Monday, November 05, 2007

Too Good to Last for Pictures

It sat there waiting for me, so flesh-colored and phallic, standing straight up on the counter. It had waited at attention for two weeks, waiting for me to lavish some culinary attention upon it, but I know its type, and therefore understood that it could stand straight and tall for weeks, even months at a time. Each time I entered the kitchen, I eyed it, wondering if its time was now.

I don't know what happened today, maybe I was just looking for the perfect side-dish, or maybe that tall, erect promise of sweet moist flesh finally got to me, but today I broke down and got to some serious butternut squash lovin'.

C'mon, what did you think I was talking about?

Although I had already hit the kobacha, delicata, and acorn squashes this fall, I had yet to prepare this year's first butternut before tonight, and although it may be sacrilege to admit a favorite in the winter squash world, this cucurbita moschata tops my list. Since it is so special to me, I try to find the perfect way to prepare it for its first trip to my kitchen of the season each year. I had considered a winter squash and pomegranate salad that KCRW's Good Food sent me in its weekly emailings, but a simpler preparation, one that celebrated the fruit's remarkably sweet squashiness, seemed most appropriate for this year's inaugural butternut. So, following the simplest of directions, modifying them to fit my needs, I grilled the bugger.

It was--sorry for the clicheed superlative--a revelation.

You know how roasted squash gets the browned caramelly edges that beg to be slathered in butter and sprinkled with salt--no need for extra brown sugar? Imagine that, except even more caramel-ly, with the addition of smoke.

Did I hear you just fall out of your chair and into a swoon? If you did, you're just repeating my behavior of a couple hours ago. While ECG and I were disappointed in today's main dish (so much so it ended up in the trash instead of our bellies), this gorgeous grilled side more than made up for what would have otherwise been a debacle. We were so happy with the squash that between the two of us, we nearly ate the whole thing, and therefore, we have no pictures to share. It is that good.

Grilled Butternut Squash
Adapted from a larger dish in The Santa Monica Farmers' Market Cookbook, by Amelia Saltsman.

You will need:
1 large butternut squash
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 healthy tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, minced
1 chili arbol, crumbled
1 clove of garlic, crushed
salt to taste

To make the squash:
Heat the grill to medium. (On weekends, ECG and I use his kettle barbecue to slowly sink lovely smoke into the very essence of what we cook, but on weeknights like tonight, I roll out the little gas grill on the big balcony. I soak some smoker chips for a few minutes in water before wrapping them in tin foil and placing them in the grill, under the grate. The smoker chips help me "cheat," adding much more flavor to the quick gas grilling. If you are going to use smoker chips, place them in the grill before you light it.)

Back in the kitchen, in a small pot on the stove, heat the oil, thyme, chili, and garlic over low heat just until the herbs begin to sizzle. Toss in a generous shake or two of salt and let the oil infuse while you prepare the squash.

On a cutting board, carefully use a sharp knife to cut the butternut lengthwise (from stem to tail) in half. Scrape out the seeds and strings, then liberally douse the cut edge with the flavored oil.

Put the squash, cut sides down, on the grill and cover. After 15 minutes, remove the grill cover and flip the halves over. There should be some dark-brown to black grill lines. Cover again, and let grill for another 15 minutes, after which, check the squash for tenderness. If it is not completely tender, move the squash to the cooler edges or turn the heat down, and grill for another 10-15 minutes, skin side still down on the grate. When the squash is done, the exterior should be largely near-black and crispy all around.

Sprinkle more infused olive oil over the halves, shake with some good salt, and cut the halves into whatever serving size fits the stomachs of those who are dining. (I think that one large squash could happily serve as a side dish for four eaters.) Serve the remaining oil alongside for diners to add as needed, or just break down and place the butter out on the table too.


Rowena said...

Now if that isn't the most engaging piece of erotica I've ever read. I'd say it just about rivals your Melon Analysis. Whoa!

I'll have to look into getting a small grill for meals like these. Sounds absolutely delicious!

Wendy said...

I tried to BBQ squash once and it failed miserably. I had cut the squash into slices though. As they cooked they softened and fell into the coals. :-S
Going to try out your idea. Though it'll be in spring: highly unlikely to get any BBQ-ing weather between now and then!

Susan said...

No photos needed. Christina, you've given me yet another reason to be happy it is fall.

Lucy said...

As Rowena says, girl, you know how to make fruit and veg about as seductive as is humanly possible. Ever. Even Nadine Abensur, vego authoress to make one swoon, ain't got nothing on that virile squash descriptor of yours.

Never thought to grill it - stroke of genius. Love that scent of smoke in the fall/autumn. Stunning.

winedeb said...

What a great idea! I hate to say I am tired of squash soup, but I am! This will be a great side for Thanksgiving dinner! And...a good conversation piece also, if you know what I mean:)

Anonymous said...

Did you smoke a cigarette afterwards? haha

Christina said...

Rowena: Thanks! About 7 years ago, I bought a little cylindrical gas grill named The Patio Caddy. It was inexpensive and has earned its keep a thousand times over. I highly recommend it.

Wendy: Enjoy the cold weather. Sometimes, it certainly is nice to bundle up. Sorry about the squash fiasco--I hope this technique works better for you.

Susan: Thanks! Fall is such a nice time of year. Every time a new season begins, I think, "Oh, I love this season." Thank goodness for change.

Lucy: Ah, shucks, those are some wonderful compliments you're sending my way. Thank you! I really think you'd like this recipe.

Winedeb: Of course I know what you mean, hee hee. I can see this being a beautiful side with an outdoor Thanksgiving meal.

Maryann: If I smoked, I would have. Instead, I had a nice glass of wine and sighed a lot. Yum. Thanks for reminding me how good it was.

Have a relaxing Veteran's Day, everyone.