Friday, January 2, 2009

I made Acorn Squash with Polenta

I bought my first acorn squash this year in an effort to eat seasonally and to experiment with new vegetables. I'm already a big sweet potato and pumpkin fan, and I have mostly positive feelings about butternut squash, so acorn squash seemed the next logical step. I picked one out at the greenmarket and it sat on my counter in my "non-refrigerated produce" bowl for the next month until the other night when I realized it was the only "fresh" produce in the house.

I didn't have much of a plan for the squash, and none of my cookbooks really had acorn squash specific recipes, so I consulted Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian for tips on how to cook squash in general and I imagine you could use A.S. in most winter squash recipes. My sister had kind of freaked me out about cooking acorn squash because it is very hard to cut, and she had a bad experience in college when cooking for her food coop where she had to peel and cut multiple acorn squash. Luckily, my squash was small enough that it was easy to split with a sharp knife. But onto the recipe:

(made to serve one person)
1 acorn squash, cut in half
1/2 onion, sliced into long strips (you could add more -- I used this because I had it in the fridge)
1 red potato, thinly sliced
red pepper flakes
1 tbs. tomato paste
salt and pepper, to taste
olive oil

1. Roast squash in a 400 degree oven on a foil covered cookie sheet. Put the squash cut side down for the first 20 minutes, then flip it and keep cooking until it is tender.
2. In the meantime, brown onion and potato in some olive oil in a frying pan over medium/high heat. Add tomato paste and let it sizzle a bit, mixing it around. Add salt, black pepper and red pepper to taste. (This is also the time to start the polenta in a separate pot - I used the Bittman cookbook for polenta -- more on that later).
3. When the acorn squash is tender and forkable, scoop it out in pieces and add it to the frying pan and cook it all for about 10 more minutes.
4. When the polenta is done (i.e. not crunchy), grate some gruyere cheese on top (although you could use parmesan, or cheddar as well), put the squash mixture on top and enjoy.

It's a very orange-ish meal, which is nice for winter.

And now for polenta:
I started making polenta this summer for the first time and I've been on a real kick. It's a nice change from pasta or rice. The key is to add enough water (I put a kettle on to boil when I start heating the water and milk for the recipe), and then let it do its thing (you don't want it to burn, but bubbling polenta is totally fine -- just stir occasionally). Also, add enough salt. I use the Mark Bittman recipe, as follows (recipe makes 4 servings, so I halved it. Below are original measurements):
1/2 cup milk, preferably whole (i've used half and half, just a bit less than a 1/2 cup, and made up the rest with water)
1 cup coarse cornmeal
1 Tbs butter or extra virgin olive oil
Freshly greated parmesan cheese (optional)
Freshly ground black pepper

1. Combine milk with 2 cups of water and large pinch of salt in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Bring just about to a boil, then add the polenta in a steady stream, whisking all the while to prevent lumps from forming. Turn the heat down to low and simmer, whisking frequently, until thick, 10 or 15 minutes. If the mixture becomes too thick, simply whisk in a bit more water. You want a consistency about as thick as sour cream.

2. Add the butter and/or cheese, then taste, add salt if necessary and lots of pepper and serve.

P.S. If you have extra polenta, before you add butter and cheese, put it in a loaf pan and let it cool. Then cut into 1/2 inch thick slices. Later, you can brush then with olive oil and cook them in the oven, a frying pan (a messier option) or a toaster oven. Yum.

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