Winter Vegetable Mystery Box

5 03 2009

Back in my culinary school days, we used to get at least one “mystery box” assignment per term.  I always kind of enjoyed them, because it required me to come up with something beautiful and delicious on the fly, without relying on specific recipes.  (Of course, sometimes it was stressful, like when I drew strawberries, chocolate, and mint, plotted out an elaborate dessert, and then went to the walk-in only to discover that there were no strawberries!  Luckily, blueberries made an easy substitution.) Anyway, I like to think of my CSA panier as a weekly, stress-free mystery box.  So far, I’d say it’s been working out pretty well.

The layered look

One of the more esoteric vegetables we’ve been getting lately is the topinambour, or Jerusalem artichoke.  These knobbly tubers have the look of dark pink or purplish overgrown ginger roots.  I took the time to peel them the first time I cooked them, then determined (with a little help from my friend, Joël Robuchon) that it wasn’t worth the effort.  After baking them into a savory clafoutis and puréeing them into a spicy curried soup, a box of unused lasagna noodles idling on the shelf inspired me to try a topinambour lasagna.  Fresh béchamel sauce, sautéed leeks (also from the panier), some grated Comté, and a handful of toasted pine nuts completed the picture.

Topinambour lasagna

You know you’ve done something right when you tell your husband “We’re having the same thing we had for dinner last night,” and the response is, “Oh, cool!”

* * * * *

Speaking of CSAs, I have written another article for Secrets of Paris, this time about some of the various organic produce delivery options available in Paris.  The information should be useful for residents and visitors alike!

Greenmarket Alternatives

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





The Winter Squash Saga, Part I: Lasagna

27 10 2008

Acorn squash, orange, and sage.  These are the ingredients for the November Royal Foodie Joust chez The Leftover Queen.  Luckily for all of us residing outside the United States, it was deemed appropriate to substitute any orange-fleshed winter squash.  I thought I’d use a patidou, but they seem to have disappeared from the markets.  Ah, well.  Potiron is plentiful and cheap, not to mention tasty.

A hunk of potiron

But what to do with it?  The combination of winter squash with orange sounds good, ditto with sage.  All three together, however, pose a bit more of a challenge.  It’s not exactly an intuitive pairing.  After a good amount of brainstorming, I had come up with two good ideas, or so I thought.  I ultimately rejected the homemade pork-sausage-stuffed acorn squash, not only because of my change in squash, but because it seemed a little too obvious.  Sure, it would be delicious, but I wanted something unique.  The other idea, for a dessert, did come to fruition, but that’s tomorrow’s post.

Somehow, while wandering through the market, basking in the glory of the new fall produce, a new dish began to take shape in my head.  We had picked up some Swiss chard, and after getting some preparation tips from Chez Loulou, I was excited to try my hand at some fresh chestnuts.  (A brief aside: I learned this weekend that while chestnuts are most commonly referred to here as “marrons,” the correct word for edible chestnuts is “châtaignes.”) 

Fresh chestnuts, pre-roasting

Nick mentioned lasagna somewhere along the way, in reference to something else entirely, and all of a sudden it fell into place: Orange-roasted squash lasagna with chestnuts and Swiss chard!  A little Béchamel sauce and Gruyère to pull it all together… this is going to be fantastic!

Lasagna is hardly a quick-and-easy dish, and this was a project, for sure.  Roasting and peeling the chestnuts, trying to find the right balance between orange and squash flavor, making the sauce, grating the cheese… you get the idea.  The approach I took was a relaxed one, doing one component at a time, stretching the prep out over the course of the day.  You could go the other way, roasting the squash and chestnuts simultaneously while cooking the chard and Béchamel, but since I cook on schedule all week at work, I prefer a leisurely pace when I’m cooking at home.

the Microplane.

Besides, cooking the slow way leaves plenty of time to take copious notes, not to mention innovate along the way.  While the pumpkin was in the oven, I decided to use the orange zest to make an orange butter with which to baste the squash.  I liked it so much that I ended up using it in the dessert, too.

Mini onion piqué

Béchamel sauce makes not-uncommon appearances in my kitchen, so that was no problem.  Combined with sautéed Swiss chard, fresh sage, and Parmigiano-Reggiano, it made a scrumptious, creamy dish that could easily stand alone.

Read the rest of this entry »








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