Archive for ‘fall’

October 19, 2011

What’s in Season Wednesday – Butternut Squash

Welcome to beautiful fall!

I think the fall season is the epitome of Henry David Thoreau’s famous quote:  ‘Live each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influences of each.’ I am happy to say I have completely resigned myself to fall; crisp and savory foods and an assortment of delicious october inspired  beers make this by far my favorite season of flavors and tastes.

Fall is the peak time in New England for apples, arugula, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, beets, cranberries, onions, potatoes, and squash. Make sure to shop for locally grown produce, you’ll be able to taste a difference (and most importantly will support your local farms!)

Over the past few years I have really begun to love squash – butternut, spaghetti, acorn – there are so many varieties and each can be used in so many different ways. Technically, there are two types of squash – winter and summer. Butternut is considered a winter squash which means it is harvested in the early fall for use in during the late fall and winter months. The most popular variety of butternut squash is actually the Waltham Butternut so this squash has roots just outside Boston!

Think of squash like a potato, the cooking methods are endless, so you might as well get creative. It can be roasted, baked, or mashed, and the subtle sweetness of squash pairs so well with many other flavors and textures. To celebrate squash and fall I made one of my favorites – butternut squash and spinach stuffed shells with homemade vodka cream sauce.  And of course, there is lots of cheese… ricotta, mozzarella and parmesan collectively bring a perfect level of savory to the sweet squash.

I  made A LOT of this dish so I’d have leftovers for a week and could share with my hungry friends :-) so the recipe below has actually been trimmed down for 1 butternut squash worth of stuffed shells ( I realize most people don’t cook enough food for 20+ servings on a normal day).

Butternut squash and spinach stuffed shells:

1 medium sized butternut squash
1 box of extra large shells (you will probably only use 1/2 to 3/4 of the shells)
1 big bunch of spinach (my farmers market bunch was extra big)
1 8 oz. ball of fresh mozzarella
16 oz. container of part-skim ricotta cheese 
about 1.5 cups grated parm cheese
1/3 cup of light cream
salt & pepper

Directions:

1) Cut open butternut squash (I quartered mine) and scrap out the seeds and mush from the belly of the squash (I forgot to do this until after I baked it, as you can see in the photo, and it worked out fine doing it after). You can use all of the flesh from the butternut squash. Once cut open, place flesh side down on a baking sheet with a small layer of water. Bake for about 20-25 minutes at 350.
2) Meanwhile, prepare shells as the box instructs and place aside once cooked al dente.
3) Lightly steam the spinach, place aside.
4) Once the butternut squash is soft to the touch (and your kitchen smells marvelous), take it out of the oven and let them cool.
5) After they’ve cooled, scrap the flesh of the butternut squash skin into a big bowl and mash with a fork. Add spinach, light cream, ricotta and half of the parm to the squash and mix well. Season with salt and pepper.
6) Stuff mixture into shells, and place into greased baking dish. Pour vodka cream sauce (recipe below) on and around shells. Chop the mozzarella into small pieces and add on and around shells. Finally, sprinkle the rest of the parmesan cheese on top.
7) Bake about 20-25 minutes at 350 – don’t bake for too long or you will dry out the shells. Broil for 3-5 minutes at the end for a crispy textured top.

Vodka Cream Sauce:
This recipe is adapted from Trattoria, by Patricia Wells. This is a spectacular book, I highly recommend it.

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
6-8 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 tsp crushed red pepper
1 large can crushed tomatoes (I got the largest the store had)
1 nip of vodka
1.5 cups light cream
chives, chopped
lots of parsley, chopped
salt & pepper

Directions:

1) Add oil to a large sauce pan, then add chopped garlic and red pepper flakes. Cook on low-medium heat carefully, it is very easy to burn garlic!
2) After a couple of minutes add chopped tomatoes and stir. Let ingredients cook for about 15-20 minutes to achieve the right consistency of the sauce, stirring occasionally.
3) Add vodka to sauce.
4) While stirring, add light cream slowly. You might need to add a little more than 1.5 cups, depending on how much sauce you want on your shells (it will be absorbed by the shells so add extra if you really want a sauce-heavy dish).
5) Add parsley and chives, stir a bit more and salt and pepper to taste.
*This sauce is really, really good. It is a wonderful match for the sweet squash, but it is also delicious on penne pasta, where it really shines as the main part of the dish… it is much better than any jar of vodka sauce you’ll find and worth the effort, I promise. :-)