Tag Archives: Squash

Summer squash gratin with tomato-red pepper sauce

Are you looking to use up a giant pile of zucchini or summer squash? Say, four pounds of it? This recipe is just the ticket. It’s a simple yet flavor-packed vegetarian gratin, made up of squash slices layered with tomato-pepper sauce and Parmesan cheese, then topped with oil-slicked breadcrumbs. This is what I think of as summer comfort food: crisp and golden on top, bright and fresh-flavored underneath. Plus there’s cheese.

The real secret sauce of this gratin is…well, the sauce. It is one of those simple-yet-spectacular marvels of summer cooking: tomatoes and red bell peppers, simmered with a splash of water until they’re very soft, then blended with a knob of butter and a handful of fresh basil leaves. (You could use olive oil instead of butter, or a mix of the two.) Somehow, those few ingredients produce a rich orange-red sauce that’s creamy-without-cream and packed with bright flavor.

Of course, the sauce is outrageously delicious in this gratin. Tomato, pepper, squash, and basil is a can’t-fail flavor combination. But once you taste this stuff, you’ll want to make extra next time. It’s fabulous over pasta or as a marinara-like dip, and I can only imagine how great it’d be draped over chicken Parmesan. It also freezes beautifully, so you could double the batch while prepping this gratin and save the leftovers for another day.

tomato pepper sauce

I tweaked this from a Food52 recipe, which calls for roasting the squash before assembling the gratin. I don’t own enough baking sheets to fit four pounds of sliced squash in a single layer, and I didn’t love the idea of shuffling baking sheets in and out of a very hot oven during the height of summer. So I skip the roasting step altogether, and I don’t really miss it. The flavor of the squash is fresher, and the slices stay firmer and more intact. (A lot of folks–myself included–are averse to the mushiness of fully-cooked zucchini, so I slice my squash on the thicker side for a crisp-tender final texture.)

The roasting step does serve one important purpose, however. It drives off excess liquid from the squash, which would otherwise make the gratin soggy. My solution is to salt-purge the squash instead. After slicing the squash, I toss it with a generous dose of kosher salt, then let it drain in a colander until it softens and gives up a shocking amount of liquid. Then I pat the squash dry, and it’s ready to be layered with sauce and blanketed with breadcrumbs.

squash gratin w tomato pepper sauce

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Thai curry butternut squash soup

I’ve had a couple tubs of Thai curry paste kicking around in my fridge since the summer. But when butternut squash came into season this year, I started putting them into heavy rotation. I love butternut squash soup as it is, but lately I’ve been liking my winter squash on the spicy side. So I make a very simple soup–just leeks, garlic, ginger, and squash, plus enough broth to make it soupy–and add a little dollop of curry paste. Squash loves curry in all forms, and its sweetness really welcomes the spiciness of Thai curry. It makes for a really terrific soup.

I’ve used red and green curry here, and they were both great. The red curry is a cleaner, sourer heat, and I find I need a little less paste to do the job. Green curry is richer, darker, maybe slightly less spicy, and I use a little more of it to really zing. In either case, the effect is both surprising and subtle: lots of fire up front and a quiet thrum of curry in the background.

The soup is nice enough on its own, but adding a little pile of fried shallots to each bowl really makes it special. Pureed squash can be a bit sugary and boring on its own, and the fried shallots add a lovely crackly-crisp texture and bittersweet contrast that I just love. If you’re serving the whole batch of soup at once, I’d suggest frying all the shallots right in the soup pot, then using the shallot-infused oil to make the soup. But if, like me, you like making soup ahead of time and freezing it for later, just fry up a little batch of shallots whenever you’re ready to eat.

