September 24, 2014

See Jane Cook is a free weekly Internet food newsletter written by Jane Snow and published by Mimi Vanderhaven. Sign up at www.janesnowtoday.com to have newsletter appear every Wednesday (well, sometimes Thursday or Friday) in your email in box. Join us!

Dear friends,

Forgive me for bragging, but I’ve got enough Delicata squash to throw my own festival. I’m considering it, because I don’t know how else to use up the onslaught that came my way this month.

Delicata, an antique hybrid that may be the best-tasting winter squash in the world, is available in stores for a short time each fall. It doesn’t store well because the yellow and green-striped skin is fairly thin. Most winter squash must be peeled before eating, but not Delicata.

I planted Delicata this spring for the first time in about 5 years, after disease (powdery mildew) wiped out successive crops. Delicate Delicata seemed especially susceptible, so I gave up. This year I had a brilliant idea: a giant, slanted 12-foot-tall metal grid that the vines would climb, foiling the mildew with lots of sunlight and air. It worked, and I’m still harvesting Delicata as well as a slew of freaky-big butternut squash.

I was semi-frantically hunting down all the squash recipes I’ve created in the last decade when Tony showed up with an armload of squash. They were a gift from Brenda and Paul O’Neill, my Asian pear connections. “Didn’t you tell them we already have some?” I asked in alarm as Tony dumped the produce on the kitchen floor.

“I’ll be back with the rest of them,” he flung over his shoulder on the way out the door. I peeked out the window and saw him loading up a wheelbarrow from the bed of his pickup. Oh. My. God.

So we have a lot of winter squash and pumpkin, including one whose seeds are “good for the prostate,” Tony relayed. I will not whine, because I know we’ve barely scratched the surface of the variety and quantity of Brenda’s squash. She grows squash I’ve never seen before, and is my source for Musque de Provence, the flower-scented French heirloom pumpkin that I love. She sells the squash at their farm, displayed in appliance-sized crates that spill out of the barn and into the back yard. Now, THERE’S a woman with a squash problem.

I like the tip Brenda sent home with Tony. She said to let freshly picked squash sit at cool room temperature for a couple of weeks before cooking and eating, to allow the sweetness to further develop.

Even fresh from the vine, Delicata are so sweet that they don’t need butter or other seasonings. I have been roasting the squash in batches in the oven, brushed with kekap manis (sweet soy sauce) for the burnished look and hint of flavor it provides. Then I refrigerate the squash for use in stir fries and other meals throughout the week.

To roast any winter squash, cut it in half with a very sharp knife and scrape out the seeds and strings with a spoon or melon baller. Sometimes I remove the skin first with a vegetable peeler and cut it into chunks, but usually I’m too lazy. The skin comes off more easily after the squash is cooked. Place the squash on a foil-lined baking sheet with sides. Rub the cut surfaces with olive oil or sweet soy sauce if desired, or leave it bare. Roast uncovered at 400 degrees until a fork goes easily into the flesh. A Delicata will take about 30 minutes; others, longer.

On Sunday I roasted a Delicata and a kabocha squash, and on Monday I used half of the kabocha in Tony’s favorite comfort food, Japanese curry. Kabocha is a squat, dark-green Japanese squash with orange flesh that’s comparable to butternut in sweetness, but with a soft, creamy texture.

Japanese curry is beloved in Japan, where it is sold in almost every restaurant from fast-food to upscale. Tony ordered it about every other day during our recent trip to Japan. Curry is also a popular meal to cook at home, thanks to the easy-cook curry sauce base that is sold in bars. It is available here in most Asian food stores.

I’m not a fan of Japanese curry, which tastes to me like a cross between Indian curry and Jamaican jerk seasonings. Tony adores it, though, so I compromised. I used the coconut milk and red curry paste of Thai cuisine and finished it with a few squares of Japanese curry base – and of course, lots of kabocha squash. Even I liked it.

Two pounds of squash down, about 50 pounds to go.

This recipe is extremely easy to make – no sautéing, just dump everything into a pan.

JAPANESE-THAI CHICKEN CURRY WITH KABOCHA SQUASH

  • 1 can (14 oz.) coconut milk
  • 1 tbsp. Thai red curry paste
  • 11/2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 tbsp. fish sauce (nam pla)
  • 1 tsp. soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp. brown sugar
  • 1 medium onion, cut in 8 wedges
  • 1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut in bite-size pieces
  • ½ of a 7.10-oz. box Japanese curry sauce mix (I used Kokumaro brand, available at many Asian stores)
  • 2 cups roasted kabocha squash in 1-inch cubes (see roasting directions above)

Shake can of milk to blend. Open and pour half into a medium-sized saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and boil gently for 3 minutes, or until it begins to thicken. Add red curry paste and whisk until dissolved. Add remaining coconut milk, chicken broth, fish sauce, soy sauce and sugar. Add onion and chicken, stirring briefly to separate chicken. Simmer uncovered for 5 minutes. Break curry mix into squares and stir into mixture in pan until dissolved. Fold in squash and simmer until heated through. Ladle over rice. Makes 4 servings.

