I know what you’re thinking. It’s the same thing Chris has been thinking — often aloud — for the past few weeks: squash again? And, well, yes. Because even the teensiest of winter squashes tend to weigh nearly a pound, which is rather a lot for two people, and one can only fit so much squash purée in one’s freezer. Extra squash is inevitable, and the unused portion will languish in the depths of your fridge, feeling sorry for itself and gazing forlornly at you each time you reach in for some fresh new food until eventually you think to yourself, “Shit, I should really use up that squash.”
Last Sunday, after recommending cooking and gardening books at my favorite local independent bookstore’s holiday soiree, I returned home to find a hungry Chris. The soiree had involved wine and books and food and, well, conversations about wine and books and food, so naturally I’d lost track of time. I had not, however, lost track of the leftover muffins I’d baked in order to charm people into buying Jamie Oliver’s new cookbook, and I kindly offered one to hungry Chris. “What kind of muffins are they,” Chris scoffed, “squash?”
First of all, Chris may be the only (hungry) person I know who can conceive of an ingredient one might normally put in muffins that he would be unwilling to eat. I mean, unless the muffins are filled with pickles they’re likely to at least be edible. But second of all — and more importantly — the muffins in question were, in fact, made from squash.
“I think squash is your new zucchini,” Chris decided, at which point he was treated not just to a muffin but also to a fairly lengthy and very interesting oration on the differences between summer squash and winter squash.
He’s right though: we have been eating a lot of squash. The winter kind, because it’s winter. And by winter I mean that until today, when it reached a balmy 36°F, there was about two and a half feet of snow on the ground. Regardless of what the calendar says about the upcoming solstice, it already feels pretty damn wintry. Locally grown produce consists of squash, potatoes and — through some sort of lovely greenhouse magic — leafy greens. While I adore leafy greens in the abstract, I rarely know what to do with them once I’ve gotten them home, so I’ve been stocking up on squash. It’s wonderfully versatile, keeps well and, as it turns out, makes an awful yummy muffin.
Alice Waters is one of my culinary heroes, but I often read her recipes and think, “There’s no way that could be any good — it’s too simple.” Then I make them anyway because I am always always wrong.
This one starts with flowers and ends with butter, and if the novelty of eating flowers doesn’t win you right over, the zippy nasturtium butter certainly should. It’s the foundation of the dish and a prime example of the simplicity that is Alice. You combine a few teaspoons of herbs, some shallots, and a handful of nasturtium blossoms with a few tablespoons of butter; let it sit for an hour or so; and that, surprisingly, is all the flavor you need. The pepperiness of the nasturtiums and the freshness of the herbs seep into the butter, creating a delightfully unexpected complexity.
I’ve always wanted to be the kind of person who can wander through the grocery or farmers market and spontaneously plan a meal based on what looks good. But I’m not. I’m more the kind of person who, if she doesn’t have a carefully crafted list in hand, will come home with a random assortment of lovely-looking stuff, none of which has any business being on the same plate.
So while ordinarily I try to have at least a general idea of what I might like to make before coming into close contact with vegetables, it doesn’t always work out that way. Like on my last trip to the farmers market, for example.
I was accompanied by my mom, who doesn’t particularly enjoy cooking or even eating, but who really likes buying things. She’s also the kind of person who keeps four bottles of ketchup on hand. Just in case.
So it should really come as no surprise to anyone that our unsupervised visit to the farmers market yielded thirteen ears of corn, a pound of eggplant, two pints of cherry tomatoes, a pound of zucchini, two pounds of squash, five large onions, several peppers, and two pounds of potatoes. Oh, and no plan.