Pattypan squash and garlic confessions

Sometimes, I will just write about food because a) food is good and I like to prepare it and eat it, and b) describing food and recipes is good practice for writing clear, sequenced descriptions.

In the community supported agriculture (CSA) box I get each week, I often find foods that I don’t normally buy. These are all organic vegetables from a local farm and I’ve paid for them in advance, so I feel some considerable pressure to cook and eat these vegetables.

Lately, I’ve received several pattypan squash. Despite the delightful name, I have never cooked and to my knowledge never eaten pattypan squash, but here’s a preparation I can recommend. Note that some of the technique and concept has been adapted from Alton Brown’s recipe. The ingredients I used are in bold and can be adapted based on your taste and your pantry.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Alton recommends preheating a sheet pan as well, but I don’t think that is necessary. When I prepared this dish, I used two pattypan squashes. (Is squash the plural of squash? Or can squash mean many?) One was large, about the width of the palm of an NBA players hand, and the other was small, about the size of a rosebud saucer that would be used for high tea.

Cut the knobby ends off just a little so the squash saucer can rest flat, then slice the squash in half horizontally so that you have two flying saucers with scalloped edges.

Scoop* out the seeds and stringy seed pulp. You may want to hold onto the seeds for washing and roasting as I suspect they’d be good sprinkled over the finished product or eaten as snack since the look like pepitas (pumpkin seeds). I can’t confirm this because I threw my seeds away before trying.

Scoop out a good portion of the squash flesh, leaving about an half-inch all around, especially in the scalloped edges. The squash is firmer than zucchini but softer than butternut, so a paring knife is better for this scooping task than a spoon. Keep that squash flesh (minus the seeds and stringy bits).

Brush the hollowed out squash saucers with olive oil (just the insides). I prefer EVOO, but probably any vegetable oil will work. I’d avoid peanut or sesame (nut oils) unless you specifically want that flavor. Melted butter may scorch, so stick to oil. Sprinkle with salt and fresh ground pepper. Hold onto that oil you’re using — you’ll be sautéing with it later.

Place the squash saucers, cut side down, on the sheet pan and place in oven for about 15 minutes. Note that the squash may flatten out a bit, but that’s okay. We’re going for effect here, and with all the tasty stuff we are about to dump back into the squash, the effect will still be achieved.

While the squash is roasting, chop up the reserved flesh. In a frying pan or cast iron skillet, add a tablespoon of the same oil you used to brush the squash saucers and heat on medium high until the oil shimmers but doesn’t smoke. Add the squash, a clove of minced garlic**, salt and pepper, and half of a minced leek (or a section of minced onion if you don’t have leeks), and a handful of some sort of beans or peas (I used chopped green pole beans because that’s what I had in the CSA, but softer beans or perhaps peas would have brought the dish together more effectively). Saute until softened by not brown, then add a handful of golden raisins (or chopped dried fruit of your choice), a handful of chopped cashews (or toasted pecans or walnuts, or, in a pinch, peanuts, but avoid almonds or other harder nuts). Stir those in, then add a cup of fresh chopped spinach. Stir together until well mixed and spinach has wilted. Taste, add salt, pepper, and/or red pepper flakes to taste. Oh, and tarragon! Stir in about two teaspoons of chopped fresh tarragon near the end. I suspect sage (stir that in earlier if using) would be a nice complement as well.

Take your cooked squash saucers and flip them over onto your serving platter or individual plates. Spoon your sauteed vegetable mixture into piles in the squash saucers. Serve warm. If you are not quite ready to serve, you can load up the squash saucers and place them in the oven to hold warm or reheat, just not for very long since everything should be cooked and ready to go. Note that the saucers are delicate, so use a spatula or turner when moving them.

I think this dish works well at room temperature, although I find the actual skin of the pattypan serves better as a receptacle than as part of the dish. I also recommend squeezing some orange or lemon over the dish when serving (or serve with a wedge of citrus on the side).

Made as described above, this dish is vegan and gluten-free.

Potential additional toppings (some of which will of course make the dish not vegan or not gluten-free):  toasted seeds, chopped nuts, chopped crispy bacon, toasted bread crumbs, goat cheese.

*  Of note, I found a serrated grapefruit spoon to be helpful in scooping out seeds and pulp. For some reason, I have a single small grapefruit spoon that I don’t recall buying but which comes in useful regardless of the fact that I don’t normally eat grapefruit.

** Garlic confessions:  Note that a clove is one segment of a garlic bulb. A friend of mine once thought a clove meant bulb, and so she added a whole head of garlic to a dish that called for one clove. Sometimes, she learned, there can be too much of a good thing, even garlic, which  reminds me of another story of a time when a different friend was out for dinner at an Italian restaurant with a man she’d recently slept with and felt very strongly for, even though they’d not known each other for long. The restaurant served delicious bread with garlicky olive oil. She was trying not to eat too much bread (she was saving herself for the ravioli), but since the garlic oil was closer to her she pushed it toward him. She said, “It’s really good dipped in the oil,” but he saw the slivers of garlic in the oil and said, “I don’t know you well enough for that.” And his statement made her laugh, since, after all they had just had sex and spent the night talking about all sorts of things you talk about when you become intimate with someone, and then it made her sad, because, let’s face it, they were together then but would return to their real lives soon enough and they probably never would know each other that well.

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