Category Archives: squash

Bye-Bye Summer: Squash Blossom Tart with Leeks and Cheddar

When does the summer end? For those of us living in a cold climate it is definitely not August 31st or September 1st, not even the Labor Day (first Monday of September). The fall in Eastern Canada begins around autumnal equinox time (22nd of September) with sudden gusty winds and rains bending and rocking the trees, blow-drying leaves into their new colors and flocking the birds to swarm into the their long journey down South. Although it’s still possible to make some BBQ, the goose-bumping temperatures usually lock us in to experiment with pies and breads. This tart was a pure impromptu caused by our unexpected garden find – squash flowers. 

I went to collect leftover fine herbs and discovered the bunch of newly spread squash twines carpeting most of the garden with dozens of yellow blossoms that topped the tiny swelling orbs of squash here and there. We already had a first frost the night before, so I rushed to salvage these little heartthrobs into this beautiful savory tart. Leeks and fine cheddar cheese were already in my fridge waiting to blow some lacto-ovo-vegetarian minds and the squash flowers have sparked the tart idea.
Really, what a delight it turned out to be! We couldn’t have enough of it! It has everything in it to say good-bye to the summer and to welcome the colder times in the most appreciative fashion, like: ’Hey, there’s still summer freshness, but you can now also enjoy the fall bounty, both wrapped in winter crust of cheese and flaky dough.’
I understand squash flowers might be kind of exotic at this time of the year, but thinly sliced zucchini, peeled squash, pumpkin or sweet-potato would make some good alternatives.  Naturally, the blossoms give this tart that special freshness raw tang zucchini flowers lovers know so well.
This pie is also featuring Perron Cheddar cheese (generic aged Cheddar or Gruyere are also fine for this tart). 
Earlier this month, I visited Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean area, famous for its Boreal-rich agriculture and products, and brought some local specialties with me including Chocolate Coated Blueberries made by monks and few slabs of Perron cheddar cheese, known for its taste and reputation. FYI, Perron is the oldest cheese factory in Quebec, and is the only private company exporting its cheese to England for more than a century. 
They also produce the best fresh curd squeaky cheese I’ve ever tried in my life, so if you are in that area and wish to try a fool-proof best poutine  in the world (I’m not lying), don’t miss the opportunity and stop by a little bistro Chez Perron in the Saint-Prime town. Poutine buffet is its specialty with mountains of their own squeaky cheese on top of fries and variety of exotic gravies. I suggest you pass, however, on the other specialty, fondue, as it has so much pepper it kills the taste of their famous cheese…
And so, equipped with new travel memories, experiences and the stash of nice cheese and leeks, I was back home discovering the squash blossoms… When it came to the crust, I couldn’t decide: flaky pie or puff pastry? So I tried with both and both worked out very well. Flaky pie crust turns it into a quiche category, while the puff pastry sets the tart into appetizer and side dish. Steps took less than then 15 minutes in prep. First, par-baking the crust, sauteing leeks and scallions:
Then making egg-cheese mix.
Pouring the mix over the crust layered with leeks and topped with squash flowers:
In the end, I liked the pie-crusted tart still warm with handful of roasted hazelnuts scattered over and a little arugula salad on a side. As for the puff pastry crust, it was excellent next day at the room temperature to accompany a plate of hot boiled dinner.  
I used the Tenderflake store-bought dough for, both, to save time (I’m supremely confident in their dough: it has been tasted by me for years), but feel free to use this pie dough recipe  for the flaky shell and replace flour by gluten-free if wish be. Enjoy!
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SQUASH BLOSSOM TART WITH LEEKS & CHEDDAR
Ingredients:
1 pie or puff pastry crust enough to fit into 9-inch tart round, or 5×10-inch rectangular pan
1 tbsp olive oil
1 leek, thinly sliced (white part only)
2-3 scallion, minced
6-8 squash or zucchini flowers, cut in half if with baby squash part attached, OR 2 thinly sliced zucchini
½ tsp fresh or dried thyme
3 eggs
½ cup 10% cream
1 cup grated savory cheese (Old Cheddar, Gruyere, etc.)
½ tsp sea salt
¼ tsp freshly pepper
¼ tsp freshly ground nutmeg
Instructions:
Preheat the oven to 375F. Form the crust into the pan. Bake it for 15 minutes. Remove and set aside.
Heat the frying pan to medium-high, add olive oil and saute the leeks with scallions for about 5 minutes until wilted. Spread leek and scallions into the bottom of the pie shell.
Place squash or zucchini flowers over the leeks. Sprinkle with thyme.
Beat the eggs in a small bowl. Add cream, cheese, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Mix well. Carefully pour the egg mixture into the tart.
Bake for 25-30 minutes or until the egg is set and the cheese is golden brown and bubbling. Allow to cool for 10 minutes before slicing and serving.  Serve for breakfast, lunch, brunch or dinner as a main or side course.  

