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Mindful : December 2013
December 2013 mindful 25 Craving a warm embrace from the kitchen? Butternut squash delivers. By Angela Mears Perhaps because of its versatility and ubiquity, almost everyone seems to have memories associated with butter- nut squash. Though it’s a cold-weather vegetable, I have found that the memo- ries we keep about it are invariably about warmth. They’re about home, or an idea of it. For me, it’s the smell of squash roast- ing in the oven, years ago, and my father flavoring it with a large pat of butter and a generous drizzle of maple syrup. We ate the ta ngerine flesh with two forks straight out of its skin, a spontaneous meal that was a lways ser ved at odd hours of the night. It was one of the few dishes I remember him ma king. I remember preparing it for myself, many years later, in a manner far more savory than sweet. Once it was roasted, I pureed the squash and coaxed it into a A Taste of Home quivering risotto speckled with pancetta and Parmesan cheese. I shared the meal with my neighbors, an older couple who had become my family away from home. We ate it with three spoons straight out of the pot, steam billowing off the rice as its heat collided with the November air in my drafty kitchen off the coast of Lake Michigan. Not ma ny ing redients have this power—to taste like a feeling or to smell like a longed-for sight. But if you notice, every season there are one or two. Cut open a butternut squash and just try not to think of fall. If you’re lucky, other memories will be triggered, too: of shared meals, and loved ones, and a warm embrace from the kitchen. While the associations we have with the butternut squash are sweet, getting there can be tricky business. One popular method calls for a sharp blade to pierce the skin and a hammer or mallet to split it open, as one might a coconut. Alter- nately, you may elect to remove the skin with a peeler or paring knife. It may test your patience, but remember: compa red to other winter squash, the butternut is considered thin-skinned and downright delicate. I must admit that I’ve never craved butternut squash. I chalk this up to its long shelf life. (Think canned tomatoes— ever find yourself craving those?) But every fall, I rediscover it. I open one after weeks of staring it down on my kitchen counter, and the waxy beige skin gives way to a vibrant orange interior and the pulpy, off-sweet a roma of wet leaves and brown sugar and hay. At the supermarket or farmers’ mar- ket, select a squash that feels heav y for its size, with unblemished, matte-tex- tured skin. (Glossy-skinned squash have not cured properly, and their shelf life will suffer for it.) Then make a soup. Or a stir-fry. Or a curry. Or eat it straight out of its skin like I did so many years ago, and see how fall’s signature flavor can become something deeply and abidingly personal. Make new memories of your own. Eat. Repeat. ● Angela Mears writes about food at thespinningplate.com one taste (Serves 6) 2 tbsp olive oil 1 tbsp unsalted butter 1 shallot, chopped 1 tsp ground coriander 1 twig thyme 2 celery branches, chopped 1 leek, white part only, chopped finely 1 garlic clove, finely minced 1 butternut squash (2 3⁄4 pounds; 1,250 g), peeled and diced 2 Red Delicious apples, peeled, cored, and diced 5 cups chicken stock 1 bay leaf Sea salt and pepper Crumbled Gorgonzola cheese Chopped pecans, to serve 1 tbsp parsley, finely chopped Heavy cream, to serve Butternut Squash and Apple Soup with Gorgonzola and Pecans In a large pot, heat the olive oil and butter over medium heat. Add the shallot, ground coriander, thyme, celery branches, and leek. Cook for 3 minutes, stirring, without browning. Add the garlic, butternut squash, and apple. Cook for 6 minutes. Add the stock, bay leaf and salt and pepper to taste. Cover and simmer for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender. Discard the thyme and bay leaf. Puree finely. Ladle in bowls and add Gorgonzola, pecans, and parsley. Drizzle with cream and serve.