8 September 2010
Paper Chef 56
It’s Paper Chef time – the monthly food blog event that challenges us to be creative with 4 ingredients as revealed by the guest host. This month’s host was Asa and the ingredients were: capers, peaches, pumpkin/squash, and lemon grass, with a theme of “vegetarian.”
Peaches – ah, I love peaches! I look forward to them all summer. The strawberries get me revved up, the cherries sustain me while I wait, but the peaches send me into bliss. Actually, the nectarines do (no fuzz to work around), but I consider the two pretty much the same thing (fuzz notwithstanding).
I interpreted “squash” to be winter squash, because of the pumpkin connection. Our CSA was not yet delivering winter squash, except for spaghetti squash, so that’s what I decided to use. As I thought about the ingredients, I imagined a mound of spaghetti squash, topped with a spoonful of sauce, surrounded by peach slices and artfully arranged (decorative) lemongrass spears, finished off with a sprinkling of capers. I wonder how many other erstwhile paper chefs imagined the same thing? Generic “sauce” morphed into mole, until I realized that lemon grass would probably be overwhelmed by the chocolate. Since I had a nice collection of tomatillos from the CSA, the sauce evolved into a green salsa (infused with essence of lemongrass – surely tomatillos and lemongrass are complementary flavors?).
True confessions time: I’ve never used lemon grass or capers in my cooking. I’ve seen them in recipes, and have planned to get some one day, but never did. This was the push I needed! And I thought I’d be able to call my dish “Renters to the Rescue!,” because a recent tenant(s) in our rental house left some capers and some lemon grass (among other items, some of which ended up in trash or compost). I don’t mind living on the edge, so I’d brought the capers (organic! from Whole Foods!) over to my own fridge (besides, maybe my mother-in-law was the one who left them – right? maybe? nah…she left many other worthy edibles, but not those). I thought I brought the lemongrass as well, but digging around in the freezers did not reveal it. Drat! And by the time I was able to actually cook (holiday weekend + first day of school on Tuesday => me not cooking so much the past few days), it was too late to get lemon grass. So I skipped that ingredient. I guess I still won’t know if lemongrass and tomatillos are complementary. But let’s just pretend they are, for the sake of argument.
Spaghetti Squash with Tomatillo Salsa and Nectarines
10 ounces tomatillos
chiles (I used 1 anaheim + 1 cayenne + 1 unknown small but hot one – maybe a Thai bird pepper?)
5 cloves garlic
sufficient quantity of lemon grass (or sub 1/2 tsp dried lemon peel if you’re a nimrod like me and don’t have lemongrass on hand and don’t have time to go buy any)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp green chile powder
2 tsp cornmeal (possibly optional)
3 or more nectarines
1 Tab capers
optional: a few tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
1. Prepare the spaghetti squash. Preheat oven to 375° F. Slice squash in half, put the halves face down in pan, add water to pan until it is about 1/4 inch deep. Cover pan with foil. Cook 45 minutes to an hour (until squash is done).
2. Meanwhile, start the salsa. Puree the tomatillos, deseeded chiles, minced lemongrass, and garlic in a food processor. Put in small sauce pan with 1 cup water, salt, and green chile powder. Bring to a simmer. [For deeper flavor, it might help to first saute some onions in olive oil for 5 to 10 minutes, add garlic for a minute, then add the rest of the ingredients. I skipped all that in the interest of time.]
3. If you are going to have decorative lemon grass sprigs on your plates, prepare that now. Slice the nectarines into thin slices. Toast the pine nuts.
4. About 5 minutes before you are ready to eat, add a couple teaspoons of corn meal to the salsa if you think it needs thickening. Adjust seasonings. For example, I added half a nectarine, chopped fine, to add a touch of sweetness (perhaps this should be added at the beginning).
5. When the squash is done, remove it from the oven and spoon out the seeds. Then, using a fork, scrape out the strands of squash. (This is where a first-time has the aha! moment: now you know why it’s called spaghetti squash!) Using a large saute pan, heat up a tablespoon or two of butter, then put in the squash and heat through. This is optional, but adds a certain nuttiness and butteriness to the squash that is useful if you aren’t drenching it in sauce.
6. To serve: put a mound of squash on the plate. Add a ladleful of sauce. Artfully arrange nectarine slices around the sauce. Sprinkle a few pine nuts (if using) and capers on the sauce. Even more artfully, arrange your (invisible, in my case!) lemon grass sprigs on top.
Although the photo is not great (the light was fading and i was rushed when it was time to eat, plus that salsa is not very photogenic), the arrangement was pretty and the final result really tasty! The squash provided a nutty base. The salsa was tart and tangy and spicy hot (although clearly needing lemon grass! :^), which was a nice contrast to the sweetness of the nectarines and the salty crunch of the capers. (To be honest: capers? I still don’t quite get the point. I need enlightenment!) My husband said he would eat it again, but suggested it would be better as a side dish to a piece of chutney-covered grilled chicken. He might have a chance: we have leftovers! Although I am also tempted to use the spaghetti squash in a gratin recipe from James Peterson’s Vegetables (source of my squash cooking directions, including the pan saute step).