Autumn Squash Soup-in-a-Bowl

Serving this soup in a real squash or pumpkin bowls will turn the otherwise very neutral dish into a festive and regal first course. You can prepare it in a classic Western way by pureeing baked squash and mixing it with chicken stock and cream and a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg.  Jazz it up with some bits of bacon, slivered sharp cheese (i.e. Parmesan or Gruyere) and a pinch of fresh (parsley, oregano, basil, chives, etc.) or dry herbs of your choice (thyme, sage, rosemary, savory, etc.) 
Quite often though I do an Asian twist on it by replacing cream with coconut milk, adding curry, ginger and Garam Masala spices – turning it dairy free and, obviously, less mundane.  You can go even further at this point and stir in some wild cards like chilli, chipotle, smoked Spanish paprika, cinnamon, or cumin for an extra kick. For both versions, feel free to adjust the thickness of the soup by adding more/less stock or cream, or coconut milk.  And both are equally amazing served with some crusty bread or crostini. Please note that you can use different varieties of squash or pumpkin for this soup as long as they have a dense texture, i.e. acorn, buttercup, butternut, etc.
If you decide to serve this soup in a real squash bowl, simply follow these instructions.
 HOW TO MAKE SQUASH SOUP BOWLS:

Select some extra pumpkin/s or squash of the size you need (either smaller for individual use, or one big for a table centerpiece) with flat and stable bottoms. Preheat the oven to 350F. Using a carving knife cut the top the squash/pumpkin and put it back on top of each squash. Place the squash/pumpkin on the baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes or until the inside flesh of the pumpkin is tender, but still firm enough to hold the shape. It is better to undercook the ”bowl” than to overcook it to prevent from any potential mess if the bowl cracks at the dinner table. Although, technically, the flesh of the bowls is edible, the squash/pumpkin bowls are more often used for holiday table décor than anything else. Let the squash/pumpkin cool slightly and carefully spoon out the flesh with seeds.

You can now ladle the hot soup in it and serve immediately.
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COCONUT CURRY SQUASH SOUP
Ingredients:
1 medium buttercup, acorn or butternut squash, split and cut in pieces
2 tbsp olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup onion or shallot, minced
½ tsp fresh ginger, grated
2 tsp curry powder
½ tsp cumin (optional)
½ tsp garam masala (optional)
1 teaspoon salt
1 tsp maple syrup (optional)
1 (14 oz) can coconut milk
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
Instructions:
Preheat oven to 350 F. On a baking sheet, drizzle squash with olive oil and sprinkle with salt.  Place cut side down if cooking with seeds. Roast for 45 minutes or until tender. Scoop the squash flesh from the skins and set aside.

Add 1 tbsp olive oil to the pot and sauté minced onions until translucent. Add ginger and spices while sautéing to release the flavor into the oil. Add the stock and roasted squash. Mix well, bring to boil. Add coconut milk, maple syrup, salt and simmer for about 10 minutes. Carefully ladle soup into a blender to make puree, or use a submersible blender. Return to the pot, verify the seasoning and thickness of the soup. Bring to boil and ladle into the soup or squash bowls. Garnish with fresh herbs of your choice and serve immediately with crusty bread on a side.

Indian Summer Dinner

‘’Ya quilt y’all?’’ – asks me an old Native gift shop-keeper. ‘’Not really, but I would love to … one day,’’ I say sounding more like a schoolgirl than I want to. There is a display of gorgeous ethnic quilts on the wall and a row of huge quilting machines lining behind the Native lady like cannons. ‘’So, what’s y’all deal here?’’ she continues with all the nonchalance of one discussing the weather. ‘’I just stopped for a gas and decided to buy some dream catchers. It’s a very nice shop you have. Your quilts are impressive…’’ Always be polite and extra courteous when visiting a Native American reservation – they have their own laws that are sacred to them, so you never know. ‘’S’peiti ya’dunn quilt cuz y’all dunnow what y’all missin’.  Sammer’s fixin’on ra:d – perft thame to quilt y’all…’’ she goes with a strong Southern drawl (read: ‘’It’s a pity you don’t quilt, because you don’t know what you are missing. Summer is fixing on the ride – perfect time to quilt’’), which I just adore: it sounds like a lullaby for me (that’s why I am always ready to re-watch No Country For Old Men or Mud again and again). I can tell she was born in Southern US and/or most of the time resides there. 
Two younger Native women enter the shop with baskets full of squash, green beans, spinach and Brussels sprouts.  They give them to the old lady, saying ‘’Too many this year and they keep popping up, so here you are.’’ ‘’A’ll have’m for dinneh,’’ she lady responds in gratitude. I totally get it now: she is not just a shop keeper. She is a Matriarch.  ‘’How will you cook them?‘’ – my curiosity has no limits (and that’s why it killed a cat). ‘’Bake’m and eat’em. Thæjət would bɪjə $23.99,’’ the old Native lady wraps up our communication. That is good enough for me to have an idea of what will be my supper for the next few days. 
I am driving away from Kahnawake thinking about what Natives do as Mother Earth prepares for her long winter slumber. The Matriarch lady, the quilt, the dream catchers, the baskets of the fall bounty, the colorful trees and the growing carpet of leaves… 
It’s the Indian summer when the weather is breathtaking, the spiders make webs and the time stands still. About this time Natives are going to their last Powwow to connect with each other and the spirits of nature. Curiously (and by pure symbolic coincidence in in this case), in many European countries the Indian summer is called ‘’The Old Ladies’ Summer’’: a few days of unusually warm and sunny weather following the first fall’s frost. 

