Let’s Cook: No Squash Left Behind

by Alison Boyd

November brings cooler days and lighter crowds and the chance to still enjoy our local farm stands before the fields slip into winter hibernation. Colorful local squashes and pumpkins are piled high, having been mostly passed over in favor of giant Jack-O-Lanterns and ornamental gourds. With the advent of freezers and 24-hour supermarkets, we no longer need to store and preserve enough food to last through to spring. However, not so long ago our ancestors would have been in full pickling and preserving survival mode. Some hereditary throwback could explain the excitement I feel when confronted with a fully loaded farm stand.

Home I go, baskets laden with Butternut, Acorn, Delicata and Hubbard, before embarking on a flurry of roasting, pureeing and soup-making. When the initial euphoria has passed, I am often left with a large bowl of these beauties, sitting on my counter and begging to be used. After deciding that no squash should be left behind, I embark on a scheme to make them front and center of my fall meal planning. When preparing a dinner of brined, bone-in pork chops with local apples and cider; I decided to pair it with a dish including three varieties, roasted and layered with herbed white beans and topped with a buttery crumb and nut crust. This hearty side would make a great stand-alone vegetarian supper dish, or would be equally at home on the Thanksgiving table.


Quick-Brined Pork Chops with Spiced Apples

Marinating the pork chops in an easy brine of sugar, salt and water, then a quick sear in a hot pan followed by 10 minutes in the oven, yields juicy and tender chops. Be sure to use bone-in for added flavor. As the chops finish in the oven, sliced local apples are sautéed with butter and cinnamon and a quick sauce is made by deglazing the pan with local cider.

Pork Chops

3 cups water
3 TBS. Kosher Salt
1.5 TBS. Sugar
4 bone-in pork chops (1 ¼”-1 ½ “thick)
3 TBS. Olive oil
1 TBS. butter
Kosher Salt

Spiced Apples and Sauce

2 large apples, peeled, cored and sliced crosswise
2 TBS. butter
¼ tsp. cinnamon
3 cups local cider or combination of hard cider and apple cider
Garnish: fresh rosemary sprigs

Warm one cup of water then combine with remaining water, sugar and salt. Stir to dissolve. Place chops in a shallow, non-reactive dish and pour on the brine mixture. Marinate in refrigerator for one-four hours, turning occasionally.
Thirty minutes hour before cooking, remove chops from the fridge and bring to room temperature. When ready to cook, rinse the chops under cold water and pat dry with paper towels. Heat the oven to 425 degrees and coat a heavy sheet pan with one tbs. olive oil. Set aside. Lightly salt the chops on both sides. Heat a large heavy skillet that will hold the chops in one layer without overcrowding. Add two tbs. olive oil and one tbs. butter and heat until sizzling. Add the pork chops and sear on high heat for two minutes on each side until browned. While the chops are searing, heat the sheet pan in the oven. Remove warmed sheet pan from oven and place the chops on it. Cook chops in oven for 10 minutes, until internal temperature on a meat thermometer reads 145 degrees. Chops should be slightly pink inside. Remove to a warmed platter.

While the chops are in the oven, heat 2 tbs. butter in the skillet they were cooked in. Add the apple slices and cinnamon. Sauté gently until apples are just tender. Remove apples from pan and set aside. Raise the heat to high and add apple cider to pan. Cook the cider until reduced by half and slightly syrupy. Arrange the apple slices over the pork chop, spoon on some of the sauce and garnish with fresh rosemary sprigs. Serve with squash and bean gratin, extra sauce and sautéed local broccoli or spinach.


Fall Squash and White Bean Gratin

This recipe looks lengthy but each easy step is worth the end-result. If you want to shorten your prep time, both the white bean ragout and roasted squash make excellent stand-alone sides.

White Bean Ragout

2 tbs. olive oil
1 small yellow onion diced
2 stalks celery diced
1 large clove garlic minced
½ tsp of Aleppo pepper or red pepper flakes
2 15 oz. cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
Half cup dry white wine
3 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 bay leaf
1 1/2 tsp fresh rosemary very finely minced
¼ cup full fat sour cream (do not use fat-free or fat-reduced)
Salt and pepper

Heat the olive oil in a heavy pan and sauté the celery and onion on low heat until onion is translucent but not browned. Add the garlic and sauté for about a minute, before adding the Aleppo pepper. Raise the heat and add the white wine, allowing the mixture to bubble for a couple of minutes. Lower the heat to medium and add the stock, bay leaf and rosemary. Simmer for a couple of minutes, before adding the beans. Cook the mixture over low heat for about 7 minutes, before adding the sour cream and removing from heat. Add salt and pepper to taste. Mixture should have plenty of liquid. If it looks at all dry, add more stock.

Squash

2 ½ lb. of fall squash, thickly sliced-about 6 cups
(I used butternut, honey nut and delicata)
3 tbs. olive oil
I large clove garlic pounded to a paste in a pestle and mortar
I tsp sweet paprika
Salt and pepper

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Toss the squash, garlic, oil, paprika and salt and pepper in large bowl. Transfer to a heavy baking sheet and roast in oven for about ten minutes until slightly tender but not cooked through. Set aside.

Crumb and Nut Topping

3 cups fresh white breadcrumbs
½ cup of hazelnuts shelled with skins removed
6 tbs. butter
2 tbs. olive oil
2 tbs. finely grated parmesan cheese
2 tbs. finely minced Italian parsley
Salt and pepper

Spread the hazelnuts on a heavy baking sheet and toast in a 350 degree for about ten minutes until very light brown. Cool to room temperature, before grinding to coarse crumbs in the food processor. Heat 2tbs. butter and 2 tbs. olive oil in a heavy skillet. Add the breadcrumbs and toast gently in the oil and butter until golden brown and slightly crisp. Cool breadcrumbs before mixing with the nuts, cheese, parmesan and salt and pepper.

Assembly

Grease the bottom of a large ovenproof baking dish or gratin pan. Place half the squash in a single layer on the bottom. Add a layer of the bean ragout. Again, if the ragout looks dry (beans will continue to absorb moisture while baking), moisten mixture with additional stock. Add another layer of squash followed by the remaining beans. Top with a layer of the breadcrumb mixture. Melt the remaining 4 tbs. butter from the topping recipe in a small pan, before drizzling over the crumb topping. Bake in a 350 oven for about twenty minutes until mixture is bubbling and heated through.


Alison Boyd ran a catering business in her native London before working as a private chef in Bridgehampton. She has since decamped to the North Fork.

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