Everyone has an activity reserved just for the "alone" moments. Some are more glamorous than others.. for example, changing into your birthday suit once you know you'll be alone for a while. Some like to watch the original versions of foreign movies or TV shows. Some like to slip on their wive's red stilettos and feel comfortable. These secret little pleasures are not necessarily bad or wrong. They are just the only moments we can share with ourselves when we know there will be un-interrupted alone-ness for a short time.. so we do something we almost never do, but we get a high out of. I don't have one of those strange stiletto fetishes, but I do know that I don't have the evening to myself very often.. but tonight.. it was just me and the animals.. and my "fetish" is to listen to Ravi Shankar's intro to the Concert for Bangladesh while cooking something incredibly classy. My recent trip to the market included a small sucrine du berry, a French squash similar to the butternut, calling my name with it's "Hey, I'm in season right this second!!" pitch. My stilettos tonight are seasonal, but never closed toed. They are sweetly roasted squash with wild chanterelle mushrooms and some exotic long pepper from java... and speaking to the inner voice out loud and without restraint. I really couldn't have done a better pairing job if I had tried..
1.5kg (3.3 lb) sucrine du berry or butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cubed
300g (10.5 oz) chanterelle mushrooms, wiped clean
1 bunch fresh spinach, washed
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 1/2 cup quinoa, rinsed
1 3/4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 sprig fresh sage, chopped
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 pinch angel hair chile (or 1/4 tsp chile powder)
1/4 tsp nutmeg
2 Javanese long peppers, ground in a mortar
few pinches fleur de sel
2 Tbsp heavy cream
parmesan for garnish
drizzle truffled olive oil in your plate
1. Toss the squash cubes with 1 Tbsp of the olive oil and a pinch of fleur de seul. Bake for about 40-50 minutes at 190°C 375°F.
2. Bring the vegetable broth to a boil in a pot and add the quinoa, a few pinches of the long pepper, one of the garlic cloves, angel hair chile, sage, and nutmeg. Cover and simmer until the liquid has mostly absorbed.
3. Prepare the spinach. Heat 1 Tbsp olive oil in a wide, heavy based pan or wok. Add the fresh spinach and one of the garlic cloves along with a pinch of fleur de sel. Cook until wilted and reserve.
4. Prepare the chanterelles. In that same pan, add the remaining 1 Tbsp olive oil along with the chanterelle mushrooms and the rest of the garlic. Cook, stirring until they start to release liquid. Add a pinch of fleur de sel and cook for 2 minutes longer.
5. By now the quinoa should have mostly absorbed the liquid. Transfer into the pan with the chanterelles. Stir, cover, and simmer until the liquid is absorbed and the quinoa starts to look pearly. I'm not really good at giving exact times.. sorry, but I was on an incredible musical high that I didn't pay attention to such details.
6. Add in the baked sucrine squash cubes along with most of the rest of the pepper. Stir without pulverizing the squash bits to have them evenly distributed through the dish. Taste and add some fleur de sel if needed.
7. The most important step is the cream. Not because there is much of it.. but because it really binds all the flavors together. Don't skip the stirring in of the cream. It's the last little detail that will knock your socks off.
Serve by laying a light bed of sautéed spinach at the bottom of your dish, then the risotto mixture over it.. sprinkled with a bit of grated parmesan, another touch of the Javanese long pepper, and for the most "gourmands" a drizzle of truffled olive oil.
This dish is worthy of any high end venue.. such as my Stiletto-Evening-Chateau..
The Javanese long pepper leaves an almost clove like sensation but with a numbing pepper taste on the front of the tongue. The truffled olive oil plays at the back of the mouth and you can taste the pair as you breath in. Sage and squash such as this one is a no brainer.. they go so well together I'm not even sure how to use fresh sage other than with butternut or sexy squash. The bed of sautéed spinach is there not only for color contrast but for the earthy flavor that pairs well with the chanterelles.
This dinner was just perfection at its peak.
I'm going to put on my green stilettos and have some piment d'espelette ice cream for dessert now...