Ooh, it's a crummy one here today. Cold and wet and biting and the sleet's been coming down since the early morning hours. It's simply not the kind of day that should be spent anywhere but on the couch, with a cup of tea, a stack of good books, and preferably a small, domesticated animal of some kind acting as a foot warmer. But here we are, so let's make the most of it, shall we? I know! I'll tell you all about the most thrilling discovery I made this past weekend: store-bought pie crusts. Not the evil I thought they were! And just the ticket when running (very, very, very) behind on dinner party menu-planning.
Now where were we? We left off at dessert. Right, a nice polenta cake with syruped cherries. Delicious! (And surprisingly good three days later, cold from the fridge, eaten whilst watching Out of Africa. Ben said I'd love it, I doubted him, he was right, the end.) Once I'd decided on that cake, I worked backwards. Some kind of good salad, like baby arugula mixed with thinly sliced fennel, dressed with olive oil, flaky salt and a champagne vinegar. Then something warm and rich and comforting to balance that. Marian Burros's cheese and squash pie seemed to fill all those criteria, plus it'd help use up the monster butternut squash I'd gotten from our CSA's winter share. (I am literally drowning in rutabaga and turnips, though. Send Help Please.)
The pie was quick enough to fit my schedule. The only problem? It required a pie crust. And I didn't exactly have any of those just hanging around the house. A better woman would, I'm sure! But I didn't. So I sent Ben at the grocery store and made him call me from the frozen foods aisle. "This one has trans fats!" ... "This one has 900 grams of sodium!" ...
He came home with a three-pack of Oronoque Orchards pie crusts, which seemed harmless enough despite my secret shame. But honestly, I was so pleased with how the pie turned out. The crust was tasty and flaky and fast. I quite like making my own pie dough, so it's not like I'm going to stop anytime soon, but it is nice to know that good alternatives really do exist. Are you all rolling your eyes at me now? It's okay, I can take it.
Now, because my scale is missing its batteries and I therefore am blind in my kitchen (is what it feels like), I couldn't weigh my squash. I eyeballed it and roasted the part that seemed to be around 1 1.5 to 2 pounds. But that resulted in so much filling that I ended up with two squash-and-cheese pies. (Thank goodness for three-packs of frozen pie crusts! And thank goodness that I ended up with two pies, because my guests devoured every last crumb.) Maybe I am just awful at estimating weight. Or maybe this recipe yield is way off. But if you make this, make sure you've got a second pie crust on hand, just in case.
What's that? You want to know about the pie itself? Oh, right! Of course. The pie itself was lovely, too. You roast a squash until it's all melting and soft. You puree it with eggs and a bit of cream and then mix that up with browned onions and chopped rosemary and a big pile of grated cheeses. You pour that into a baked pastry shell and bake it in the oven until it's set. It's savory and herbal, creamy and warming, hearty and satisfying, but it doesn't hit you in the belly with richness or heft. The combination of rosemary and fried onions and the funk of three kinds of cheeses with all that sweet, roasty squash was just right. Between seven people, these two pies were polished off in no time at all.
A decided success, I'd say.
Squash and Cheese Pie
Yields 10 to 12 servings as side dish or first course
Notes on the recipe: I ended up grating close to a whole cup of the Cheddar because of the massive amount of filling. So make sure you dip your pinky finger in the puree to taste before pouring it into the pie shell. You'll know then if you need to add more cheese or adjust the salt. Don't worry about the raw eggs; if you're using fresh ones from the market you'll be fine with a tiny fingertip's taste.
1 1.5 to 2-pound butternut squash
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2/3 cup grated aged sharp Cheddar cheese (1 to 1 1/4 ounces)
2/3 cup grated nutty, earthy semisoft cheese, like Thistle Hill Tarentaise or Cowgirl Creamery Red Hawk (1 to 1 1/4 ounces) (I used Gruyere)
1/2 cup fresh goat cheese (2 to 3 ounces)
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
2 egg yolks
2/3 cup heavy cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 9-inch pie crust, plain or whole wheat, baked
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Scrub squash and cut in half lengthwise. Rub cut side with a little oil and place on a baking sheet cut side down. Roast 40 to 50 minutes, until flesh is soft.
2. Meanwhile, sauté onion in remaining oil until onion browns. In a bowl, combine onion with cheeses and rosemary; set aside.
3. When squash is cooked, cool slightly and remove flesh. Place in food processor with eggs, yolks and cream; purée. Pour into bowl with cheeses and whisk to mix. Season with salt and pepper, and spoon into cooled pie shell. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until center is set. Cool on rack and serve warm or at room temperature.