Posts Tagged sage
Today’s topic is cooking in squash.
A hard rind is a defining characteristic of winter squashes. Some squash have only a thin skin over their flesh, but many varieties have thick, hard skins that are not easily punctured. This makes them remarkably efficient containers – if you tried the baked squash recipe on day one, you saw that the squash halves contain the butter and brown sugar nicely.
Finding a squash with at least one flat side is helpful if you plan to cook inside the gourd, because it won’t roll around under the weight of the contents. Small cooking pumpkins work really nicely for this. Cut the opposite end from the flat spot off, scoop out the guts, and you can fill it with all sorts of things. Soups (like the soup recipe I shared in the post for day two, mousses, even beverages. Fill the gourd and cook both the flesh and the filling together, or bake the gourd empty and fill it after.
You can fill the gourd with the pumpkin pie filling recipe I posted before and use the squash as a replacement for the crust. Another really yummy dish is is made by mixing up your favorite meatloaf recipe and pressing it into the squash.
Here’s a really delicious savory application for squash as a cooking vessel:
Sausage and Apple Stuffed Squash
This serves four.
- 4 small squashes. Spherical varieties are preferable. Softball sized or thereabouts.
- 1 lb. Italian sausage, uncased.
- 2 medium apples or pears.
- 1/2 cup pine nuts.
- 1/2 cup dried cranberries
- 2 tbsp fresh sage, cut very small.
Cut and scoop your squashes.
Heat your oven to 375°. While it is heating, brown the sausage slightly in a pan, just enough to cook it through, and set aside.
Cut the fruit into 1/2″ cubes. You can leave the skin on or peel it, according to your preference. Toss the filling ingredients together until evenly mixed.
Divide the filling mixture into fourths and fill your squashes.
Place the squashes on a baking sheet. You may replace the tops or discard them.
Bake for 30-35 minutes and check for tenderness in the squash. More time may be necessary depending on the thickness of the flesh.
You can see where I tested the tenderness of the flesh with a fork.
When we make sausage, there’s sometimes a little bit of filling left at the end of a casing. It’s not worth starting a new piece of casing, so I often press it into a large patty and wrap it in foil to freeze and use later in recipes like the one above. Tonight I actually thawed out a packet of sausages and squeezed out the filling, since there was no uncased sausage left from our last batch.
I plan to do a post on homemade sausage at a later date. If you have the necessary tools, making your own sausage at home can be a lot of fun and it tastes amazing.
I finally found a use for the overabundance of herbs in my garden – I couldn’t use them all up before we start getting freezing temperatures, but I hated to just let the leaves wither in the cold.
Wound up making wreaths with them, and they look very festive and pretty. They also smell nice, as does the entire first floor of the house where I made them – my friends host a craft night. Unfortunately the straw forms I used irritated the fuck out of my skin, but I rubbed on some Benadryl cream and it should be fine.
The best part is that because I didn’t use any glue or chemicals, once these dry out I can still use the herbs to cook with.
I had enough sage to do an entire 8″ wreath entirely out of it. I don’t use sage much in my cooking, so the fact that my sage plants exploded was a source of chagrin for me.
I made these after reviewing some various instructionals online. Basically I took two 8″ wreath forms and wrapped them slightly loosely with thin floral wire. I gathered the herbs into small bundles and wrapped the stems in masking tape – I tried using floral tape, but honestly that stuff sucked.
Once the herbs were bundled, I simply slipped the taped ends under the wire, working in a gradual circular motion around the form and angling the bundles. Then I looped a heavier aluminum wire around to create a hanger.
Here are the final products:
This one is a mixed bundle of herbs – peppermint, Kentucky Colonel mint, Thai basil (purple flowers), Italian basil flowers, rosemary, lemon thyme, and oregano.
This one is the all-sage wreath.
