Wednesday, February 28, 2007

best thing i've eaten this week - panade

yes, it's been a long...oh my god! i didn't realize it had been that long. wow. okay. let's not waste anymore time, then.

so, but, oddly, if you read that last btietw that i just linked to there, you'll notice that i end it by asking about squash. and if you didn't read it and are too lazy to even just click on the link and skip to the last sentence, i'll tell you what i asked: how can i cook the squash so that i'll eat it? and enjoy it?

why is that odd, you ask? because the best thing i ate this week was: squash! ooo, creepy....

so apparently last week i was having the same thoughts that i was having 15 months ago when i wrote that post, which was that i need to be eating more vegetables but that the selection, in the winter months, if you're trying to eat relatively locally and therefore seasonally, is rather slim. so i just bit the bullet and got a kabocha squash and figured i'd find a way to make it palatable.

this is a kabocha squash:

it's about the size of a volleyball. (not that i ever played volleyball. well, i thought about playing volleyball, in 8th grade, when i was finally allowed to play contact sports after being sidelined for most of my childhood due to an enlarged spleen, which had finally been excavated from my abdomen the summer before 8th grade. but i went to the first volleyball meeting and asked the gym teacher/coach/drill seargent if there was going to be practice every day, since i had ballet class on thursdays, and her way of answering me was to turn to the assembled crowd of volleyball hopefuls and bark "i have just been asked if there will be practice every day and the answer is yes there will be practice every day and it will last all afternoon if you want to play volleyball for me i will need your full commitment there is no being late there is no missing practice there are no excuses!" so i walked out and never looked back, which was really the best decision, since i discovered in gym class later that semester that i am possibly the worst volleyball player in the history of the universe. i don't think wrists my size were meant to make contact with a hard leather ball.)

wait, where am i? okay, right, i bought a big ugly squash. if you're wondering, like stephen was, why i chose the kabocha (besides it's awesome name: kabocha!), it's because it was the only squash that i hadn't ever had before, so it the only one that i didn't know i didn't like. acorn, butternut, spaghetti? yuck, yuck, yuck. kobacha was a blank slate.

the first night, i just roasted it. you know, just to get to know it a bit. i got to use my big cleaver to hack it to peices, which was worth the price of the squash even if i ended up hating every bite. whack! whack! anyway, per instructions from jeremiah tower, we just ate the roasted pieces witha drizzle of white truffle oil. which was, of course......i mean, i would eat cardboard with white truffle oil on it. when i was apprentice chef-ing in the insane italian restaurant, i used to take the misto of truffle oil that we kept on the pass-through and use it like chloroseptic. yum. so, yeah, it was good with the truffle oil, but it was still too....squash-y. i needed to disguise it more. though already i could tell that i'd chosen the right squash for me: it was less sweet than the others, and it wasn't at all stringy.

next i made some squash "pizzas" on a couple of little multi-grain ciabattas. they were good, but it was almost too much disguising. wile liked them, though! and getting him to eat any vegetables is even more of a challenge than getting me to eat squash.... (though last night i made chicken and mushrooms and gave him a couple pieeces of chicken that i meticulously cleaned the mushrooms off, and what did he want? of course. he ate all of the mushrooms off stephen's plate (i'd already eaten mine).)

then, i found it. the answer. a panade! obviously!

yeah, i'd never heard of a panande before either. but if alice waters says to make it, i make it. here's the recipe i (kind of) used:

5 onions, sliced thin
olive oil or duck fat (duck fat! duck fat!)
6 cloves garlic, sliced thin
2 bay leaves
12 sprigs thyme
1 cup red wine
3 quarts chicken stock
2 lbs squash
1 lb chanterelle mushrooms
salt + pepper
10 slices stale country-style bread
approx. 3 oz. reggiano parmesan cheese

(those are the amounts if you're making enough for 8-10 people. since i wasn't, and since i only had what i thought was about 1 lb of squash, i cut it in half.)

preheat oven to 375.

stew the onions in 1/4 cup of duck fat (seriously, it is worth taking the time and effort of browning a serious number of duck legs to end up with a pint jar of duck fat, such as the one that used to live in our fridge until i finished it off with this recipe) over medium heat, adding the garlic and herbs once they've begun to soften. cook until onions just begin to brown, about 20-30 minutes. add the red wine and reduce by half. Add the stock and simmer 30 minutes.

prepare the squash: if you have pre-roasted chunks, as i did, peel them and slice them up. if you have raw squash, cut it open (whack! whack!), peel it, seed it, and slice it into 1/8"-thick pieces. meanwhile, saute the musrooms (our farmer's market only had cremini and shitake, so that's what i used instead of chanerelles, and it was just fine) in some olive oil until brown. salt and pepper them, and add to the stock mixture. then throw some duck fat into the mushroom-browning pan and toast the slices of bread in it until light brown.

assembly: cover the bottom of a casserole dish with a layer of bread. ladle in some of the stock mixture to cover (note: alice doesn't say so, but in the future i will take the thyme stalks and bay leaves out of the stock mixture at this point, rather than picking them out of my esophogus later. lazy cookbook editing....), then throw on the squash in a single layer. top with more bread, ladle on the rest of the stock mixture, then grate on the cheese. bake it for 40 minutes covered and 40 minutes uncovered (i cooked mine for less time since my squash was pre-roasted).

the recipe then says to serve it in bowls with excess broth from the casserole dish ladled around it. i was in the middle of cooking the damn thing and reading that part of the instructions for at least the fifth time when it finally dawned on me: "am i making soup here?" according to the food network, yes, i was. but i didn't want to be! so only used 3/4 as much stock as the recipe called for. the way i made it, it came out less like a stew/soup and more like a really amazing stuffing without any of the disgusting squishy raisins and celery that keep me from eating the stuffing at every thanksgiving at my in-laws' house ew ew ew gross. ahem. so, adjust the amount of broth you use according to what you're looking for, a soup or a side dish.

and this was the best thing i ate this week not only because it was totally delicious, but because it's a new preparation for me. when i can't think of a way to pull something together from what i have in loitering in the fridge, i usually fall back on a pasta-based concoction. now i can start experimenting with this panade concept. goodbye orecchiette, hello stale bread. very exciting.