Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Something About Squash

Oh baby, it is squash season. Not the summer squash season where complete strangers will approach you and force overgrown zucchini upon you. No, this is winter squash season. I have resisted you in the past winter squash, but not anymore.
I have noticed that winter squash appeal is much bigger in New England than it is anywhere else. Even when I go home to New Jersey for the holidays, I can never find any interesting winter squash. But up here, squash is the predominant vegetable for the entire winter. And right now – I am very excited about that. (Talk to me in March and I will be ready to take a baseball bat to any orange hued storage vegetable that crosses my path.) So excited in fact, that I now have 2 different kinds of squash on our counter and another pureed variety in the freezer. I have been ripping out all recipes with squash or pumpkin I the ingredient list from magazines, and printing anything squash related from the web as I cross it. If you see with Joe or I later this winter, and you notice a strange orange glow about us, it’s not spray tan – it’s beta carotene!
Now, don’t panic like Joe is doing right now. Squash isn’t all that bad. It’s pretty, it’s sweet and it is very versatile. So if you are unfamiliar with winter squash or if your stomach turns at the thought of eating it, I’ll ease you in slowly. Butternut squash is one of the easiest to work with, and is most commonly found in grocery stores around the country. You can boil or roast it and then mash it, puree it, bake with it, and so on. But it’s always fun to try something new.
That, and everything with a crust tastes good in my book. This is a very pretty dish, and I saw it about 2 years ago in a publication by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association. I have been pining to try it ever since. It definitely sounds like something that zealous vegetarians would be attracted to, but I promise that the average meat loving Joe I mean person will like it.

Winter Squash and Kale Tart
as adapted from Roberta Bailey’s Harvest Kitchen
This recipe takes a long time but it is fairly simple to assemble, especially if you use a premade crust. It also is a bit soft, and doesn’t cut super cleanly, so if you are using a smaller egg, I would recommend using 2.

For the crust
1 c flour
5 Tb cold butter, cut into small cubes
1-3 Tb cold water

For the Tart
1 ½ cups cooked pureed winter squash*
2 c kale
1 medium leek, chopped
2 Tb butter
1 egg
½ c whole milk
½ c pecorino, grated (or other hard cheese)
½ tsp dried thyme
1 tsp. dried parsley
¼ tsp. all spice
¼ tsp. nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste

For the crust: cut the butter into the flour until it is course looking, and then slowly add water a teaspoon or two at a time, until the dough comes together. (This can be done in a food processor).

Shape dough into a ball, flatten it to a disc, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 425°.

Meanwhile, remove thick stems from kale and chop into ½” strips.

Once the dough has rested, roll it out into a 10” disc, and place into a 9” pie or tart pan. Press the dough in, and remove any excess. Bake crust for 10 minutes, then allow to cool slightly before filling.

In a large skillet, sauté leeks in the butter until softened, about 5 minutes. Add kale and a few tablespoons of water, cover and cook until just barely wilted. Season with salt and pepper and set aside to cool slightly.

Lower oven temperature to 350°. In a large bowl, mix together egg and milk. Then add in pureed squash, cheese, herbs, and spices. Stir in the leek and kale mixture, coating everything. Pour filling into par-baked crust and bake for 55-60 minutes, until the edges of the tart are golden and the center of the tart is solid. Allow to cool for 15 to 20 minutes, slice and serve.

*If you don’t just happen to have pureed squash laying around, take a small butternut squash (or something more fun like Hubbard, Winter Luxury or Kobocha), peel, seed and chop into 1” cubes.  Roast in a 375° oven for about 30 minutes, or until soft.  Toss into a blender or food processor with a tiny bit of water to get it going. Puree until smooth, and set aside for another use!

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