Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Fall Flavors

I have to say, as far as flavors go, fall is my season. Dark and malty beers dominate the breweries, winter squash line the farmer's markets and apples seem to find their way into every meal, breakfast, dinner and dessert. Although it marks the impending doom of cold feet and icy driveways, fall is a true celebration of the harvest in all of it's glory. As a foodie, that means culinary heaven.

And so inspired by the earth's bounty, this harvest meal transpired in my kitchen twice last week. It could be served at a Thanksgiving feast or, more appropriately, in September or October, when the apples burst with juice, the green beans grow plump on their vines and heirloom squash dot the fields. If it was past the bean season, I might use hearty kale or swiss chard instead.

Harvest Menu:
Mesclun Salad topped with White Figs, Maple Gingered Walnuts and Shredded Beets in Balsamic Miso Dressing
Wild Rice stuffed Winter Squash
Sauteed Green Beans in Shallot Butter
Herb Baked Tofu

Winter squash is rich with Vitamin A and beta-carotene, two powerful antioxidants which have been shown to help protect against lung cancer in smokers as well as those exposed to second hand smoke. They also boast an impressive amount of potassium and dietary fiber, helping to regulate blood sugar levels while filling the belly. Plus they are absolutely delicious! Try picking up a heirloom variety at your local farmer's market for a new and interesting twist. Buttercup, kabocha, delicata, carnival and turban squash all have unique flavors and textures while holding up well when roasted. Smaller squash often yield thin skins and do not require peeling, since it is tender enough to eat whole. With their buttery texture and earthy flavor, winter squash are a perfect match for the deep comforting winter spices such as nutmeg, clove, cinnamon and cardamon. This recipe creates a spiced oil which is rubbed into the flesh of the squash and then roasted at high heat before being stuffed. The result is heavenly.

The second time I made this meal for a dinner party, I used extra small carnivals and each guest received their own individual stuffed squash. I cut each one like a pumpkin to remove the top and seeds, and served them upright with stuffing inside. It looked great! For a less fussy effect, they are also wonderful served in larger halves.

Wild Rice stuffed Winter Squash
Serves 6

3/4 cup wild rice
3/4 cup brown basmati rice
3 cups vegetable broth, or water

6 extra small or 3 medium squash (see notes above about varieties)
3 tbs. coconut oil
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. allspice
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 small onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
2 shallots, minced
1 medium apple, diced
1/4 tsp. thyme
1/4 tsp. sage
1/4 cup currants
1/4 cup pistachios, toasted and chopped


Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Put both rices and stock (or water) in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a very low simmer, cover and cook until all of the liquid has been absorbed, about 35-45 minutes.

In the meantime, cut into the squash (from the top like a pumpkin if using very small individual serving squash or in half if using larger ones) and remove the seeds and pulp. Combine 2 tbs. of coconut oil and the salt, allspice, cinnamon and red pepper flakes in a small bowl. Place the bowl in the oven for a few minutes until oil has melted. Using a pastry brush, brush the inside of the squash with the spiced oil to create a generous coat. Place the squash upside down on a cookie sheet and bake for 45-50 minutes, or until quite soft when pierced with a fork and beginning to brown. Set aside.

To prepare the stuffing, heat the remaining tbs. of coconut oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Saute the onions until soft and golden, for about 5 minutes. Add the celery, shallots and apple and continue to saute for another 3 minutes. Add the thyme, sage and currants and cook for one more minute. Deglaze the pan with a touch of water. Mix in the prepared rice and salt to taste.

To serve, stuff each squash with wild rice filling and top with chopped pistachios.

Relax. Eat Well.

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