Butternut Squash

I often credit the Thanksgiving holiday as the inspiration for my vegetarianism. The year I was 15 I realized that if I became a vegetarian I would never have to eat turkey again. Sounded good to me, so I signed on and basically never looked back. So that means I’m not one of those sad Thanksgiving vegetarians eying the smoked or deep fried or “drunken” turkey or turducken or whatever and feeling left out because the holiday centers around a big dead bird. (If those sad T-day vegetarians even exist – I am secretly of the opinion that no one actually likes turkey.)

But I can only eat so much stuffing, mashed potato, and dinner roll, so I figured it behooved me to figure out something both tasty and festive to bring to my family feast as a vegetarian main dish. I googled “vegetarian Thanksgiving” and came up with a lot of very wheat-heavy recipes, which (as phenomenal as Mushroom and Fennel Bread Pudding sounds) weren’t going to work since the point for me was to have an option besides stuffing and rolls. So I googled “vegetarian gluten-free Thanksgiving,” and, thank goodness for the interweb, came across several mentions of a Martha Stewart Living recipe for Quinoa and Butternut Squash Pie. It sounded perfect, although when I looked over the recipe I was worried that it might end up bland and lacking in depth. I was in a real rush when I finally put it together, so I didn’t have time to play with or doctor it, other than doubling the amount of parmesan.

So what, then, can I say about Quinoa and Butternut Squash Pie? I made it, we ate it. It was pretty – my squash had such wonderfully thick flesh that it didn’t really make any ring-shaped pieces for the decorative rings on top so I cut out stars instead. Other than that, my instincts were correct. It was bland, it lacked depth. It didn’t suck. People said they liked it, but I think people were too stuffed with drunken turkey to really notice or care.

Quinoa and Butternut Squash Pie

(Kind of a crappy photo because by the time we arrived I didn’t think the 20 or so guests wanted to wait to start eating until I garnished my dish and got the lighting juuuust right…)

(I also find it distracting to have to keep calling this thing a pie. It’s not a pie. It’s more of a… something like a large timbale, I guess.)

Grapes

Yum, yum, yum! I just finished off the last of my frozen grapes. They were incredible. I can’t believe I went my whole life until now without knowing about freezing grapes.

Frozen Grapes

The first grapes I got from Eatwell were a bunch of crimson grapes, nice and firm how I like them. But then the successive two bunches were green grapes, kind of lacking in texture, and a bit intimidating. How I dislike squishy grapes! The CSA newsletter suggested that I freeze them, and I imagined a kind of watery, icy pellet, bereft of much flavor. But then it seemed like everywhere I turned I was seeing references to grape freezing – online, overheard conversations. The universe was sending me a clear message.

So I washed ’em, dried ’em, and stuck ’em on a flat surface in the freezer. Then I transferred them to a freezer bag when they were frozen through. And oh man, the first time I put one in my mouth… Flavor so intense, yet so refreshing. I may never eat another merely cold grape again!

Escarole!

There was a huge bag of escarole in my box this week, but I wasn’t exactly sure which bag it was. Last time there was an unusual item, there was a note in the newsletter to help us all figure out which thing was which. It’s new to me, but maybe escarole is more prosaic than I realized, because this time there was no hint. I did take a test nibble of raw leaves to check which of the greens was most bitter, but I still consulted a Google image search just to make sure I wasn’t about to cook up a big bag of lettuce, which, in contrast to every other bitter green I’ve cooked, is exactly what escarole looks like. (And oh, how the lettuce still plagues me. What will I do with it all?)

See how much I look like lettuce?
Photo from Potomac Vegetable Farms

(See how much I look like lettuce?)

So, after consulting my field guide, I finally felt confident enough to cook up the escarole. I love bitter greens, so I was really looking forward to my escarole, but with no expectation of how it might taste once cooked. I sauteed it with my radish greens in olive oil and then sat down to put the first bite in my mouth.

Oh. My. God. It tastes. Like. Italy.

Apparently, according to my taste buds and the nostalgic, eye-rolling ecstasy that was immediately induced, I ate a lot of escarole when my mom and I were eating our way across Venice a few years ago. There, during a miserably rainy March, I ate mountains of radicchio and every other bitter leaf I could get my hands on, reveling in this, my favorite flavor, generally ignored here in the states or reduced to a pathetic accent note that does nothing to satisfy my cravings. I’d either forgotten or had never realized that a lot of what I was eating – in pasta, on pizzas, or alone on heaping platters as a contorni – was in fact escarole. Until I magically cooked it, on this magic night, in this magic, stumbled-upon fashion, and managed to recreate perfectly Venice in my mouth. (It didn’t hurt that I coincidentally made porcini mushroom risotto last night as well, using my final onion and the last of the dried porcinis I brought back from Venice.)

Here, preserved for posterity, is how I prepared the escarole and radish greens:

“Venice in Your Mouth” Escarole

1 large bag escarole, washed thoroughly and chopped into 1 1/2 inch strips
2 or 3 T. extra-virgin olive oil
1 T. Earth Balance (or butter)
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
A sprinkle of red pepper flakes
1 t. sugar
Salt and Pepper to taste

Heat oil and butter together in a wok over medium heat. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook until the garlic begins to brown. Pile on the greens, tossing and stirring until they begin to deflate. Sprinkle the sugar, salt, and pepper. Continue to cook, tossing and stirring as needed, until the greens are cooked through. (20 minutes? I did it by feel, so I’m not sure…)

Incidentally, I don’t think I’ll be cooking radish greens again. Perhaps I didn’t cook them long enough, but they still had that prickly texture that so frightened me in the raw turnip greens. Not pleasant on the tongue! Above and beyond that, I had an allergic reaction to something in this meal, and, since I’ve eaten all the other parts of it many times, instinct tells me the radish greens are the culprit behind the rampant itchiness. Too bad, I was really digging the no-waste principal of it all, but I guess next time they will just have to spice up my compost bucket.

Crimson Grapes and Red Kale: Week of November 7

This box was also brimming with fresh greens, which is terribly exciting, although I’m a bit sad to be running out of onions and garlic. Wonder if I’ll have to resort to buying those? I suppose in the long run it is better to buy onions and garlic, which I can store up a supply of, rather than having to run out every week to supplement fresh veggies.

Carrots (8)
Lettuce (3 small bunches of what looks like red leaf)
Red Kale (1 gorgeous bunch)
Persimmons (4 – hard)
Crimson Grapes (firm and sweet – a small bunch)
Butternut Squash (1 medium-large)
Broccoli (2 tender stalks)
Escarole (1 huge bagful)
Spinach (1/2 bag, still on rosettes)
Radishes (about 12, ranging from tiny to large, plus a nice bunch of greens on top)