Monday, October 29, 2012

Pumpkin Caramel Profiterole

Let's talk about cream puffs. No, let's talk about squash first. I've eaten winter squash, in one form or another, for the last five days. The only problem with this is that I am currently out of squash.

Too many people go straight for cutting winter squash in half, adding butter, brown sugar and cinnamon and baking. There's nothing wrong with that, but squash can do so much more. In the last week, I have eaten squash in a Mexican-style rice bowl with beans and rice, a South Indian-style coconut and chick pea curry, on flatbread with eggs and tomato jam, in macaroni and cheese, and in cream puffs. And, of course, plain by the spoonful. It is no coincidence that asquash, one of the Algonquin roots from which the English word squash derives, simply means "eaten."

Roasting squash really is the only way to cook it: simmering it leaves it with a stringy texture and can sap out the flavor and copious nutrients. Roasting, on the other hand, enriches a squash's sweetness and creamy texture. I like to roast squash ahead of time, even when I'm not going to use it immediately, often a few at a time. As long as you're going to be at home for an hour, you can roast a squash. It doesn't need much attention while cooking. It keeps in the fridge for two weeks or so (in the unlikely occurrence that it sticks around that long) and provides instant squashy gratification.

To roast any variety of winter squash, turn on the oven to 375°; cut your squash in half and scoop out the seeds. The seeds, of course, can be roasted on their own for a toasty snack. Lay the halved squash cut side down on a lightly oiled sheet pan. Use foil if you don't feel like soaking/scrubbing later. Let it cook until squash is tender to the touch and the skin has started to brown up some. Depending on how large your squash is, this could be anywhere from 35-60 minutes. Set a timer for 30 minutes, poke the squash at its thickest point and decide how long you want to set the next timer for based on your squash-poking assessment.

Don't be too rigid in your squash variety selection, either. You may have a recipe for butternut squash soup or pumpkin pie, but you may find that you like the reverse, or that buttercup makes the best ravioli filling or that you are a fiend for hubbard squash in any form you can get it. A friend living in Germany for the year is finding that the only variety she can get, Hokkaidok├╝rbis (Hokkaido, red kuri or baby red hubbard squash), works really well in places she'd expect to use pumpkin or butternut. A guide to about a dozen popular winter squash varieties is available here.

But enough about that. Let's talk about cream puffs, or profiterole, which is a fancy word which refers to anything creamy stuffed in a pâte à choux shell, usually ice cream or whipped cream (cream puffs typically involve pastry cream). The choux paste shell seems to have fallen out of favor in recent times. This is really a shame; they're a versatile vehicle for flavors sweet and savory. And when you think about it as basically making baked bubbles—which it is—making the shells themselves becomes magic even before you fill them.

Which brings us back to roasted squash. If pumpkin pie season can't come soon enough for you, take note: pumpkin profiterole. Or, whatever kind of roasted winter squash you have profiterole. In fact, unless you're starting with a premade crust, these can be ready faster than a pumpkin pie. Moreover, pâte à choux is not appreciably more fussy than a pie crust (Warning: making pâte à choux can be habit-forming). Also, they look way more impressive, especially when you add a drizzle of caramel. The filling is a mixture of roasted squash, brown sugar and the spices you would add to pumpkin pie, folded with a simple whipped cream. The overall effect is an ethereal few bites of creamy, spiced delight.

Pumpkin Profiterole

The recipe here is more a series of components rather than one recipe. After making the choux paste shells, squash filling and caramel, spoon or pipe the filling into the shells and drizzle caramel over the top. Serve promptly.

