Archive for ‘what’s in season wednesday’

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. :-)

April 13, 2011

Welcome to Spring!

Spring is finally here! Over the past few weeks we’ve had quite a few sunny days, and I do have to say that there is nothing like a bright blue spring sky to uplift spirits. I’ve started to see leaves on trees and colorful flowers beginning to bloom all over the city. With the onset of warmer weathers things begin to get exciting in food again – I’m (almost) done with squash, root vegetables, and potatoes, and I am ready to move on to lighter fruits and vegetables.

Summer is my favorite food season – grilling, fresh fruit, seafood, and my favorite part – farmer’s markets! Boston is lucky to have an abundance of wonderful farmer’s markets throughout the city neighborhoods, and I plan to visit as many as possible this summer and feature them here.

So, in honor of a new season, this week’s edition of What’s in Season Wednesday is dedicated to spring! A variety of fruits and vegetables are in season in New England throughout spring and into early summer. I have listed a few of my favorite spring produce items below and included their individual harvest seasons:

Arugula – mid May – late September
Asparagus – late April – late June
Beets – mid May – late September
Broccoli – mid June – late October
Cabbage – early June – late October
Chard – mid May – mid September
Collards – mid May – mid November
Fava beans – May – late June
Garlic greens – mid May – late June
Mint – early April – early September
Onions – early June –  September
Parsley – mid May – October
Rhubarb – mid May – late August
Spinach – April – early July
Strawberries – mid May – mid July
Thyme – mid May – September

February 9, 2011

what’s in season wednesday

no, that isn’t a monster vegetable… this week’s edition of what’s in season wednesday is turnips! once considered a poor man’s vegetable, turnips have a delicious, hearty and unique flavor that helps them to really stand out amongst the winter vegetables.

turnips are root vegetables, and like last week’s what’s in season wednesday, are members of the cabbage family. turnips are high in calcium, potassium and vitamin c. turnips can be white/cream colored or purple and should not be bruised on the outside.

things to remember about turnips:
1) due to a high water content they do not store long. i recommend keeping them in the fridge in a plastic bag
2) flavors and spices that enhance the turnip flavor include: curry, black pepper, lemon juice, chives, parsley, and thyme
3) turnips are fabulous in a winter vegetable stew

typically i roast turnips with carrots, parsnips and potatoes to make a delicious side dish. however, last week my friend gave me some extra turnips that she wasn’t going to use and i decided to try potato and turnip pancakes. it was a delicious alternative to simply roasting the turnips!

potato & turnip pancakes:
5-6 small to medium turnips, peeled and cut into small cubes
1-2 medium to large baking potatoes, peeled and cut into small cubes
1 bunch of thinly sliced scallions
1 egg beaten lightly
1/2 cup flour
canola or vegetable oil
salt and pepper and chili powder
paprika
sour cream

cook the chopped turnips and potatoes to boiling water  until soft. remove from heat and mash turnips and potatoes while adding scallions, egg, flour and salt, pepper, chili powder (to your taste).

meanwhile, heat about 1/4 of an inch of oil in a large fry pan. the oil is hot enough once a few drops of water sizzle in the pan. drop small amounts of turnip and potato mixture and flatten with a wooden spoon while they fry. depending on how hot the oil is 4-6 minutes on each side will cook them through.

transfer to a paper towel and let cool 1-2 minutes. sprinkle paprika, a few raw scallions on top of each pancake and serve sour cream on the side!

January 27, 2011

what’s in season wednesday

brussels sprouts are the feature of this edition of what’s in season wednesday. a versatile vegetable with belgium origins (approx. 16th century), brussels sprouts are extremely good for you – one serving has more vitamin c than 3 whole oranges! about 75% of our nation’s brussels sprouts are grown in california. brussels sprouts have a notoriously bad reputation, but if cooked well and seasoned just right, brussels sprouts are a wonderful, delicious and nutritious side dish to any winter meal.

a beautiful cold season crop – the peak season runs september to february -brussels sprouts are lucky to be in the same family as the famously nutritious broccoli, cabbage, collard greens, kale and mustard greens. they really are just tiny versions of cabbage.

it is best to steam your sprouts, or roast them for an extra crispy texture and flavor. i’ve even had them fried buffalo style, and they were delicious. boiling/overcooking brussels sprouts is a bad idea because it will significantly reduce the amount of sulforaphane, which is believed to prevent cancer. they are also a great source of indole-3-carbinol, believed to block the growth of cancer cells.

to make delicious chili-powder brussels sprouts:

try to buy sprouts still on the stalk when possible. they’ll be fresher, and its fun to cut them off. sprouts already removed from the stalk work fine too. wash them well, and slice them in half. in a large fry pan heat up 1-4 tablespoons of butter (depends how many sprouts you have, and how much you like butter) and add sprouts. put a lid on the fry pan and steam for about 10 minutes.

next add flavor… season the sprouts with salt, pepper and chili powder. the chili powder is key here – i discovered last winter that brussels sprouts come alive when spiced with chili power, the combination is delicious. how much you add depends on your spice/heat tolerance. i add a lot! continue to steam on low/medium heat until sprouts are cooked well – tasting is the best method to determine if they are done. they should be slightly crisp, but easy to chew. if you have overcooked your sprouts they will be bitter and have a bad after taste (hence the bad reputation!). chili-powder brussels sprouts are simple and reheat very well so make extra!

nutritionally speaking: excellent source of vitamins a, b6 and c, great source of manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, riboflavin, thiamin and very high in dietary fiber. low in saturated fat, sodium, and no cholesterol