Recipe for Tuscan-Style Stewed Squash
Posted November 2, 2007 1:51 p.m. EDT
Updated November 13, 2007 1:14 a.m. EST
Tired of the Thanksgiving holy trinity of turkey, cranberry sauce and stuffing?
I've tried displacing the stars of the holiday meal without much luck. There's plenty of room, though, to get creative with the supporting cast. Haven't you had enough candied yams and green bean almondine already?
This weekend I was complaining about Thanksgiving monotony to my wife Izabela as we perused the produce at our farmers market. There in front of us was a bounty of autumn delight. Squash, cauliflower, spinach, carrots, beets. The colorful list was seemingly endless. The opportunities equally so.
"I have an idea," she said.
That's good because I wasn't coming up with anything. I prefer to complain.
"Stewed squash," she said.
Now, that in itself doesn't sound that new. But do it Tuscan style, with a soffritto and a few red pepper flakes, and you've just spiced up the big day.
A soffritto is used as a base in sauces and soups in Italian cooking. Basically, you're sauteing finely chopped celery, carrots and onions in olive oil or butter at a low temperature. You can add pancetta, spices and garlic, too.
The key is that you do not fry the mixture - or burn it as generally occurs in my case. You simply let the vegetables' natural juices cook off, then add other liquid.
We used butternut squash for this dish, but any combination of squashes and pumpkins works. Butternut squash has a sweet, nutty taste and a vibrant, deep orange color. Star chef Daniel Boulud recently told me that when selecting a butternut squash you want to choose one that is hard and heavy, with no bruises or deep cuts on the skin.
When peeling the squash, try a sharp knife rather than a vegetable peeler, which is less efficient (it can take several passes to remove all the skin). While peeling, cut the squash in half, and use the flat portion as a stable base.
The size of the squash cubes will affect the cooking time - the larger the pieces, the longer the cooking time. In this recipe the goal is to have a dish with soft chunks of squash suspended in the stewed vegetables, much like a beef stew where the chunks of meat are easy to chew but are not falling apart.
One of the great things about this dish is that it tastes better a day or two later. So you can make some room in your busy Thanksgiving schedule by making it in advance and refrigerating it.
TUSCAN-STYLE STEWED SQUASH
The vegetables can be chopped either by hand or in a food processor. If done in a food processor, process the vegetables separately to ensure that each is evenly chopped. This dish is best made one or two days in advance.
Start to finish: 1 hour 15 minutes (45 minutes active)
Servings: 8 to 10 (sides)
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 celery stalks, finely chopped (1 cup)
1 medium red onion, finely chopped (1 cup)
3 medium carrots, finely chopped (1 cup)
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 whole stems fresh rosemary
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 to 2 large butternut squashes, peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes (about 10 cups)
28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes, liquid reserved
3/4 cup vegetable or chicken stock
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Heat the oil in a medium stockpot over medium-low. Add the celery, onion, carrots, garlic, rosemary and red pepper flakes. Cook until vegetables have softened, stirring occasionally (add a splash of water if the ingredients stick), about 10 minutes.
Add the wine and cook for another 3 minutes. Add the squash and stir well to combine. Cook an additional 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
One at a time, add the tomatoes, using your hands to crush them, and 1/2 cup of the reserved tomato liquid. Stir in the stock, then season with salt and pepper. Simmer (uncovered) for 20 to 30 minutes, or until squash is tender.