Spaghetti Squash w/ Peas and Parm

Alright, alright: I know I skipped a week there and I’m sorry. But, when you’ve gotten to the point where you’re spending 8 hours on a single problem of a multi-problem assignment, in one assignment out of many, which are all put on hold until you’ve gotten your TA work finished…well, posting here really becomes a tiny blip on the radar if you know what I mean.

I was able to squeeze in a mini-adventure last week when a friend and I set out to find the climbing gym located in the next town over. It took us nearly two hours of bus-hopping to get there, but we made it and had a blast! I’m hoping to find a climber from my side of the water that I can carpool with in exchange for gas money and the occasional box of baked goods. Know any climbers in downtown Halifax? (email me!)

This post is about a meal that falls into my “scrap dinner” catagory. Have I not mentioned scrap dinners before? They’re pretty self-explanatory: meals made up of all the “scraps” you have lying around in your fridge/freezer/cupboard that you’re trying to use up. Most of my scrap dinners are nothing to brag about; usually they’re edible and some are even rather good, but never good enough to be worth recreating…until this dish.

I had bought a spaghetti squash for Canadian Thanksgiving, planning to make one of my grandma’s recipes for side dish, but due to the very underwhelming support for squash in general from Brad’s family (I’m going to have to work on this) I made Pumpkin Cornbread instead. Nearly two weeks later I knew I had to cook that squash, but wanted to make it a bit more hearty so we could enjoy it as a meal in and of itself. Scrounging around I uncovered the last of our garlic, a shallot I had completely forgotten about, and…frozen peas. “Ok,” I thought, “I can work with this.” The challenge resulted in a very tasty vegetarian and gluten-free dinner:

Spaghetti Squash w/ Peas and Parm

Ingredients:

Note: I used only half of my squash for this one meal and it was enough for the two of us alone (the other half will feed me at work this week, yay!). If you are serving more than two people (or if you want leftovers) double the other ingredients in the recipe and cook it all at once.

1 medium-sized spaghetti squash (I forgot to weigh it, but see it to scale here)

2 large cloves of garlic, minced

1 shallot, minced

1   C   frozen peas

1    T   unsalted butter

1   C   grated fresh parmesan cheese

salt and pepper to taste

Procedure:

1) Preheat the oven to 375°F. Carefully slice the tough ends off the squash before halving it lengthwise (or ask a kind person to do it for you if you have had a bad history with large veggies and knives in the past). Scoop out the pith and seeds (as you would a pumpkin), saving the seeds for a quick and easy snack later. Place the squash halves skin-side up in a 9×12″ glass baking dish that has about a quarter-inch of water on the bottom. Bake for about 30 minutes or until the skin offers little resistance when pricked with a pairing knife. Set aside until cool enough to handle.

2) When squash is cool enough to handle, gently scrape a fork lengthwise down the inside of one half to free the “spaghetti”. Be diligent: the skin itself is quite thin so you can get a lot of squash from just one half of the whole vegetable. My skins are always completely mangled by the time I’ve gotten all the “spaghetti” out. If you are cooking for two, one half squash should do the trick – you can wrap the other up for another super-quick meal (it’s already cooked!). If cooking for 4 or more, scrape out both halves and double the other ingredients.

3) Melt butter in a pan over Medium heat. Add the shallot and garlic and cook until fragrant and slightly browned, about 2 minutes. Add peas and toss in pan until soft, about 2 minutes more. Add squash, salt and pepper as desired, and toss to fully incorporate all the ingredients. Plate the dish and top with cheese. Serve immediately.

Beezer’s Notes:

This faux-pasta dish is really yummy! If you haven’t learned by now, Brad isn’t a big fan of meals without meat and – to top it off – he isn’t a fan of squash in general (now I know where he’s gotten that from, haha)…BUT he really liked this recipe. I always know when I’ve got a winning dish when it pleases the folks you’d normally think would hate it. Spaghetti squash in particular is a good way to ease more winter vegetables into your diet: its mild, sweet taste is subtle enough to work with most flavors and its fun shape makes it very kid-friendly. Give it a shot and tell me what you think!

