Sunday, December 28, 2008

Squash, With Care

Going to more potlucks this year has prodded me to broaden my potluck-dish repertoire.

It's not easy. When most of us think of potlucks, we may think of casseroles, pasta salads, and the like.

This potluck series, though, is one that encourages me to be more creative. Many of the folks who attend are vegetarian, so they appreciate good produce, but they're also not bringing run-of-the-mill dishes themselves.

So each month it's a challenge: what can I make that is relatively easy, uses what local produce I have on hand, and will be different enough to pique interest but not so different as to be turned down?

This month I decided to pull out one of my butternut squashes and to use a recipe (from Local Flavors) I tried a couple of years ago and liked, but never trotted out again.

First, you peel and slice the top (unseeded) part of a butternut squash. Then you pan-fry the slices until they just begin to brown. Layer them in a greased baking dish.

Not very exciting, is it? That's because the dazzle of the dish comes from a topping of sautéed shallots and garlic, chopped dates, chopped pistachios, herbs and spices, orange peel and juice. The flavors mingle to give a sort of Middle Eastern or even Persian flair to the whole dish.

The squash, topped with the date-nut mixture, gets baked with a little extra water (to finish cooking the squash), and the whole comes out moist, tender, exotic, and incredibly delicious.

The folks at the potluck seemed to think so, anyway -- including the very young boys who didn't find a whole lot else to enjoy (aside from the macaroni and cheese and the pita bread) on the table. And what was left over would just about fill the serving spoon (maybe 1/3 c worth).

You think maybe I should make this more often?

Butternut Squash Rounds with Dates and Nuts

This dish from Local Flavors (and my variations) sounded like the perfect potluck dish: festive and seasonal, using plenty of the produce I had stockpiled from the farmers' market. Once you have prepared the vegetables, the dish goes together in almost no time flat, and while it bakes, you have time to steam some kale, warm up some rolls, and pour a little wine if you like. And though the vegetables themselves are all-American, the flavors combine to take you to exotic lands. This is a dish you can truly be thankful for!

1 large butternut squash, about 3 pounds
3 T olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 T unsalted butter (or more olive oil)
2 shallots, finely diced, about 1/3 c (1/2 an onion works well, too)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/3 c pistachios, chopped
1 T grated orange zest
6 large dates, pitted and chopped
2 T finely chopped parsley
1 T chopped mint
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
Juice of 1/2 orange

Preheat oven to 400 F. Lightly butter a large baking dish.

Peel the neck of the squash and slice thinly. (You can use the rest of the squash, seeded and peeled, in this dish, too, or save it for another recipe.) Heat oil in a wide nonstick skillet. Add squash in a single layer and cook over medium heat until golden, then turn and brown the second side. Season with salt and pepper. Remove browned slices from the pan, add oil if needed, and brown the next slices. (Repeat until done!)

Melt butter (or heat oil) in medium skillet over medium-low heat. Add shallots and garlic and cook without browning, stirring occasionally, for 5-7 minutes.

Add nuts, zest, dates, herbs, and cinnamon, and raise the heat. Season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, for 2 minutes, then add the orange juice and cook for 1 minute more before removing from the heat.

Arrange squash rounds in the baking dish and scatter the date-nut mixture over them. Add 1/4 c water and bake until heated through and the topping is barely crisped, about 15 minutes.

Serves 4 to 6 as a side dish, 2 to 3 as an entree

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At 12/31/2008 9:16 AM, Blogger Tara said...

Oh, this sounds yummy! Do we get the recipe?

At 12/31/2008 7:48 PM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

I don't have it at hand at the moment, but don't let me forget, Tara. :-)

At 1/02/2009 8:38 PM, Anonymous Janet said...

Sounds fabulous. Don't usually have dates or pistachios on hand, but I could work on it. :) Looking forward to potluck series, too.

At 1/04/2009 9:11 AM, Blogger Tara said...

Thanks for adding the recipe. I'll be serving this to my family soon!

At 1/05/2009 7:16 AM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

Janet, my guess is that you could be flexible in the dried fruit and nut categories -- perhaps raisins and walnuts? I suspect it's at least worth a try.

No problem, Tara -- enjoy!


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