Pâte à choux

Adapted from Joy of Cooking
makes about 15 two-inch cream puff shells
  • 4 large eggs at room temp.
  • Dry mix:
  • 1 c. AP flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • (optionally add 1 T sugar)
  • Wet Mix:
  • 1 c water/milk
  • 1/3 c. butter
Preheat oven to 400°. Sift dry mix together and set aside. Heat wet mix together in a large, heavy saucepan;
when it boils, add dry mix all at once and stir briskly, until it becomes a smooth paste and stops sticking to the sides and bottom of the pan. (see above)

Add eggs one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition (some people like to do this in the food processor). Spoon or pipe the paste onto parchment-lined sheet pans in mounds about 1½" across, leaving room for them to puff up. Bake at 400° for 10 minutes, then turn the oven down to 350° and bake for another 25 minutes, or until quite firm to the touch. Gently stab each with a sharp paring knife to vent it so it cools enough to accept filling without melting it quickly.

Filling

  • 1 c. mashed squash (canned will also work)
  • ½ c. brown sugar
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • ½ tsp. nutmeg
  • ½ tsp. ground ginger
  • ½ tsp. clove
  • ½ c. whipping cream
Whip cream. Blend all other ingredients and then fold into whipped cream.

Caramel Sauce

Recipe adapted from David Lebovitz's Ready for Dessert
Lebovitz's blog, Living the Sweet Life in Paris is always a good read as well.
  • ½ c. (1 stick) butter (salted or not, up to you), cut into pieces
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1 c. heavy cream
  • ¼ tsp. salt, or to taste
  • Optional:
  • ¼ c. bourbon (a little more than a shot)
In a large heavy-bottomed saucepan (deep is important because it will bubble up pretty aggressively after the cream is added), heat the butter and sugar over medium heat. Stir occasionally until the sugar begins to caramelize. When it reaches a dark amber color and smells on the verge of burning, remove from heat and immediately add the cream. Stir until smooth, then stir in salt and bourbon. Letting the sauce cool to at least room temperature gives you a thicker, more caramelly sauce texture, but you can use it before that. Sauce can be stored for up to 2 weeks if refrigerated and a spoonful in a cup of coffee or black tea makes the world a beautiful place.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Garlic & Proust: How to Find Out Who Your Real Friends Are

It is plain that the truth I am seeking lies not in the cup but in myself.
—Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time

Don't underestimate the importance of messy, imprecise and sometimes smelly personal rituals like garlic spaghetti. It's difficult to get out of the mindset of ritual being the province of traditional religion; after all, it does share a root with the word rite. But if you take it back even farther, it also shares a root with rhythm, which makes at least as much sense: ritual has as much to do with the beat, the repetitive, familiarly measured flow of action.
It's a way of connecting with personal history, enlivening more abstract, nebulous memories with the more immediate, classical five senses. If nothing else, it's vastly more productive and less creepy means of reminiscing than many others. Proust famously wrote about this phenomenon in In Search of Lost Time, describing and then attempting to deconstruct an inexplicable bliss that came out of eating a bite of madeleine soaked in lime-blossom tea, finally attaching it to time spent with his aunt as a child.

Imprecise memories don't necessarily require precise remembrance. I first learned about garlic spaghetti from a college friend. Our relationship was largely based around cooking together: we lived in the same vegan co-op, worked at the same (non-vegan) restaurant off campus, and found (sometimes invented) plenty of reasons to be hungry and cook together outside of that. To be quite honest, most of my memories of this friendship are messy and smelly, but they're also distinctly delicious.

Garlic spaghetti was a family favorite of his: thick pasta coated in a buttery Parmesan sauce loaded with raw garlic. It may be vegetarian, but health food, this ain't. It started out innocently enough. We'd peel up 4-5 cloves of garlic for a pound of pasta. It was garlicky, but still fairly accessible. However, we had some sort of ongoing need to out-badass the other, and so every time we made it, the garlic content went up. We made this about once a week. By the time I got to making it for my family back home during Winter Break, it had gotten to a point where we were using at least a full bulb of garlic for the two of us. My family thought I had totally lost it and were ruined on the dish, despite being people who like garlic fairly well.

I made it for the first time in several years the other day. My sister and I had, coincidentally, both been thinking about it. I made the sauce with 5 cloves of garlic for the two of us, staying on the conservative side, but wondering how my own tolerance had slipped from the full-bulb dragon-breath days. I thought it could have used a little more garlic.

