the bowl.

6. Stir, taste, adjust. If your party is tomorrow, put it in the fridge. If it’s in a few hours, leave, covered, on the counter.

7. Just before leaving the house, give the dish another stir, and taste. Do what needs to be done. The basil will have fully infused the squash by now. It will also be wilted and blackish, so add some more fresh green leaves, along with some crumbled feta.000_0920

When I dropped off my stuff at the Herkimer Goodwill, the guy accepting it shook his head. “I don’t know how people do it.” To my mute question, he replied, “Give away books.” Yeah, I don’t know either. For a moment I found myself rethinking my choices—but then I walked away. I had that same flash of the hoarder’s instinct when I tasted the squash—but then I picked up my Pyrex and off I went. Turns out that between the barbeque and the beets and the brownies, I didn’t even have room for my little masterpiece on my plate. And I didn’t miss it one bit. Let the new year begin—I got everything I need!

transitions

September 4, 2009

After a summer of being pulled in many directions, I’ve finally had the luxury of spending a week mostly at home. And after months of yearning for some relaxed time to putter in the garden and kitchen, I suddenly found myself craving foods some distance from the ground. I made macaroni and cheese (more than once). I enjoyed assorted pastries at the coffee shop. Coconut shrimp. Grilled cheese with bacon. An ice-cream sandwich with neon green mint filling.

Not that there’s anything wrong with any of that, at least once in awhile. But what of my beloved garden? Was I just getting bored? (It is, after all, the season of squash…)

I think it’s actually something more complicated, something not unlike the semi-conscious self-protective distancing that can come to summer romances when participants fear a terrific new habit of being will not survive the winter. I know, of course, that I can maintain some contact with my soil in the cold months ahead—there will be shell beans and potatoes and winter squash, and if I get my act together there will be a freezer full of pesto, gleaming jars of beets, and who knows what else. But there will be no more lettuce growing outside my kitchen window. I’ll have to find my elbows and learn to shop at Fairway again. This is not a bad thing, but it is a little sad. As all transitions can be.

But why anticipate the chill ahead? Yesterday evening I determined to devote myself to the garden, and what began as mere duty immediately felt both comfortable and thrilling.

Time to bring in the coriander.000_0904

The green beans don’t produce much anymore, but I’ve left the plants because they provide an occasional slim, sun-warmed pod for snacking. As for the shell beans, there are dried pods on just a few of the plants, but I went ahead and brought those in, too. Starting the bean-bowls makes me feel better about the winter ahead.000_0905

Brussels sprouts still aren’t ready, but they’re fun to monitor.000_0899

The beets and carrots are thriving, but they can be left for later. The squash, on the other hand, cannot. I grilled a pile of them in the shadow the sunflowers, which are finally coming into their own, then layered them, warm, with lots of basil and a feathery fennel-tasting leaf that is part of my patch of salad greens.000_0908

Summer is on its way out, to be sure, but all the more reason to fully embrace its last days.000_0888

mid-august menu

August 27, 2009

000_0871soft lettuces with nasturtium flowers and mustardy vinaigrette

roasted beets with lemon thyme, green beans and toasted walnuts

grilled scallop squash with basil, lemon zest and yellow cherry tomatoes

grilled pork chops

cheese, bread, berries

flying squash monster

August 25, 2009

By August, the balance of power shifts in the garden. No longer must I clear weeds to give developing veggies room for self-realization. No, my infant plants have grown into big bullies, more than able to fend for themselves. The big task is bringing in the vegetables fast enough, before they become monstrous. In mid-August, the beans and squash seem to grow before my eyes. A typical daily  harvest looks like this:

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And yes, it frequently includes a monster that somehow managed to escape my notice and grow unchecked for an extra week or so. I thought this one might be nice stuffed. Since squash can be on the bland side, I planned feta/rice filling fragrant with fresh green coriander, arugula, mint and chives. And more squash.

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pasta with walnut sauce and today’s harvest

August 7, 2009

Cut one medium yellow squash and a fistful of green beans into bite-size pieces while boiling water for pasta. When water is at a full boil, add a couple of servings worth of dried pasta, similar in size to the vegetable pieces. Grind a large clove of garlic and a handful of walnuts with a pinch of salt. When the pasta is almost done, add vegetables to the pot. Return to boil, then drain and dump in a bowl. Cover the bottom of the pot with olive oil and turn to medium. Scrape in walnut paste. Do not clean mortar & pestle—the leftover bits will help with the next step. Chop arugula coarsely. Add half to mortar and grind, then add this to the pot. Remove sauce from heat and toss with pasta. Allow to cool for a minute or two, then add remaining arugula.000_0829

I was planning to add some shaved pecorino romano, but it smelled too good already and I was too hungry. Maybe next time.

here come the squash

July 28, 2009

and I say

it’s alright

do do do do do do do do do do do 

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