Sunday, November 02, 2008

It's Butternut to Ask Why

I like to experiment in the kitchen.

I know, that statement of fact has probably completely eluded you if you read this site regularly, right? (Riiight...) But I do think that that is one of the many joys of cooking. Once you've learned the basic techniques and understand how flavors combine and heighten, it's so much fun to think, well, what if I try this with this? How would that taste?

On very rare occasions, that kind of thinking can get me into trouble. Normally, though, you can hold the two ingredients side by side and inhale deeply to test the mingling of flavors and aromas. (Comparing textures and other qualities helps, too, when you're thinking it through.)

Sometimes, though, it isn't the immediate thought of flavors that persuades me to experiment. Sometimes the wordplay alone amuses me enough to send me into the kitchen.

Ingredient number one: butternuts. My Wonderful Parents, having bought a sturdy nutcracker for the harder-shelled nuts, graciously filled my request for about 1/2 cup of these walnut cousins.

Ingredient number two: butternut squash. I've stocked up on good butternut squash from my CSA shares and from extras bought from the Lady Bountiful.

You can see where I'm going here, right? Squash, being related to pumpkin, can be used in baking with spices to enhance its rich flavor and moist texture. And butternuts, like walnuts, should be a good addition to those same baked goods.

So I took my pumpkin maple praline muffin recipe and tweaked it this morning to use these two main ingredients (along with other local ingredients: spelt flour, egg, maple syrup, and butter).

They turned out beautifully and smelled delicious, and though the actual flavor was a little unusual (both butternuts have a distinct flavor that differs slightly from their more well-known cousins), they tasted very good. I would note that I'm not sure I would use butternuts in a streusel again as they develop an odd flavor when toasted, faintly reminiscent of asafetida but not as potent or unpleasant. (Just... odd.) They're great inside the baked goods, but not overly toasted.

So as experiments go, I'd rate this as successful, though the verdict is out yet as to whether I would use this same combination again. Still, it gives me additional information to use in working with each of those main ingredients, and that then deepens my working kitchen knowledge.

And that's nut a bad thing at all.

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