Of all the winter squashes, I'd have to say that acorn squash is my least favorite. I always find it a bit watery, somewhat stringy, not as creamy and toothsome as kabocha, for example, and not so lusciously silky as butternut can be. Too often, I see acorn squashes filled with some hippy-dippy mixture of wild-rice and dried fruit, which seems to me a somewhat tired way of fulfilling the vegetarian main-course option, contributing, perhaps, to my lukewarm feelings on the subject.
But when Russ Parsons tells me to eat acorn squash, I listen. Because it's Russ. Has he ever led me astray? Rarely. If ever. So last week I bought an acorn squash, watched it balefully out of the corner of one eye for a few days, and then got down to business. I halved it and roasted it in a puddle of water for an hour (the only time I've ever roasted anything that way), then pureed it in the food processor with a Granny Smith apple, some chopped ginger, half-and-half (instead of whipping cream) and diced butter (half of what was called for, which was a perfectly buttery amount). What I got was a silky-sweet, rich yet tart pile of whipped squash. It was loose and creamy, more like a thick applesauce than mashed potatoes, with a wonderful tang from the apple and the ginger.
I ate one helping and then another and soon realized that if I had been dining alone, I might have eaten the entire bowl for dinner. Luckily, I had Barbara there to keep me in line. After all, it was because I had a guest for dinner that I'd prepared more than just the pureed acorn squash. We had pork chops soaked in a warm adobado oil bath and then broiled to a crispy-edged and juicy state. The sweet and tart puree alongside the heartily spiced chops was a match made in heaven.
So you'd like to know about those pork chops?
(I thought you'd never ask.)
I actually got the recipe from the same Best American Recipes as the glorious apple pancake. The chops recipe came from the Louisville Courier-Journal (and was published on September 12, 2001, which strikes me as ghoulish, but I suppose there must have been food sections published the day after. It's just hard to wrap my head around that.). Anyway.
The chops are soaked in this wonderful red oil (made red by the paprika), fragrant with oregano and cumin and chopped garlic, before you turn on the broiler and slide the marinated chops into the flames. And, speaking of which, now might be the time I confess to you that Saturday was the first time I'd ever actually used my broiler. Yes, I am aware of how humiliating this admission is. After all, haven't I posted recipes before in which meat or fish is broiled? Yes, yes I have.
Here's the deal: I always thought my broiler was at the top of my oven, so when something needed to be broiled, I just put the oven rack at the top-most position, turned the oven to "broil" and waited. Then, of course, I'd have to really wait, because putting food in a very hot oven under absolutely no heating element doesn't exactly cook food at the same speed a broiler does. Yeah. I figured that out this weekend, when I tugged on the handle at the bottom of my oven and realized that there was the broiler spitting flames (and harboring absolutely no lounging mega-cockroaches, which was always my darkest fear about hot, cavernous places in my kitchen) and that there were no flames or coils or heat of any sort at the top of my oven.
But now that this wonderful discovery has been made? I can broil broil broil to my heart's content! And thick, spiced pork chops stuck under hot, licking flames makes for an entirely different dinner than thick, spiced pork chops stuck into a 500-degree oven.
Yeah. Hu-mil-iating, I tell you.
Roasted Squash Puree with Apple and Ginger
Serves 4 to 6
2 pounds winter squash (such as 1 large acorn squash)
1 tart apple (about 1/2 pound)
1/4 cup whipping cream
1/2 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1/4 cup butter, cut in cubes (I used only 1/8 cup)
1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a jellyroll pan (a baking sheet with sides) with aluminum foil. If the squash is whole, cut it in half and scoop out the seeds with a large spoon.
2. Place the squash cut-side-down on the jellyroll pan and add about one-fourth inch of water. Roast 40 minutes, then turn cut-side-up and cook until the squash begins to collapse and is soft enough to be easily pierced with a knife, about 20 more minutes.
3. Remove the squash from the oven and cool briefly, about 5 minutes. Peel, core and chop the apple. When the squash is just cool enough to handle with a kitchen towel, use a spoon to scoop the flesh into a food processor or blender (a food processor will make a fairly dense, sticky purée; the blender will be lighter and smoother).
4. Add the apples and the whipping cream and purée, stopping and scraping down the sides as necessary. Add the ginger and the butter and continue puréeing until you can't see any traces of the butter. Add one-fourth teaspoon salt, pulse a couple of times to mix well, then taste and add more salt as necessary.
5. Scrape the purée into a small saucepan and warm, covered, over medium heat, 2 minutes. The recipe can be prepared 30 minutes in advance and kept warm in a covered pan over very low heat. Serve hot.