Saturday, September 22, 2007

Butternut Give Me Ideas

At this morning's farmers' market, I stopped to talk with the Herb Farmer and to ask her how last weekend's Harvest Festival at her farm went. (I ended up unable to make it, thanks to work, a bad back, and no ride.)

As she told me how pleased she was with the day, my eyes scanned her table, looking for I know not what. She had plenty of cherry tomatoes, yard-long beans, Laotian chilies, raspberries, herbs, and the like... but what did I want?

First of all, I wanted some of her pasta. Each week she tries different combinations of herbs in her homemade noodles, and I always enjoy trying them. This week, she offered a browned flour and sage noodle that sounded very tasty, and when I picked up a bag, she immediately started to spin out her own ideas for the pasta.

"I've been thinking about using butternut squash, sage, and goat cheese with that pasta, just like I do with my ravioli," she said with an eager smile.

My reply was a simple, grinning, "YES!"

You see, at that very moment, I knew I had half a small roasted butternut squash in the refrigerator, as well as a small container of goat cheese crumbles. And it doesn't take much to give me good ideas about cooking dinner.

The Herb Farmer also had bags of baby bok choy, some with their blossoms still attached, and since I could see the dark leaves mingling beautifully with the rich orange of the squash, I bought some of those, too, and headed home.

Come time for dinner, I started with my usual vegetable prep and then set two pans on the stove. In the first, I carmelized red onion slices before adding garlic, thyme, a splash of balsamic vinegar, and some skinned Niagara grapes, cooking it all down into a savory variation on my garlic-shallot jam. In the other pan, I sauteed onions and garlic before adding thyme, squash, and some whey (to finish softening the squash cubes).

Once I finished the onion-grape mixture, I cleaned the pan and boiled water to cook the pasta. And as the squash cooked down, I laid shredded bok choy on top to steam before mixing it in and adding goat cheese crumbles.

By this time, I was ravenous from all the fantastic scents, so I pulled out a plate and layered everything: the pasta, the squash/bok choy mixture, some crisp bread crumbs, a hefty dollop of the onion-grape confit, and a tiny sprinkling of sea salt. With a single bok choy blossom for garnish, the meal looked picture perfect.

Every aspect of the dish offered interesting contrasts. In texture, the soft squash and creamy cheese melted into the al dente pasta, and the crisp bread crumbs kept it all from turning to mush. In taste, rich, fresh, savory, and tangy flavors all combined harmoniously, with just an echo of sweetness. And the colors! Well, the Chef Mother would be proud... not to mention hungry.

I admit that I knew I'd be cooking with squash this weekend, so a dish like this really didn't come out of the blue.

But when good ideas are offered to me, you can bet I'm going to make the most of them!



At 9/24/2007 2:27 PM, Blogger Phoenix said...


I love squash, and pasta, and cheese, and...that looks so good!

Wow, great job!

(and a few more !!!, for good measure!)

At 9/24/2007 3:11 PM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

Yes, Phoenix, you definitely would have loved it. Think of last year's harvest saute, only with goat cheese instead of Gruyere, and served over homemade pasta. I'd have enjoyed sharing it with you, but... well... I ended up polishing off the leftovers for lunch today. :-)


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