I’m not normally one for adding cream to pureed soups, but this soup really benefits from something rich stirred in at the end. The curry paste I use is very spicy, and it needs a bit of fat to tame it so that the other flavors come through. Coconut milk is the obvious choice, but I don’t always want to open a whole can just to use a drizzle. I’ve finished this soup with different dairy and non-dairy milks, depending on what was in my fridge at the time, and it comes out great every time. The recipe includes a bunch of options; use what you like, or what you’ve got on hand. It’s that kind of soup.

thai curry squash soup

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Olla gitana

I feel like I’m running out of words.

Normally when I get home, when I have some flavorful kitchen experiment in my recent past, it’s all I can do to keep my fingers from dancing over the keys to tell the blog world about it. But over the past couple of weeks, I’ve noticed myself using more and more of my words during the workday, on projects and in messages, and I seem to be running out of extras to lay down here. It’s as if I have a finite well of language, and most days I’ve pumped it dry by the time I shut my apartment door behind me.

I don’t like it. It makes me feel older, somehow, more subdued and sedate, knowing that I don’t have words upon words bubbling behind my forehead. And it does a disservice to this blog, my one consistent place to spill creative thoughts. I’ve been wanting to write for the better part of two weeks about the Spanish squash-and-vegetable soup I made, to soothe myself after another stressful workday, but instead it’s sat in my brain and its weight has made me feel guilty. So here it is, creativity be damned.

Olla gitana–literally, “gypsy pot” in Spanish–is one of those things I would never have known about, had it not been for the internet rambling I’ve been doing to distract myself from my empty well. Near as I can tell, this recipe comes from the Murcia region of Spain, where it’s said to have arisen among the Iberian offshoots of the Romani people. In reality, I think it’s a spun fantasy of what those people might eat, with extravagant Spanish inflections–saffron, mint, almonds, garlic. It tastes like a familiar, homey vegetable soup, but with a shiver of unfamiliarity from the saffron and the rich browned garlic and a chopped-up pear, which turns musky and darkly sweet in the broth. I quite liked it; it gave me comfort and a little bit of satisfaction, making something just this side of ordinary on a weeknight at home.

I’m still not sure I have all the words to do it justice right now. But at least it’s a start.

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Classic butternut squash soup

As I type this, Hurricane Sandy is pinwheeling its way across the East Coast. All day long I’ve been haunting Facebook and fretting. I have friends and family scattered up and down the Eastern seaboard, and they’ve all spent the past several hours hunkered in their houses, waiting for the storm to come bellowing in. I’ve seen periodic updates of torrential waters in the streets, winds pushing over upright bodies, power going out in home after home after home. I’m sure the news reports are massaged for maximum eye-widening effect, but still. I’m knocking wood for everyone’s safety.

I’m also noticing something. As my friends spent the day settling in, an awful lot of them cooked. My Facebook feed was peppered with photographs of bubbling pots, a cheery reminder that people still had electricity and fuel. A theme emerged: soup and stew. I saw potatoes and mushrooms and vegetable pot pie and squash. I guess when a hurricane is throwing up walls of water just offshore, it makes sense to arm yourself with a bowl of something steamy and life-giving.

So in solidarity with my housebound loved ones, tonight I’m staying in and making good old-fashioned butternut squash soup. I came up with this recipe as a teenager, and it’s one of the few I make the same way every time: with with sauteed leeks, a parsnip, a sweet potato, and a Granny Smith apple. The first time I made this, I impulsively splashed in the dregs from a bottle of Cognac, and it ended up being exactly what the soup needed: a boozy zing to cut the rich sweetness of the squash. I’ve tried it since with plain old brandy, which is just as good as Cognac (and a whole lot cheaper), but my poison of choice these days is bourbon, which gives a shiver of smokiness that I love. The soup is just fine without the liquor, but on a day like today, I’d say it’s needed.

This is the kind of soup I crave when I’ve had a bad day: silky and soft, perfect for sipping from a mug whenever the weather is foul–as it most certainly is now for my East Coaster friends. Here’s hoping the storm spends itself soon, and life can clamber quickly back up to normal for all of you.

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