According to the Lakota legend of ‘’Why the Leaves Fall’’, many moons ago when the world was still young, the nature was enjoying a nice summer weather. As the days went by the autumn set in, and the weather became colder, so the grass and flower folks who had no protection from cold, asked the Creator for help. The Creator said that the leaves of the trees should fall to the ground, spreading a soft warm blanket over the tender roots of the grass and flowers. To pay the trees for their loss, he allowed them one last array of beauty. Since that time, each year, during Indian summer the trees take on their pretty farewell of colors red, gold and, brown. After this final display they turn to their appointed mission covering the earth with a warm rug against the chill of winter. 
So how about I’ll have what she has and include squash, Brussels sprouts, spinach and perhaps some kind of poultry. Coq au Vin sounds like is a good idea to add some substance and comfort to our Thanksgiving table. Here is my quilt of belonging representing a bounty and colors of a humble fall dinner: a butternut squash soup; Brussels sprouts with walnuts and orange zest; spinach mushroom puffs and no fuss Coq au Vin. Please stay tuned for the recipes as I have to go host a Thanksgiving dinner.
In the meantime, Happy Indian Summer and Happy Thanksgiving to all of you, with my best wishes for joy and never-ending feast. Cheers!

Citrus Herb Roast Chicken & Cheesy Spagetti Squash


This roast chicken recipe is rustic, simple and is so flavorful, I am sure you will be doing it again and again. For the holiday table I combined it with easy cheesy spagetti squash dish, which makes the final result festive, light and utterly delicious.


It is a take on a traditional herb, lemon & garlic roast chicken recipe from Julia Child. I added orange, apple, dry cranberries and some herbs to the stuffing. After stuffing the bird, it is very important to air dry chicken before roasting it to keep the meat juicy while making skin crispy.

The cheesy spagetti squash side dish takes just a few quick steps to prepare and does not require oven cooking, so you can prepare it in a microwave while your chicken is being roasted in the oven.

Once the chicken is ready and out of the oven waiting to be carved, you just slide the stuffed squash into the microwave for another few minutes to have the ingredients melted. Awesome!

And the last, but not least: serve the dish with a bottle of crisp and citrusy Sauvignon Blanc. My choice was Chateau Bonnet for it is one of the friendliest and the most easy-drinking Sauvignons in the world.


CITRUS HERB ROAST CHICKEN
Ingredients:
1 lemon sliced
1 orange sliced
1 small apple chopped
1 small onion sliced
2 cloves garlic crushed
4 springs thyme (or 1 tablespoon dry)
handful of dry cranberries
coarse salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
pinch of cinnamon and nutmeg
4-5 lbs whole chicken
1 tablespoon olive oil
Instructions:
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Rub the bird well with salt and pepper inside and outside and put aside. In the bowl mix chopped apple, sliced onion, crushed garlic, dry cranberries and half of thyme, cinnamon and nutmeg. Squeeze the juice out of the lemon and orange slices into the mix, leaving a few slices for later use. Chop the squeezed orange and lemon peel coarsely and add to the mix. Push the stuffing mix into the cavity of the chicken and fix with the toothpicks.
Pat dry chicken with paper towel well and let it dry in the open air for 30 minutes to 1 hour. Place the chicken into a roasting pan, season again with salt, pepper and thyme and drizzle with olive oil. Roast at 400 degrees F for the first 20 minutes, then lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees F and continue roasting for 1 1/2 hours (or until an internal bird temperature is 165 degrees F). Remove the chicken and drizzle it with orange-lemon juice 30 minutes before the end of roasting. Remove the chicken to a plate, loosely cover with foil and put aside for 10 minutes before carving. Discard the stuffing upon carving.

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CHEESY SPAGETTI SQUASH
1 large spagetti squash
2 tablespoons grated parmesan
1 tablespoon shredded Mozzarella cheese
2 plum tomatoes finely chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Pierce squash few times with fork or knife all over to allow the steam to escape. Microwave on HIGH for 10 minutes, or until the squash is softened, turning after 5 minutes. Let stand for 5 minutes to cool.
Cut squash in half, remove and discard the seeds. Scrape the inside of the squash using the fork to form strands. Place in the large bowl, add tomatoes, parmesan, mozzarella and parsley, toss the mix and spoon into 1 squash shell. If you have more guests use the second shell too, but double the quantity of the stuffing ingredients.
Microwave for 2 minutes or until heated through.

The Cheesy Spagetti Squash recipe was adapted from Kraft Kitchen.