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Posts Tagged ‘squash’

For a dinner party for eight this week, I needed a vegetable dish that would be (a) autumnal, (b) good alongside a roasted capon, and (c) easy to finish, so I could concentrate on my barely adequate poultry carving ability and get all the filled plates to the table promptly. Roasted root vegetables turned out to be an ideal dish for the occasion.

Preparation of the vegetables does take a fair amount of work, most of it peeling and chopping, but it can all be done well in advance. Even the roasting can be done early in the day: If anything, the dish is even better when reheated in the oven. And it’s good to have a number of people to feed: The more diners there are, the greater the variety of vegetables you can include.

Here’s the mixture I used this time. Clockwise from the top, butternut squash, white sweet potatoes, garlic, carrots, mushrooms, cipolline onions, red Bliss potatoes, and parsnips. (Turnips are another common choice, but I’m not overly fond of them.)

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Though mushrooms aren’t a root vegetable, I like to add them for textural contrast, as well as flavor. When all the roots have become meltingly tender, the ‘shrooms remain a little al dente. Other times I’ve tossed in green beans, broccoli, or asparagus.

My faithful knife man and I started work in the morning of the dinner party – I peeling all the veg and he reducing them to more-or-less one-inch chunks. I put them in my largest roasting pan and tossed them with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, chopped fresh rosemary, and salt.

cut-up veg

Recipes I’ve sometimes tried for the dish say to spread the vegetables in a single layer in the roasting pan. I’ve found that isn’t necessary. In fact, in a 450° oven, it’s too easy to dry them out and turn them into leather that way. (Those recipes also say to use extra-virgin olive oil, which I feel is wasted in long-cooked dishes.) I just stir my vegetables around every 15 minutes or so as they cook. In that close contact, they render quite a bit of liquid at first, which I think helps keep them tender and blend their flavors, and it all evaporates by the time they’re done.

The denser the batch, the longer it takes to cook, of course. Mine this time took about 1½ hours. When it was done, I let it cool and set it aside, covered, in a cool place. In the evening I stirred a little more olive oil into the vegetables and heated them through, uncovered, in a 375° oven.

roasted

As always, they were excellent. Their natural sugars had caramelized just enough, and the flavors had had time to harmonize beautifully. This is a dish that naturally combines the pleasures of comfort food with an almost haute cuisine subtlety. When I offered seconds on the main course, I had more takers for the vegetables than the capon.

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The names of this week’s trio of recipes may not sound as if they have much in common. They may not sound like things you’d expect to find on an antipasto table, either – but that’s exactly where they come from: Michele Scicolone’s The Antipasto Table. Michele is a good friend and the author of over a dozen cookbooks. For years I’ve had the pleasure of tasting her recipes at her dinner table, as well as at my own.

Italians generally take a liberal view of what can be served at the beginning of a meal. They’re equally broad-minded about where in the meal many dishes can be placed; as the book’s subtitle says, these are “recipes to serve as first courses, side dishes, or entire meals.” Still, I’d never thought of winter squash or shallots as antipasti, so those two dishes particularly piqued my interest.

There’s a profusion of squashes in the markets now, as the cool weather comes in. I chose a buttercup for this experiment. That’s the smallish, dark green Turk’s-head shape, with a pale inset cap. The toughest thing in this recipe was peeling and cutting each half of the hard, raw squash into quarter-inch slices. (No knife-wielding husband was available on that day.) I brushed them with olive oil and baked them on a cookie sheet. Then I layered them in a dish, sprinkled the layers with chopped garlic and mint, and poured on a warm marinade of wine vinegar, sugar, and salt. They sat in the refrigerator for a required day before I tasted them.

Very nice. The sweetness was more due to the squash itself than to the small amount of sugar – in fact, knife-wielding husband thinks the dish would be better with no sugar at all. The vinegar gave just enough bite to be pleasant. I fear I didn’t mince my garlic fine enough, because it completely overrode the flavor of my (frozen and defrosted) mint. It’s clearly important to have good, fresh, mint.

Another day I did the next recipe. I parboiled shallots for five minutes, peeled them, browned them in a skillet with some olive oil, poured on some Italian white vermouth, covered and cooked them until they were tender. Michele calls for tiny shallots; mine were bigger than that and so took longer than the 10 minutes the recipe specified. But they eventually softened and turned a nice bronze color. We ate them alongside broiled lamb chops, and they were delicious, with a different sort of sweetness and succulence than onions.

Finally, there were the parmesan walnut wafers, on yet another day. I made a dough of flour, grated parmigiano cheese, chopped walnuts, milk, and egg. Shaped it into logs and chilled them overnight. Cut slices (so much easier than slicing that squash!), baked them about 10 minutes, and cooled them on a rack.  Another good, simple dish, and perfect with a glass of wine.  Interestingly, when eating one by itself the cheese flavor predominated. Taking a sip of white wine and then a wafer brought the nuttiness to the fore.

So there were three successful new dishes. The wafers, as noted, were excellent as nibbles with a cocktail wine. The shallots made a fine vegetable accompaniment to lamb. The squash was the most unusual dish, and though I found it too assertive to eat much of by itself, it will be an intriguing addition to a varied antipasto spread.

Incidentally, you can learn more about Michele and her cookbooks by visiting her website, www.michelescicolone.com.

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