Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Fall Fest: Clay Pot Winter Squash

Winter squash are a marvelously deceptive vegetable. They look so hard and tough and impenetrable, but cook up to some of the sweetest and tenderest of edibles. I love the variety of clothing they wear--soothing cream, sexy blue, bright orange, rocking stripes, dappled sprays of color. But it's only skin deep. Peel any of these hard squash and you get a glorious orange flesh that surrounds what may be the best part of all--the seeds.

The flavors of a freshly cooked pumpkin are so beyond what you get with the canned version that it's worth the effort to peel and clean them for everything from pies and muffins to stews and soups. I love roasting pumpkin with other vegetables for a thick mellow soup. And, I enjoy chopping them up and adding the pieces to sweet and savory ingredients for a one-dish baked meal.

Sweet Dumpling and Tiger Stripe squash from Suzie's Farm
Last week I was over at Specialty Produce and came across these enormous and striking pumpkins: Blue, an Australian heirloom (which looked green to me, but whatever); Fairytale, an old variety native to France and known there as Musque de Provence; and Cinderella, a flat French heirloom. I just saw the latter in a big box at Trader Joe's in Hillcrest, by the way.

Blue pumpkin
Fairytale pumpkin
Cinderella pumpkin
I was particularly drawn to the Blue, but they all were more pumpkin than I could manage on my own. So, here and there, I've picked up a collection of small hard squashes--an acorn, a tiny butternut, a couple of cute Lil' Tigers, a Sweet Dumpling, and Tiger Stripe. I figured that together they'd make for a great stew-like dish baked in a clay pot with sausages, golden raisins, and giant Cuzco corn.

Ever since I was introduced to clay pot cooking by Paula Wolfert and her terrific book Mediterranean Clay Pot Cooking, I've been collecting pots and experimenting. Winter squash is the perfect ingredient for this style of cooking. All you need is a stoneware pot. I used this gorgeous silky brown 2 1/2-quart casserole made by my favorite local potter, Roberta Klein. Don't worry about it cracking. As long as you don't preheat the oven, but instead let the pot warm with the rising temperature, it should be fine. And, of course, make sure that the glaze is lead free.

The ingredients here are basically what I happened to have in my kitchen, other than the squash. I'd bought a package of frozen giant Cuzco corn awhile back and was waiting for an opportunity to use it. Native to Peru, they're filled with protein, and have a dense chewy texture, making them perfect for stews and soups because they keep their shape. But if you can't find them, just add something else like garbanzo beans. Same with the sausage. I wanted a one-dish meal so I added a couple of lovely apricot chipotle pork sausages I bought at the UTC farmers market from Sonrise Ranch. Its juices and meat added a lot of flavor and some nice heat. But, this dish would work just as well without meat for a vegetarian meal.

Serve this with a hearty grain. I chose quinoa, but it would be great with wild rice, barley, farro, or kasha (buckwheat groats).

Clay Pot Winter Squash
Serves 6

2 pounds winter squash, peeled, seeded, and chopped into 1-inch pieces (save the squash seeds)
1/2 large onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups giant Cuzco corn (you can find frozen in Hispanic markets)
1 cup golden raisins or other dried fruit
2 large fresh sausages, sliced
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup olive oil or 1/4 cup olive oil and 1/4 cup pumpkin or butternut squash oil
2 tablespoons brown sugar, plus more to sprinkle on toward end of baking
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1/2 teaspoon salt
ground pepper to taste


1. Combine all the ingredients except the squash seeds and extra brown sugar and mix well. Add to 2 1/2-quart or larger stoneware pot and cover. Place the pot in the middle rack of the oven. Heat oven to 375. Bake.

2. Put squash seeds in a colander and rinse, separating the seeds from one another and the squash fibers. Let dry. Then toss with olive oil and salt. Spread on a baking sheet or aluminum foil. Toast in the oven with the squash for about 10 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool.

3. Check the squash at about an hour and 15 minutes. If the squash isn't completely cooked through, cover and cook another 15 minutes. When it is cooked through, sprinkle the mixture with brown sugar and let cook another 15 minutes uncovered. Remove from the oven and serve, sprinkling with toasted squash seeds to garnish.

Winter squash with quinoa
Let's see what my Fall Fest colleagues are doing with winter squash:

Gilded Fork: Butternut Squash Bisque with Nutmeg Crème Fraîch
Caroline at the Wright Recipes: Roasted Pumpkin and Winter Squash with Labneh and Skhug
Alana at Eating From the Ground Up: Fall Vegetable Chicken Pot Pie
Alison at Food2: Pumpkin Donuts
Toby at Healthy Eats: Pumpkin 5 Ways (Including Seed-Studded Pumpkin Bread)
Kirsten at Food Network: Best Pumpkin Recipes
Cate at Sweetnicks: Baked Acorn Squash with Brown Sugar and Butter
Paige at the Sister Project: Pumpkin, Roasted, Stuffed and All Grown Up
Michelle at Cooking Channel: Pumpkin and Squash Recipes
Food Network UK: Praise the Gourd

Now It's Your Turn to Join Fall Fest 2010!
This collaborative effort won't be much fun without you! The more info we all give, the more we'll all enjoy fall's harvest. Have a recipe or tip that fits any of our weekly themes? You can contribute in various ways, big or small.
  • Contribute a whole post, or a comment—whatever you wish. It’s meant to be fun, viral, fluid. No pressure, just delicious. 
  • Simply leave your tip or recipe or favorite links in the comments below a Summer Fest post on my blog any upcoming Wednesday, and then go visit my collaborators and do the same.
The cross-blog event idea works best when you leave your recipe or favorite links (whether to your own blog or someone else’s) at all the host blogs. That way, they are likely to be seen by the widest audience. Everyone benefits, and then we're all cooking with some great ideas. Or go big: Publish entire posts of your own if you wish, and grab the big Fall Fest 2010 pumpkin badge above (illustrated by Matt of Mattbites). We'll also be tweeting using #fallfood as our hashtag. Here's the schedule:
Sept. 1: Sweet and Spicy Peppers
Sept. 8: Garlic
Sept. 15: White (or colorful “white”…but not sweet) Potatoes
Sept. 22: Spinach
Sept. 29: Apples
Oct. 6: Fall Salads
Oct. 13: Pumpkin and Winter Squash
Oct. 20: Pears
Oct. 27: “Mad Stash” (as in what you’re freezing/canning/drying, etc.)
Nov. 3: Root veggies
Nov. 10: Brassicas: incl. Brussels Sprouts, Cauliflower, Cabbage or other
Nov. 17: Sweet Potatoes
Nov. 24: Bounty to Be Grateful For

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