Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Cheater, cheater, SQUASH eater?

It’s mid-week, and I’m a slacker. I don’t want to make a full meal tonight, and we had take-out Indian last night, so no more take out for us (we have a house rule that only 1 night a week can be take-out). Thankfully, I can toss together a yummy meal using the stuff still sitting in my fridge.

Butternut Pesto Bake

Find your biggest knife (your favorite chef’s knife, a cleaver, saber, whatever…I use a 7 inch Santoku) and
               1 small/medium butternut squash
Manhandle, curse, and otherwise chop the entire thing into cubes that are ½-1” or so. Toss all of these into a bowl and glug on
               3-4 Tbs olive oil (Moulins Mahjoub is wonderful http://www.moulinsmahjoub.com/english/huila.htm)
1-     1 ½ tsp kosher salt
¾ tsp fresh cracker black pepper

Toss to coat the butternut thoroughly. Really get your hands in there, and work it in. On a large baking sheet, dump out the entire contents of the bowl in a single layer and put it in a 375 degree oven for 20-30 minutes, turning them halfway through. Rub in the salt and olive oil on your hands (it’s a great exfoliator) and rinse off the seasonings from them. Wipe off the excess oil on a towel, but don’t wash it off, it’s a good moisturizer.

While the squash is cooking thank yourself for making pesto last weekend. Oh! You didn’t make any pesto? Well, looks like you have more work—

Awesome Pesto
In your food processor, lightly pulse
               3-4 garlic cloves
               1/2 cup (4 ounces) walnuts (I keep these on hand in the freezer)
These should look chopped up, but not minced. Add
               6 ounces good Parmegiano Reggiano (spring for the good stuff, you’ll thank yourself)
Again, pulse. But don’t puree. You want this to be chunky. Then run outside to get some basil, realize you forgot the kitchen shears. Open the back door, and dodge the two running dogs that have decided that they want to be outside because you’re outside. Grab the kitchen shears and head back out to get your basil. Chop many stems—you’ll need a cup or two of leaves. Call the dogs back inside as you head back in. Yell at the one that is ignoring you, and promise the obedient one a cookie. Promise this loudly enough that the stubborn one hears you. Watch as the stubborn one comes tearing into the house and nearly takes out your knees as they run by.

Reward the dogs with some cookies as you ask your heathen to clean the basil. Toss all the flower stems—only a few varieties of basil have flowers that aren’t bitter. Remember that you need to turn the squash in the oven. Smile as your heathen gives you a drippy colander of basil, sigh. Looks like you need to get out the salad spinner or some paper towels. Oh well. It’ll give you time to pick out the yucky leaves, all of the bruised or holey ones (you do grow your herbs organically, right?)
Toss in the basil (stems and all) into the processor. Pulse again for 20 seconds or so, and check the texture.  It should look minced, not pasty.  Add
1 tsp kosher salt
½ tsp fresh cracked black pepper
Turn on your food processor and slowly pour in
               ½ c GOOD olive oil (the stuff you want to serve company only)
Stop the processor and check your consistency. 
Is it pasty? Slightly saucy? Good. 

You want this a little tight. You can always add more oil later, but you can’t take it out.  Now, the hardest part—taste it. Does it need more salt? More pepper? More garlic? Adjust as necessary to your tastes. Measurements for this recipe is difficult to record, because I always do this by touch and taste. But you’ll get by. You’ll create a gorgeous pesto that can be used tonight, and frozen in a zipper bag for later. It makes a great compound butter, quick sauce, and ingredient for other recipes.

Now, back to tonight’s dinner: get out your favorite pasta. Tonight, I’m using up some leftover ravioli I froze (that’s another blog entry). In a mixing bowl mix in ravioli, roasted squaaaaash (yep, that’s an Ode to Two and A Half Men) and pesto. Dump into a greased baking dish and top with leftover mozzarella (or whatever mild white cheese you’ve on hand) and more shredded parmegiano. Bake the whole concoction at 350-375 for 20 minutes or so.

It should come out hot and bubbly, releasing a perfume of nutty cheese and sweet basil that makes you immediately want to curl in a ball on the couch, with a blanket and a bowl of steamy veggie heaven and maybe a couple of Italian chicken sausages.

That’s where I am now