Sunday, October 30, 2011

Roasted Heirloom Squash and Apple Soup

Yesterday we picked most of the apples and pears from our trees, and last evening we delighted in the first of our winter squash soups. Made from one of the heirloom Butternut squash, it was filled with creamy sweetness like only a squash directly from our garden to the table can be. It had all the elements we enjoy: a little sweetness (squash) with some salty (cashew) and a bit of spice.

Roasted Heirloom Squash and Apple Soup from Diana's kitchen

1 squash (3-4 lb butternut), seeded, peeled, cut into 1 inch chunks
2 medium tart apples, peeled, quartered, core removed, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1 teaspoon curry powder
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon coriander
1 teaspoon minced ginger
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 Tablespoons butter, melted
2 Tablespoons good olive oil or organic coconut oil
4-6 cups chicken (or vegetable) stock
1 Tablespoon raw unfiltered honey
pinch or more cayenne pepper (to taste)
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

1/2 cup cream or half and half
salted cashews

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Into a large Dutch Oven, combine the chopped squash, apples, onion, curry powder, turmeric, coriander, ginger, salt and pepper and combine. Add olive oil or coconut oil to the melted butter, pour it over the squash mixture and fold to coat. Roast for 40-45 minutes or until the squash and apples are tender. Stir once or twice during the roasting.

Remove from the oven and add 4 cups of chicken stock (or just enough to barely cover the squash). Add the honey, cayenne pepper, nutmeg. Stir, and heat the contents to a simmer and until the squash and apples are tender.

Remove the pot from the burner, and puree the contents with an immersion blender. It will be slightly sweet and thick. Add the cream and combine. If you prefer less thickness, add additional chicken stock. Serve immediately and with a few cashews on top.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Cucurbita maxima 'Galeux D' eysines', 'Marina di Chioggia' and Sautéed Stuffed Squash Blossoms

Cucurbita maxima (koo-KER-bih-ta MAKS-ih-muh)

The plant family Cucurbitaceae (koo-ker-bih-TAY-see-ee) consists of gourds, zucchini, watermelon, pumpkins, some cucumbers, squash... and are mostly monoecious, a separate male and female flower on the one plant. This year we added two most unusual heirloom varieties of squash to the garden, and I simply love the looks of both.

Cucurbita maxima 'Brodé D'Galeux Eysines'

Like a large wheel of cheese, I am captivated by this most unusual salmon-colored wart-covered squash. A work of art, this French heirloom originates from Eysines, a village in Gironde, Bordeaux. The name translates to embroidered with pebbles from Eysines and is often shortened to Galeux d'Eysines.

There is not enough room in our regular vegetable garden because the vines are ginormous, so we prepared a spot on a slight slope near our hoop house and ran the vines back and forth rather than allow the tentacles to sprawl into the hinterland. Most of the small fruits would suddenly disappear, eaten by something, so we netted the plant and several survived.

The younger squash are smooth and pale in color, and as they age, the high sugar content causes the skin to crack and the peanut-like growth develops as protection. A heavy feeder and with a long growing season (95 to 110 days), it needs room to grow in full sun and with fertile, evenly moist and well-draining soil. Plant your seedling once any danger of frost has passed and harvest when the skin is firm and orange and prior to the first frost date in the fall.

On average they weigh 10-20 pounds at maturity, but pictured above is one at 31 pounds. Once harvested, store in a cool location for upwards of 6 months, and supposedly they improve with age.

A smooth silky nutty flavor, these are used in roasting, baking, soups, and gratins. The stout seeds are also said to be sweet and delicious: coat with olive oil, sprinkle with a seasoned salt of choice and toast them in the oven.

I am as anxious to try these squash as I was to grow them, and am not sure how long I will wait, but at some point, soups on and I'll let you know when.

Cucurbita maxima 'Marina di Chioggia'

This large heirloom squash traces its roots to the coastal town of Chioggia, Italy, on the Adriatic coast near Venice. Marina di Chioggia translates to Chioggia Sea Pumpkin. Its dark green and bumpy, turban-shaped form averages 7-20 pounds and with leaves that span 10-14 inches. The rich sweet flesh is deep yellow-orange and delicious in pies, soups and sauces or baked. In Italy it is prized for gnocchi and for roasting, and personally, I am looking forward to making some ravioli.