Both were hung on the door of our 40%-scale TARDIS for their photos:
It was a really easy little craft project. I would say it took me about half an hour to bundle all the herbs, and then about an hour to assemble each wreath. Probably would have been faster if I had had the slightest clue what I was doing.
I chose the straw forms over the styrofoam ones because I thought it would look more organic, but it made kind of a mess (straw bits everywhere) and, as I mentioned, it made me very itchy. Maybe next time I’ll stick with the foam.
Anyway, these need to dry out for a couple of days, and then one is going on the front door. I’ll probably end up gifting the other.
If you watch cooking shows, they always have big, beautiful bunches of fresh herbs to work with. You and I both know that’s not always how it is in our own kitchens – even if you have an herb garden, maybe you got home after dark and don’t want to go out with a flashlight, or it’s been too dry or too cold for it to produce. If you don’t grow your own herbs, you have to buy them, and this can get expensive. Plus, fresh cut herbs don’t keep all that well, so ideally you should buy them the day you’ll use them, and it’s just not convenient to hit the store every day. Dried herbs work fine, but you do lose out on flavor.
One nifty little product can help you cheat and get fresh herb flavor in your cooking: herb butter. Herb butter is available commercially (Kerrygold makes a delicious one), or you can make it at home.
I do grow my own herbs, and I find that sometimes they produce far more than I can use. At other times, especially if it hasn’t rained in a while, there aren’t enough leaves (or they’re dry and crunchy) to make a meal. I balance this out by gathering large quantities when they’re available and preserving them in a variety of ways so that I can use them when the pickings are slim.
Last Sunday, I gathered a big pile of basil, rosemary, sage, lemon thyme, and oregano and turned it into herb butter.
It doesn’t look like much, and believe me, this was the best picture we could get. It’s kind of a queasy green color.
I didn’t measure any of my quantities, and I feel like this is something you should make to your own taste. I had a double handful of basil leaves, three 6″ sprigs of rosemary, twenty sage leaves, a handful of thyme, and a handful of oregano. That’s as exact as it gets, I’m afraid.
Before I went out to pick the herbs, I took out two sticks of unsalted butter and a whole bulb of fresh garlic. The butter needs to get close to room temperature. If you’re in a hurry, you can melt the butter in the microwave, drop the herbs into it, and put it back in the fridge to harden back up, but I find this makes it kind of weird. Not a bad option if you’re planning on using it that day, though.
I sliced the ends off the garlic and smashed it flat with my knife to remove the paper. The entire bulb went into my food processor, which I pulsed until the garlic was little more than paste. After removing all the stems from my other herbs, I added them one at a time, pulsing after each addition. I like my herb butter very smooth, so I run the food processor until the herbs are basically a slurry.
Finally, I added in the butter, which had reached room temperature and was soft. Blending the butter and herbs requires multiple rounds of pulsing and scraping the sides with a spatula. It’s okay to have a few little lumps of unblended butter – I won’t tell.
I divided the result into two small tubs, labeled them, and stuck one in the fridge and one in the freezer. The one in the freezer will keep pretty much indefinitely. I have no idea how long the other one will last – I always use it up before it becomes an issue. But I imagine it will keep for a good long time in a sealed container.
Herb butter is extremely versatile stuff. Just scoop out what you need and get going! I’ve used it as a base for sauces and to saute vegetables. A dollop on the top of a really good steak is fabulous. Smear a little on the outside of a chicken and in the cavity before roasting to get a crisp brown skin, great flavor, and an aroma that will bring everyone in the house running. I imagine it would be good melted on popcorn.
One of the nice things about this mixture is that it contains no salt. I really dislike buying herb blends that contain salt – I prefer to salt things myself.
You can make this with any blend of herbs you like, even if they’re storebought. I don’t recommend buying pre-pureed herbs (the kind in tubes) because they contain a bunch of other crap – sweeteners, preservatives, etc. I’m not one of those people that thinks preservatives are killing our children or anything, but I think you should always err on the side of fewer ingredients you can’t pronounce.