TIDBITS        

It’s Asian pear season – specifically, Weymouth Farms Asian pear season. On their Hinckley Township spread, Brenda and Paul O’Neill grow the juiciest, most fragrant Asian pears you’ll probably ever taste. Supermarket Asian pears pale in comparison. I’m not writing this because the O’Neills gave me all that squash, but because I consider Weymouth Farms’ luscious Asian pears one of the food marvels of Northeast Ohio.

The O’Neills planted a number of varieties that ripen consecutively throughout the season, which can run through early November depending on the weather. So git out there and buy yourself some of these beauties. Pick up a few squash while you’re at it.

Weymouth Farms is at 2398 Weymouth Road between Granger Township and Hinckley. It is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday, and with advance notice during the week. Call 330-571-9699. The website is www.weymouthfarms.com.

WHAT I ATE ON MY VACATION

Before Tony and I left for Japan, I asked readers to send descriptions of the favorite food items they ate on their vacations. Here’s the final installment. The winning e-mail, from Leah Francis, was about a bloody Mary food bar in Cocoa Beach, Fla. I’ll send her a copy of my cookbook if she will send me her address. Thanks to everyone who participated.

From Theresa Keller:

I was not on vacation but out with friends at The Wine Shop in Charlotte, N.C. where they serve a good selection of small plates and appetizers to go with your wine. We had grilled okra which was left whole, had a smoky flavor to it, was sprinkled with olive oil, sea salt and a little old bay (I think) and served with a remoulade sauce for dipping. It was out of this world. I was able to replicate at home in my convection oven, roasted at 375 degrees for about 20 minutes. Great finger food!! A new twist on okra for me and we all loved it, even the non okra people.

THE MAILBAG

From Marty:

On the subject of wild edibles in Ohio, I wanted to mention the pawpaw. When I was a kid growing up in the country, we had a pawpaw tree that grew wild back in the field. Whenever we were back there climbing trees or swinging on the grape vines, we would check to see if there were any ripe pawpaws. They taste rather tropical, like a ripe banana. I understand
that there is an annual pawpaw festival in southern Ohio.

Dear Marty:

When I was a kid a pawpaw tree grew by the back-porch steps of my grandparents’ neighbor. I’ve been itching to taste a pawpaw all these years. Ohio’s pawpaw festival (http://www.ohiopawpawfest.com/events.html) is over, darn it, but maybe next year. It was held earlier this month in Albany, in southern Ohio near Athens. The annual hoedown features a pawpaw cooking contest and plenty of pawpaw comestibles, from pawpaw wheat beer to pawpaw curry puffs.

From Cheryl:

Just wanted to tell you about the delicious meal we had at the Bistro on Main in Kent.  We had taken our daughters there for their birthdays (they share a birthday, Sept. 18).  My husband got beef short ribs, one daughter got pizza, the other got scallops, I got the garlic chicken.  Everything was seasoned and cooked beautifully, everyone loved their dish (rare in our household).  We were told they have an outdoor fireplace to eat outside, but we ate indoors, cozy, intimate atmosphere.  It was nice to get a meal better than most we could cook at home.  It was a bit pricey, though there were more inexpensive options as well.  Great for a special occasion, wanted to recommend.  Hope you had a happy birthday as well!

Dear Cheryl:

Thanks. Since I stopped reviewing restaurants I rely on friends and readers to keep me up to date on new restaurants and whether old favorites, such as the Bistro, are maintaining their quality. It’s good to hear that the Ruggles brothers continue to strive for excellence.

From Mickey:

I remember going to Young’s in the Portage Lakes and getting an absolutely wonderful crab salad.  I would love to find out if anyone has the recipe.

Dear Mickey:

Stranger things have happened. We’ll put it out there and see if anyone responds.

By the way, the more people who know about this newsletter, the more success we’ll have with recipe questions such as yours. I don’t advertise, so every post to Pinterest, mention on Facebook and email to your friends helps. My circulation is a healthy 3,000-plus — great for a blog — but I’m sure we could boost that by a few thousand if more of my former readers knew about it. Could all of you pass or post my newsletter this week? We’ll see what happens. Thanks!

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