Every autumn, we drive around Prince Edward County to look at its changing colours and to buy its fruits and vegetables. We especially like to collect squashes, most of which we get at Honey Wagon Farms near Picton, where, piled on attractively weathered wagons, there are seductive arrangements of robust-looking squashes of innumerable kinds, many of which are famous heirloom squashes in sometimes surprising colours and unlikely shapes, as well as the more conventional ones.
I stare and stare with delight and usually find it hard to choose from the ones I most want to take with me. I really desire them all.
The squashes that I brought home last weekend are sitting on tables around the house. Their beauty is so arresting that not only do I look at them, but I also draw and paint from them. Eventually I bake them and cook with them, so there is of course plenty of food for us, but plenty also for the creatures of my garden--chipmunks, squirrels, sometimes a fox, sometimes a skunk, a shy bunny, and a vivid gathering of hundreds of birds. Many of them like to feed on the skins of the squashes (that of course are happily not treated with chemicals) and even more on the remnants of the baked squash flesh, studded with its tasty, attractive-looking seeds.
I find it so pleasurable, on a cold grey day, to put a bright orangey squash in the oven. Then the kitchen grows warm and cosy and fragrant, the roasting squash--another little furnace--echoing the gas flame that is baking it. When I finally scoop out the cooked flesh, there will be enough of it to fill bowl after bowl.
The soup is very easy to make. I use a food processor and puree together to the consistency of a thick paste, one medium white onion, two shallots, 2 inches of leek (any part), 1 inch of cilantro stems and leaves and a little piece of ginger. Then I transfer it to a bowl and set it aside. Next, I puree 3 to 4 cups of baked squash flesh with 2 small, very ripe alphonso mangoes (skin and pit removed). In a pot with a little olive oil and some hot pepper flakes, I saute the onion-leek paste until it is soft, adding the squash-mango puree and cooking it further. I then add 2 to 3 cups of vegetable broth (depending on the density of the squash), bringing the liquid to the boil, after which I reduce the heat and simmer for 15 more minutes. Finally, I add some salt and pepper and a lot of freshly crushed red pepper flakes. Then open a can of coconut milk, reserve some of the cream from the top for decorating individual bowls of a soup, and add the rest of the coconut milk to the simmering pot. Mix it well, and cook for a couple minutes longer. Transfer to warm soup bowls and serve.
For the squash side-dish, I preserve the outer skin of the baked squash. Then I simply melt some butter, add some salt, ground pepper, and nutmeg, add the squash puree, mix and warm everything together and transfer the final puree to the prepared squash-vessel. It's nice to serve some green vegetables as an accompaniment to the squash dish such as steamed broccoli or green peas. There is considerable pleasure in just enjoying the combination of the colours now available--the golden orange squash dish juxtaposed to the bright greenery of the other vegetables.
The next day I baked a light, buoyant squash pie--from the same
In my collection of the cook books, there is one entirely dedicated to squashes. The book is called: The Squash: History, Folklore, Ancient Recipe, and is by Arneo Nizzoli (Cologne, Konemann, 1998).
The Raw and the Cooked, MYTHOLOGIQUES is a new column on the culture of eating and cooking, with contributions by various authors. The column name is borrowed from the title of a book by Claude Levi-Strauss. It is spontaneous, a little amusing but serious at the same time.