Do you RTFR? I used to. I would run through every word of a recipe, then reread it twice to really get in under my skin, create a shopping list and mentally time the dish so I’d know exactly when it would be ready. I’d prep ingredients and place them in little bowls along a spotless mise. We never ate dinner at 10 p.m.
Okay, fine–perhaps I am looking back at my earlier cooking endeavors through a thick pane of rose-colored glasses, because my husband over there actually remembers the umpteen thousand times that he’s had to run back to the store because I forgot we were out of flour or olive oil, and his business analyst mind, it is more time efficient for the sous-chef to step out of the kitchen. He knows my mise is a mess, but he’d never sell me out. He also is all-too-aware that “I’m going to cook tonight!” means “better buy some fruit and maybe a baguette at the store to hold me over until at least 9 p.m.”
Yet, never has my absence of RTFR been as bad as it has been lately. In nearly every recipe I have cooked lately, I have hit a step that makes me go “d’oh!” from the “take wood chips that have been soaking for 30 or more minutes” to the “take peeled, cooled and chopped tomatoes.” Worse, I always get pissy and oppositional with it — “well, you should have said that earlier” — which of course, it did.
But last night was a classic, because not only had I completely missed a major part of a recipe, that part? It was in the title. But really, who the heck oil-poaches a summer squash? I sure wasn’t going to. My supply of olive oil, lack of desire to eat ten thousand calories and the price of a bottle of the good stuff aside, I just didn’t see the point. But what had drawn me to the recipe–a sausage, onion and fresh breadcrumb filling–didn’t hinge on the poaching so I decided to do something radical and bake them instead.
I also made a few adjustments, the first of which was prayer. I actually bought three of these round squash at the Greenmarket nearly 10 days earlier, and hoped against hope that they’d make it until I had time to cook with them. To this I say, hooray for farm fresh produce because they were alive and kicking, though not exactly happy with my evil, surgical plans for them. Such is the life of a squash, I suppose.
My other changes were just to adjust it to personal taste, including a couple tablespoons of tomato paste and a minced clove of garlic in the filling. I think some extra herbs, such as thyme, would have also been excellent in the filling, but otherwise I’d make it again in a heartbeat.
One more thing, although it is a little goofy: as I scooped the squash guts out of them, I was hit with the most uncanny smell: fall. I know how ridiculous this sounds, but they smelled exactly like the inside of an acorn or butternut squash. In my mind, summer and winter squash have never had anything in common besides a name; they cook and taste so differently, I never consider their molecular overlap. But these guys really smelled like fall cooking, and it got me thinking about the apple butter in the fridge from Elise, and leaf-peeping and silly pumpkins (via NotMartha), and well, I can’t wait.
One year ago: Punishments (Punitions)
Stuffed Rond de Nice Squash Poached in Olive Oil
Adapted from Daniel Patterson, of Coi in San Francisco, via the New York Times, 8/19/07
2 1/2 pounds rond de Nice squash (about 6), (large zucchini, either cut in half lengthwise or cut into pieces 2-inches tall and scooped out, may be substituted for rond de Nice.)
1 tablespoon, olive oil
1 onion, minced
1 clove of garlic, minced (optional)
1/3 pound loose mild Italian sausage
2 to 3 tablespoons tomato paste (optional)
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme (optional)
If poaching in oil:
1 sprig rosemary
1/2 bunch of thyme
20 whole black peppercorns
1 head garlic, cut in half
2 to 3 1/2 cups olive oil
1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Cut a small slice from the bottom of a rond de Nice squash so that it sits flat. Cut the top, about 2-inches from the stem end, leaving a nice wide hole. Using a spoon, scoop out the insides, leaving a 1/4-inch thick wall of squash on all sides. Trim the top of the squash. Set the squash flesh aside. Repeat with the remaining squash. Season the inside of each squash with salt and turn upside down onto a plate. (The salt will draw out the moisture.)
2. In a large saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over low heat. Add the onion, garlic (optional) and a pinch of salt and cook until tender. Add the sausage, raise the heat to medium, and cook, stirring often to break up the sausage, until it is no longer pink.
3. Finely chop the reserved squash flesh and add it to the onion-sausage mixture with some salt. Cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the squash is tender, about 5 minutes. Add the tomato paste, if using, and cook for one minute longer.
4. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the mixture to a mixing bowl, leaving the excess liquid in the pot. Stir in the breadcrumbs and parsley and season to taste with salt and black pepper.
5. Turn the squash right-side up and stuff them with the squash-sausage filling. If poaching in olive oil, place in a pot fitted with a lid and just large enough to hold them snug. Pour the 2 to 3 1/2 cups olive oil into the pan around the squash, enough to rise just to the top. Add the rosemary, thyme, peppercorns and garlic and cover. If baking without olive oil, spread a teaspoon or two of olive oil at the bottom of a baking dish big enough to hold the squash snug, place them inside, and cover the dish. For both, cook in the oven until the squash is tender when pierced with a knife, about 45 to 60 minutes.
The squash can be served immediately or cooled, in or out of the oil, and reheated later.