Overall Enjoyment:  ♥   ♥   ♥   ♥

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Squash & Bean Bake

Just five days left until I can chuck my cell phone into the depths of my closet, grab a 6-pack of hard cider, and escape with my tent and books to the farthest campsite I can find. I’m constantly texting friends and family, and I’m not much of a drinker (my absinthe-loving days left behind me in Japan), but July 1st will mark the first time in just over two years that I will no longer be on-call 24/7! The tissue bank business is one that I really admire. They do fantastic work and I’m so proud to have been even a small part of it – but I find myself fantasizing about having a steady schedule, becoming a “morning person” because I get up early not for being up all night, and falling asleep at night knowing I’ll be free to sleep through its entirety.

I’ll be glad to have a bit of a respite before the Big Move, too. Anything that will help calm my nerves and settle my mind before selling my soul to graduate studies is well worth it. I’ve been climbing as much as possible just for that reason, the cost of the gym pass justified now since I doubt I’ll have much time to climb in Halifax. All I’m missing is a more-experienced partner so that I can get off the plastic and onto the granite. I boulder outside as the weather permits and I used to feel comfortable setting up solid (oh, ‘scuse me, I mean “bomber”) anchers, but it’s been years since I’ve worked any gear more complicated than an ATC (being on-call has a way of seriously restricting all mountain activities). I no longer feel confident enough to grab my less experienced friends for a day-trip of simple top-roping. I’m hoping to beg/plead/bribe my way into some more experienced groups later this summer but the clock’s ticking. Anyone confident in their trad skills and live in Vermont? Seriously, contact me.

Well, I could chat about climbing all day but then this wouldn’t be a food blog now would it? 😉 Back to the subject of the post: this simple but flavorful dish joins the ranks of those that were eaten up with such enthusiasm that I’ve only a few photos left as evidence of its existence. No joke, the recipe fills two 8 x 8″ pans (I prefer the depth of using multiple square pans over a single 9 x 13) and both were gone by noon the following day. Oh, and none of us are vegetarian. If that doesn’t convince you this is a winning meat-free recipe, I don’t know what would.

Squash & Bean Bake (adapted from Eating Well‘s June 2011 Edition)

Ingredients:

For the Filling…

2   t   EVOO

1   large onion, diced

3   cloves garlic, minced

2   jalapeño peppers, seeded and minced

1   T   paprika

1   t   ground cumin

1   t   dried oregano

1   t   ground cinnamon

pinch of ground cloves

1   lb.   butternut squash; peeled, seeded, and diced (~ 3 C)

1   14-oz. can crushed tomatoes

1   C   vegetable broth

1   15-oz. can kidney beans, rinsed

1   15-oz. can cannellini beans, rinsed

¼   t   salt

freshly ground black pepper to taste

For the Topping…

1   T   EVOO

¼   t   salt

8   corn tortillas

1   C   sharp Cheddar cheese, grated

Procedure:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. For the filling,  heat the 2 Tablespoons oil in a large skillet over Medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring, until softened and fragrant – about 3 minutes. Add garlic and jalapeños and repeat for another minute more. Add paprika, cumin, oregano, cinnamon, and cloves and continue cooking while stirring for another minute. Add squash, tomatoes, and broth; bring to a simmer. Allow dish to simmer while covered for 10 – 15 minutes or until squash is tender. Add beans, season with salt and pepper, and transfer mix to two 8 x 8″ square baking dishes or a single 9 x 13″ dish.
  2. Prepare the topping by combining the 1 Tablespoon oil and ¼ teaspoon salt in a small dish and brush it on both sides of the corn tortillas. Using a pizza-cutter, cut the tortillas into ¾” strips and then cut the strips in half. Layer the tortilla strips and cheese on top of the dish(es). I alternated strips, cheese, strips, and finished with cheese.
  3. Bake the dish(es) in the center of the oven until the center is bubbling and the tortilla strips have darkened to a light tan – about 25 to 30 minutes. Let cool for at least 5 minutes before serving. Leftovers reheat well in the oven (microwave works, too, but your tortilla strips will be chewy).


