Squish, Part Two

Yesterday was the last day of the Salem Saturday Market (boo, hiss), and even though it was raining on and off, I wasn’t about to miss my last chance of the year to stock up on local produce. Have you noticed that everything weighs a ton at the end of the year? I staggered home burdened by another huge Brussels sprout stalk (0nly $3.50!), a dozen bell peppers (only $5!), a rutabaga the size of my 2-year old’s head (only $4!), an even bigger butternut squash (only $2.50!), and a few other choice items like garlic bulbs, turnips and the red kuri squash pictured below. The latter was not on my list, but it caught my eye and I decided to add it to my squash collection since I am not likely to find it in the plain ol’ grocery store this winter.

Red kuri squashes, also known as red hubbards or orange hokkaidos, are a variety of Japanese winter squash that looks a bit like a ruddy teardrop-shaped pumpkin. At the Persephone Farm booth where I bought it, these little guys were described as mild, creamy and firm-fleshed with a slight chestnut flavor, and I decided that my red kuri was an ideal candidate for risotto. First it got the usual squash treatment: hacked into quarters with a cleaver—always a harrowing experience—seeded, and roasted in a 375F oven for about an hour, until fork-tender. Red kuri skin is thin enough to leave intact, but it was just as easy to scoop the flesh away with a spoon and puree it in the food processor (with enough stock to get it moving) while the risotto was cooking.

Just half the squash gave our risotto a luxuriously creamy texture and festive orange color, enriched with a little butter and some Grana Padano, and I topped the bowls with fillets of wild halibut that were meant to get a ginger beurre blanc as a finishing touch—I didn’t care for the sauce, however, and decided it was not was worth forcing into an edible state. This was probably one of my most successful risottos, texture-wise, and the red kuri flavor was very mild, ripe for supplementation with any number of flavor pairings: curry, of course, would be a no-brainer, perhaps some smoky heat with crumbles of crispy bacon or prosciutto, or molasses-glazed duck breasts with caramelized Brussels sprouts! I thought about making risotto cakes for lunch today, but my squash-loving husband gave me that look like, “Enough squash already!” so I think we’re going to do breakfast burritos instead.

The risotto left me with half a roasted squash and a big bowl of seeds, so that meant red kuri pancakes for breakfast! The way people describe anything made with a squash as a “pumpkin” recipe has been driving me nuts lately, so let’s get one thing straight: all pumpkins are squashes, but not all squashes are pumpkins. Harrumph! Good to get that out of my system…

The pancake batter was mixed up in the blender, where I chucked the leftover half-squash, skin and all, along with everything but the walnuts and flour; the latter got added at the last moment, so as not to overmix. It was on the thick side, perfect for manipulating into shapes: I made several into pumpkin shapes so that I could call them pumpkin pancakes even though they are technically squash pancakes. See what I did there? My pumpkins could have come out a little better, as some looked more like hearts, and I abandoned the effort after getting a few photographable samples. Jeremy cooked up the rest while I got Nolan dressed and ready for breakfast, and he had some trouble getting them to cook through without burning, as he didn’t know to spread the batter out or turn down the heat a bit to give them a chance to cook through in the middle. The dampness of the squash puree contributed to this issue, not a new frustration of mine, and in the end the pancakes were just okay. At least they got us in the Halloween spirit!

Red Kuri Pancakes

1 C milk
1/2 baked red kuri squash
2 eggs
2 T butter, melted
2 T brown sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
pinches of ginger, nutmeg, and cloves
1/2 C walnuts
1 C all-purpose flour

Combine milk, squash, eggs, butter, sugar, baking powder and spices in a blender; puree until very smooth, then add walnuts and flour, and pulse just until they are incorporated. Don’t overmix! Heat your griddle or skillet to medium, and pour or scoop about ¼ cup batter for each pancake; you may need to use a spoon to spread the batter out a little if it is very thick. Cook until surface is bubbly and edges are slightly dry, then flip. Cook until golden brown. Dust with powdered sugar or warm some maple syrup with a cinnamon stick while the pancakes cook.

Source: Adapted from Eating with the Seasons.

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