Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Stuffed squash

Why do I have a recipe featuring summer squash in the middle of fall? You may well ask. Even though this is the season for acorns and butternuts, some of the farmers at my local farmers' market are from further south, and were selling the last of their summer squash. Of course I couldn't resist those cute little pattypans and rond de nice! They are perfect for stuffing. I love food that's served in individual portions, and you can eat more than one depending on how hungry you are!

Keeping the season in mind, though, I decided that the stuffing had to be a little more hearty than usual. If it were summer I would do a lighter one using the scooped out squash flesh, breadcrumbs, pine nuts and goat cheese; maybe liven the whole thing up with a drizzle of fresh tomato sauce. Instead, I settled for a stuffing of mejadra, a wonderful Middle Eastern dish of rice and lentils flavored with spices and plenty of fried onions. My go-to source for contemporary Mediterranean recipes is Yotam Ottolenghi, who writes a column called The New Vegetarian in the Guardian. He had posted a recipe for this a few weeks ago, which I had been keen to try, and this was the perfect opportunity. The only change I made was to pan-fry the onions instead of deep-frying them - it produces the same results if you have a good pan that will fit them in a single layer, and a little bit of patience. The onions can be left to cook on low heat and you can busy yourself doing other things.

I served the stuffed squash topped with a dollop of Greek yogurt sprinkled with some sumac. We all really enjoyed this dish - not too heavy, not too light, and the delicate flavor of the squash was a great counterpoint to the earthy lentils, sweet onions and warm spices. The bonus was I also got a small pot of soup made with the scooped out squash flesh - two dishes for the price of one!

Recipe: Mejadra-stuffed squash (Serves two, but can easily be scaled up)
1/2 recipe Ottolenghi's Mejadra
Four squashes suitable for stuffing (I used rond de nice and pattypan, but you can use a large zucchini, halved lengthwise, or acorn squash quarters or any thing else)
1 tbsp olive oil
Greek yogurt and sumac for serving (optional)
Preheat the oven to 300F (150C). Cut a thin slice from the bottom of the squashes to make them stand upright. Cut off the tops and carefully scoop out the flesh with a melon baller or a teaspoon, leaving a shell about 1/3" thick. Reserve the squash flesh for another use (I made soup) Sprinkle the insides with some salt and stand upside down to remove some of the excess liquid while you prepare the mejadra.
Pour about a tablespoon of olive oil into a glass or ceramic dish large enough to hold the squashes snugly. Stuff the squashes with the filling, taking care to not to pack it in so tightly as to split the squash shells. Bake in the preheated oven for about 45 minutes, or until the squash shell is pierced easily by a knife. Serve with Greek yogurt topped with a sprinkle of sumac and with extra mejadra on the side.

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