Beezer’s Notes:

If you’re trying to introduce more legumes in your diet, find new ideas for your CSA share, or get your kids to eat something other than mac ‘n cheese I really recommend making this bake. It actually went above and beyond my expectations. I first highlighted it simply as a way to use up the can of beans sitting in my cupboard (although neither kidney nor cannellini beans are called for in the original recipe) and I’m so glad I did. I think the magic’s in the spice/herb combination as the flavor is fantastic. It helps to like squash, but even if you aren’t much of a fan it really just adds a subtle sweetness to the mix – squash isn’t the central flavor by any means. Also, don’t worry about the heat: the filling isn’t spicy at all (you’d need to keep the jalapeño seeds in for that), but tastes like a Mexican-meets-Thanksgiving dish, haha. Not the best for summer, maybe, but with all the cold rain we’re having up here you’d never know. Finally, the crunchy-cheesy topping went perfectly with the soft filling; the baked tortilla strips a genius move for having healthy substitute for a pot-pie crust. I have only a few tweaks for the next time I make this: add some corn and maybe even a Tablespoon of chipotle chili in adobo sauce too add some smokiness. Overall, though, an excellent dinner!

Overall Enjoyment:   ♥   ♥   ♥   ♥

かぼちゃコロッケ (Kabocha Korokke)

As I upload this pre-written post I want to take a moment to mention the horrific earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan earlier today. I am very relieved to learn that my friends on Shikoku are safe, but my thoughts and best wishes go to everyone who was and still is affected by this disaster. The Japanese are some of the most resilient people I know who go out of their way to care for strangers and loved ones alike. I have no doubt they will get through this tragedy, but could still use any and all help we can provide – please consider donating to the American Red Cross’s Japan Earthquake and Pacific Tsunami fund!

I have to tell you, I was very excited to make these babies. It had been a while since I cooked anything Japanese (I don’t count my usual rice bowls) and I was having my family over for dinner. While pretty adventurous overall, my posse still has their limits. Raw fish is not an option, anything “fishy” in general is rejected by the younger members of the family, and tofu is left untouched. Some favorites of theirs that I have yet to attempt are: 天ぷらうどん (tempura udon), カレーライス (curry rice), and, of course, ラーメン (ramen). The first two dishes are most definitely on my “to cook” list, but after tasting the absolute genius that is fresh Japanese ramen I don’t think I could ever do it justice. Even in my very Asian-influenced foodie town, where you can now find such yummy treats as mochi ice cream, aloe soda, and even daifuku, I have yet to taste a bowl of ramen as good as the cheapest bowls in Japan. It is an art, people, and if I were ever given a last meal it would be a giant serving of authentic とんこつラーメン (tonkotsu ramen).

But let’s get back on track since this post isn’t about tonkotsu ramen, as much as I wish it were, haha. In my defense, if you haven’t yet tried korokke of any kind you’re in for a treat. Based off the French dish croquette, it may not blow your mind the way the perfect bowl of ramen does, but you can’t go wrong with these crispy-on-the-outside-gooey-on-the-inside little balls of love. You can make korokke out of almost anything, the most popular kinds being filled with chicken, pork, or kabocha (Japanese pumpkin). Once again I substituted butternut squash for the pumpkin and even my brother who doesn’t like squash gobbled these up as soon as they hit the plate. I still need to work on my presentation skills with Japanese food – true korokke looking something like this – but they tasted like the real deal, so it was a good first attempt.

