Friday, October 26, 2012

Stresa Travel Recipes: Squash Two Ways for Halloween

Halloween isn't really a big deal in Italy like it is in America, or even the UK where I grew up. Italian children are starting to trick or treat (dolcetto o scherzetto), but it hasn't reached nearly the same kind of popularity here. The only place in Italy I've ever seen it celebrated on a grand scale is Comacchio when we visited one October. The whole town was decorated, took part in special events and were dressed in Halloween costumes.

Instead, Italians have a public holiday on November 1st for All Saints Day (Ognissanti). November 2nd, All Souls Day or Day of the Dead (Commemorazione dei Defunti or Festa dei Morti), is traditionally when Italians go to the local cemetery to lay chrysanthemums on their family graves and tombs.

As with most Italian religious days, there is an associated cake/cookie. There are many regional variations of Ossi dei Morti (Bones of the Dead) cookies. This one is accompanied by a touching family story and this one is from the Academia Barilla.

For my Halloween recipes, however, I've decided to share two of my favourite recipes using squash. I love squash. I can't tell you how much Luca and I eat during the Autumn and Winter! Whether as gnocchi or risotto like I show here, roast, mashed or added in minestrone.

Squash Gnocchi

I've gone through various test stages with these gnocchi, trying different ways of cooking the squash and different quantities of flour and I've finally found the recipe that works for me. The squash I use is a squat, green kind of squash as that is what is readily available here.

Squash gnocchi ready for the pot!
Serves 2 people

400g squash, peeled, raw weight
250g flour plus extra for dredging the work surface
1 medium egg

Cut the squash into large chunks and then cook it until it is very soft. Personally I use a pressure cooker as it is super quick. Mash it and leave it to cool completely. I've found that the best way is to spread it on a plate and leave it uncovered to cool. This way all the steam can escape and it dries out the squash a bit so it isn't soggy. Next mix in the egg and the flour and combine until you have a soft dough.

Dredge your work surface with flour and divide the dough into smaller pieces. Roll each smaller piece into a sausage and cut the sausage into the individual gnocchi about the size of the top part of your thumb. Until needed for cooking I keep my gnocchi on paper plates lined with greaseproof paper and lightly dredge them with flour.

Cook the gnocchi in a large pot of boiling, salted water and remove them with a slotted spoon as soon as they start floating. Remove the floaters even if some haven't got there yet. The rest will follow on quickly!

You can serve these several ways but our favourites are with gorgonzola melted with a bit of cooking cream or with cherry tomatoes sautéed with a bit of garlic and topped with grated Parmesan  Let me know if you try them and what you like them served with!

Spiced Squash Risotto
Pretty bag of Carnaroli rice

The inspiration for this dish came from Jamie Oliver's Spicy Roasted Squash recipe from his first book, The Naked Chef. I liked the spice mix so decided to incorporate it in a risotto. Incidentally another one of his vegetable recipes that goes will in a risotto is the zucchini in padella from Jamie's Italy - especially if you throw in a few prawns at the end! Anyway here's the Spiced Squash Risotto recipe:

Serves 2 people

160g carnaroli rice
250 g squash, peeled raw weight, cut into 1cm cubes
Quarter of a white onion
Chicken stock, kept simmering
1 tsp butter
1 tsp olive oil
Herb/Spice mix : ground coriander, dried oregano, salt, black pepper, fennel seed, chilli flakes, garlic clove
Grated Parmesan

Grind the herb/spice mix in a pestle and mortar. Give them a good bash about!! For quantities it is up to your own particular taste but I tend to go heavier on the coriander and chilli flakes :)

Melt the oil and butter in a large, heavy bottomed, not stick frying pan. I try to cut down on fat so feel free to use a bit more than mentioned in the recipe! Fry the onion until it is soft and turning transparent then add the cubed squash and the spices. Give everything a good mix round and add the rice. Stir well to make sure the spices are evening distributed. Add a ladle of chicken stock and start stirring. As soon as the stock is absorbed, add another ladle. Keep stirring and adding stock a ladle at a time until the rice is cooked. Towards the end I add smaller and smaller amounts of stock so as not to overcook the rice. Add half of your grated Parmesan and stir in.

Divide between two bowls and sprinkle on the remaining Parmesan. As you can see from the photo I also garnished the dish with some slices of small salami which I dry fried or you could try a couple of rashers of crispy streaky bacon. Enjoy!

Spiced Squash Risotto before I grabbed my fork and got stuck in!
Let me know if you have a go at the recipes and how you get on. And if you're off out trick or treating or going to a Halloween party ......

Sarah, Viaggi Tomassucci

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