Have you ever stuffed the blossoms? (see below)

Sautéed Stuffed Squash Blossoms from Diana's kitchen

12 squash and/or zucchini blossoms
Ricotta cheese, 1/4 to 1/3 cup
shredded Mozzarella cheese, 1/4 to 1/3 cup
fresh basil, thinly sliced
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 egg, slightly beaten
1/2 cup Panko or bread crumbs
extra virgin olive oil

homemade marinara sauce, optional

Collect your blossoms in the early morning and leave some of the stem for ease of preparation. Inspect for any bees or bugs inside the flower, carefully handling the delicate blossom. If you prefer, gently remove any stamen inside.

In a bowl combine the ricotta and mozzarella cheese, basil, a little salt and pepper to season. Gently open a few petals of the flower and with a teaspoon, stuff it with the ricotta mixture, enough to fill the cup and still fold the petals around; twist the top of the petals together to seal.

Lightly beat the egg in a shallow bowl. Place the panko or bread crumbs in another shallow bowl.

Dip each stuffed blossom into the egg, then into the crumbs, and fry a couple minutes on each side in olive oil until golden brown. Remove and place on paper towels to drain any excess, sprinkle with a touch of salt, and serve with a side of marinara sauce (or not). Delicious!

Note: The measurements above are approximate and dependent upon how many blossoms you intend to stuff.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Vince Gill Concert and Meet and Greet

A wonderful array of music, from country to Grand Ole Opry to just plain fantastic jammin' and with eight outstanding backup artists; add a few good stories, a great wit, one personable fella, full of vitality, one who connects and interacts with his audience with his charm and smiling eyes, and you have Vince Gill.

I must admit that country music has not been at the top of my list of listening music, but this gentleman may change my mind, (wink) for he is a class act: a man who clearly loves his music, a voice so pure and beautiful, a world-class guitarist, and one who has surrounded himself with amazing musicians.

The concert was a half hour late in starting, but only due to some difficulty he had with his connecting Chicago flight. Once he arrived on stage, it was one song after another and that continued for two hours! Should you have the opportunity, he is a must see.

Occasionally my son George sees Vince, so when I called to say we had purchased tickets to his concert at Lincoln City, OR, he said, I'll try and arrange a 'meet and greet' with him for you. And so it happened.

Following a dynamic concert and considering how tired he must have been, a gracious Vince Gill came out to meet and greet the small group. We told him of some muffins I had made for him and the guys for their morning coffee, and that we had given them to Bennie (his guitar tech) earlier in the afternoon. We thanked him for taking the time to see us.

If you haven't heard Vince Gill sing, here is one you might enjoy.

I Still Believe In You

Note: although there were no restrictions concerning cameras, I chose to not use any flash for the photos.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Hoop House Redo and Moles

We have been busy: nearly two weeks on the road to Montana with friends, Part I and Part II; continual work in the garden; harvesting and processing of vegetables upon return; and then my brother came to visit, just at the right time.

As many of you know, we put in a hoop house at the beginning of the year in order to extend our growing season, jump start the spring and summer vegetables and prolong the harvest of heat loving plants such as eggplant and peppers into the fall. Well, the best laid plans o' mice (moles) an' men...

It seems the moles took over the beds while we were gone and caused considerable damage by nearly uprooting many of the vegetables. Moles do not eat the roots, but rather dig main tunnels creating mounds and large air pockets, then go off in in all directions as they search for worms... in this case throughout our raised beds.

I wish this article from Purdue University had been published many years ago as it would have saved us many dollars. No, gum in the tunnel, vibrating devices, moth balls... do not work, for we have tried every gimmick in the book throughout the years. The only deterrent has been to trap them or else forget about them, which is what we finally did, for they outnumbered us and the energy required for combat. According to this data there is a relatively new product as an alternative, a worm-shaped bait with a smell and taste of a worm and Bromethalin, the active ingredient that poisons the mole. This was not a choice for our vegetable garden.

Redoing all the raised beds inside the hoop house was not at the top of our list either, but clearly had to be done. We dug out two of the beds, inserted a screen they cannot enter, and refilled with soil. Two down, three to go... game on boys!

We will wait until the rest of the eggplant and peppers are harvested before we complete the project.

Thank you brother! we got a new stone floor.