Over the weekend, I had one of my favorite kinds of days – listening to music and cooking in my warm kitchen as the cold winds snuffled around the doors and windows.
My companion for this day of delight was my New Favorite Book, The Flavor Bible: The Essential Guide to Culinary Creativity, Based on the Wisdom of America's Most Imaginative Chefs by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg. I love this book because it isn’t a collection of recipes, just an idea book for what flavors play well with each other – with plenty of surprise suggestions to keep it interesting. When you’ve spent as much time in the kitchen as some of us have, recipes are just guidelines anyway. I prefer jazzman Charlie Parker’s approach to cooking: “You've got to learn your instrument. Then, you practice, practice, practice. And then, when you finally get up there on the bandstand, forget all that and just wail.”
So on Sunday, I wailed in my kitchen with some organic butternut squash and fresh sausage from my friends’ farm. A friend had given me a bag of “Forbidden Rice,” lovely black rice that I assumed would cook up like any other chewy rice. (The “forbidden” label comes because apparently emperors in China used to be the only ones who could eat this beautiful rice.) So I cross-referenced to see what flavors would work with butternut squash and with wild rice. I looked in my refrigerator to see what other likely culinary suspects I could round up, I put some Maria Muldaur on iTunes and I let the jazz commence.
What I came up with was completely presentable and actually quite lovely. Thanks to the dark rice, squash, red quinoa and shitake mushrooms, it also was quite nutritious. The black rice turns dark purple when it’s cooked, and the combination of that dark blue-purple against the orange of the butternut squash is one of my favorite color combos (like mango and blueberries!). I always feel a little bad when one of my experiments turns out so well. I was only feeding myself, but I wanted to go round up some mouths to feed. So I’ll do the next best thing and share the “recipe” with you so you can replicate it if you wish.
K.C.’s Forbidden Squash
NOTE: I cooked the black rice just as I do any other rice – 1.5 times as much water as rice, with a little salt to bring out the flavor. Bring rice and water to a boil, turn down the heat and simmer until it’s chewy – about 35-40 minutes. Stir it frequently so it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan.
I also used some leftover cooked red quinoa I had in the fridge. If you haven’t discovered this lovely little grain (or its regular cousin, which is whitish or beige), I urge you to do so. It’s a protein-filled grain, with itty bitty kernels and it cooks in about 15 minutes. Perfect for those come-home-from-work-and-flop days.
Another note: All quantities are approximate. I just make this stuff up.
1 medium-sized butternut squash (about 2 lbs.)
1 cup cooked rice (black, wild or other)
1 cup cooked quinoa
1 pound sausage (optional)
2 tablespoons olive oil (if you don’t use sausage)
½ medium sized onion, chopped (about ½ cup)
1 cup mushrooms, sliced (I used shitake)
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon seasoned salt
1 cup Greek yogurt (or sour cream)
Chinese Five-Spice Powder (mine came from Mountain Rose and it’s available from numerous sources)
Slice a few little slits in the squash to let the steam escape. Place it in a glass baking dish with about an inch of water in the dish. Bake for an hour @375 degrees, or until it gives when you squeeze it.
While it’s baking, brown the sausage, brown the onion with sausage, add mushrooms and brown them. (Or skip the sausage and brown the onions and mushrooms in olive oil.)
When squash is done, slice it in half and remove the seeds and pulp. Either compost or save to toast the seeds later (I never remember to do this, though my intentions are always good. This time, I just went ahead and composted them without letting them turn bad in the fridge first.
In a quart-sized bowl, toss the rice, quinoa, sausage, onion, mushrooms, garlic and seasoned salt.
Place squash back in baking dish (no water this time) with the hollowed out side up. Mound up rice-quinoa mixture in hollow of each side of squash. Add a dollop of yogurt to the top of the mound and dust with Chinese Five-Spice Powder. Put back in the oven and bake for another 12 minutes or so, until everything is nice and hot and the flavors have had time to introduce themselves to each other.
Try not to eat the whole thing in one sitting. I had it with a glass of Chardonnay, and it made me happy.
Photo: iStockphoto.com/Debbi Smirnoff