If you aren't willing to use at least a clove of garlic per person, don't bother. Remember, though, that garlic breath is only a problem for those who don't have it. The friend from whom I learned this dish insisted it was best served with fake bacon bits, and further insisted that they were preferable to real bacon in this case. I don't know that it holds for me, but Bac-Os (or their generic Head Nut-bought equivalent) were an essential piece of the garlic spaghetti ritual in college, and I would be remiss not to mention them. Here, I've tossed some fresh arugula with the hot pasta, letting it wilt gently into the dish, which is an entirely different but, but still nice, touch.

And fear not the leftover garlic spaghetti! For there do you stumble upon another piece of the ritual: the leftover garlic spaghetti omelette. It pretty much explains itself.


Garlic Spaghetti

vegetarian, optionally gluten-free
serves 3-4, takes 30-40 minutes start to finish
  • 1 lb spaghetti (this is the only ingredient with gluten: gluten-free pasta = gluten-free dish)

  • Sauce

  • 4-5 cloves garlic
  • 2 Tblsp. butter, room temperature
  • 1 egg (if you double the recipe, still use 1 egg; 3 or more times the recipe, increase egg)
  • ½ c. good grated Parmesan
  • 1-2 Tsp olive oil

  • Optional accoutrements:
  • fresh ground black pepper (I lied, this is obligatory)
  • fresh arugula or spinach
  • bacon bits, fake or otherwise
  • red pepper flakes, if it isn't hot enough for you already (in the badass times, this was a common addition)

Start by putting the pasta water on to boil. Peel the garlic cloves, grate cheese if necessary. Add ingredients to food processor or blender in the order listed, drizzling in the olive oil last, in a thin stream. The sauce will have a thick, fluffy, almost mayonnaise-like consistency. It is also excellent as a spread on bread, and pairs really well with broccoli.

When pasta is cooked, strain and toss with sauce and fresh greens, if using, until pasta is well-coated and greens are slightly wilted. Serve with black pepper, bac-os, or whatever else appeals to you.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Quick Hits: Chile-Lime Winter Squash/Sweet Potato

It's that time of year where I fall in love with my favorite orange vegetables again - winter squash and sweet potato. Last year, my CSA farm's winter squash crop was drowned by Hurricane Irene. This picture to the right was taken in the squash field. From a kayak. The squash are under about 12 feet of Connecticut River.
They did find their princess in another castle, though, taking in their best sweet potato crop ever from a field a little farther away from the river. In many recipes, this one included, the two are interchangeable. They have very similar nutritional profiles, as well. They're both extremely high in Vitamin A (as are most orange vegetables) and very good sources of Vitamins C, B6, potassium and fiber.

This simple but striking presentation, dressed in sweet, tart and spicy, works equally well for either. Butternut squash is an excellent choice for a dish like this; it's fleshy and its thin skin means it doesn't need to be peeled, just well washed, before being cubed and roasted. Delicata's another good sweet, thin-skinned variety but have a lower flesh-to-seed ratio than butternut. You can eat the rind of any squash, but with many of the thicker-skinned squashes, like buttercup/kabocha, pumpkin or hubbard, you don't want to.

Chile-Lime Squash/Sweet Potato

vegan, gluten/grain-free
done in about 30 minutes, serves 4 as a side
  • 1 large butternut squash, cut to bite-sized wedges
  • or
  • 2 medium sweet potatoes, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 2-3 Tblsp. olive oil
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp cinnamon

  • Dressing:

  • 1-2 T honey
  • zest & juice of one lime
  • ¼-½ tsp. ground chipotle pepper
  • or
  • 1-2 canned chipotles, minced
  • or
  • 1 small red chile, minced
  • some fresh cilantro (optional), roughly chopped

Toss squash with olive oil, spread on sheet pan and sprinkle with salt, cumin, cinnamon. Bake at 450°F for about 25 minutes, turning once. Remove from oven and toss with dressing and cilantro

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