かぼちゃコロッケ (Kabocha Korokke)

(adapted from Let’s Cook Japanese Food! by Amy Kaneko)

Ingredients:

½ kabocha or butternut squash, cut into 1-2″ chunks*

1   C   low-sodium chicken or veggie broth

1   T   unsalted butter

½   yellow onion, minced

2   T   soy sauce

2   T   Kewpie-brand mayonnaise (see my 南瓜とマヨネーズ post)

pinch of salt

¼   t   ground black pepper

1   C   flour

1   large egg

2   C   panko

canola or other neutral oil for deep-frying

Tonkatsu sauce for serving**

* Note: Leave the skin on if using kabocha (but remove any “warts”) and peel skin off if using butternut squash.

** Note: Tonkatsu sauce is a thick, sweet and spicy sauce similar to Worcestershire sauce that is used frequently in Japanese cooking. According to the source book “almost no one ever makes this sauce at home” and so you’ll need to buy it. I searched all my local grocery stores, Co-ops, and our single Asian market and was unable to find it. If anyone has a tried and true recipe for tonkatsu sauce, please let me know!

Procedure:

  1. In a saucepan, combine the squash pieces with broth. Place over medium heat, bring to a simmer, cover, and cook until the flesh is soft enough to mash – about 15 minutes.
  2. While the squash is cooking, melt better in a frying pan over Medium heat. When the butter begins to foam add the onion and cook, stirring often, for about 5 minutes or until the onion has become translucent. Remove from heat and set aside.
  3. When the squash has finished cooking, drain well and transfer to a large bowl along with the onion. Using a potato masher or two forks, mash until fairly smooth with only a few small chunks visible. Add the soy sauce, mayo, salt, and pepper and mix well. Let the mixture cool a little before shaping and breading.
  4. Get three small shallow bowls ready and fill one with flour, the second with panko, and the third with the beaten egg. Also spread a little flour on a flat plate or tray. Next, dampen your fingers with a bit of water and mold the filling into little golf ball-sized rounds (there should be about 20), placing balls on the flour-dusted plate as they are formed.
  5. Fill a heavy-bottomed saucepan with oil until the oil is about 3″ deep. Heat to 350°F using a thermometer or test with a bit of panko: if the panko rises immediately, the temperature is hot enough.
  6. When the oil has reached temperature, dust the balls with flour (shake off excess), dip them in egg, and cover with panko before dropping them gently into the hot oil (the balls can also be covered and then frozen for later – see Beezer’s Notes below). Be careful not to crowd the pot and watch the korokke at all times as they cook fast! Fry until medium brown and crispy – about 2 minutes each fresh or 4 minutes each frozen. Using tongs or chopsticks remove from the oil and drain on a paper towel-lined plate.
  7. Serve korokke hot and with tonkatsu sauce (if available) and Kewpie mayo, as desired. Leftovers can be eaten at room temperature the next day and are equally delicious.

Beezer’s Notes:

This recipe is one of those I like to store away in my “good for everyone” folder. It is very adaptable, multicultural without seeming extreme to Western tastes, and is a party-friendly food: you can freeze bags of korokke in advance and then just fry them right out of the bag! If making in advance, bread the balls completely and then place on a rimmed baking sheet in the freezer. When the balls have frozen, transfer them to a plastic baggie and store for up to 3 months. I am definitely making them in advance next time since serving them hot from the stove meant I ate while cooking instead of at the table with the rest of the family.

As for the taste, my batch was very close to the real kabocha korokke I had often in Ehime. I missed the contrasting soft skin that comes with true kabocha (it also makes the dish more beautiful to look at, with those little flecks of green), but overall they were really tasty and everyone in the family was eating them faster than I could fry them up. On a technical note, I recommend freezing ahead of time not only for convenience, but also because the mixture itself was much softer than I anticipated and difficult to work with. Lastly, I’m wondering if I could get a crispy shell from baking frozen balls instead of deep-frying them, getting rid of the only unhealthy part of the recipe. Future dinner parties will have to see! 🙂

Overall Enjoyment: ♥   ♥   ♥   ♥


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