Sunday, March 22, 2015

Acorn Squash Rings

"What did you make for dinner last night?" my daughter-in-law, Marlie, asked my daughter, Meredith, as the three of us had tea.  We know that Wednesdays are Meredith's night to cook a nice meal for her and Brian.

(Isn't this what a Chinese cleaver was meant to do?)

Meredith said, "I made that acorn squash dinner."  I knew what recipe she meant.  Rings of squash hold a combination of other ingredients that form an unusual but delicious dinner. She continued, "I thought I had orzo, but I didn't, so I had to use what I had on hand, those shell pastas."

"You were ambitious," I said. "That meal takes a while to prepare, and, when you called me, it was already 7:30."

"I took a short-cut," Meredith explained. "Cutting and cooking the squash takes too long.  I bought pre-cut cubes."

(Once the squash attaches itself to the cleaver, I can really get in a good whack!)

"That works," Marlie said. As an innovative cook, herself, she could appreciate Meredith's ingredient substitutions.

"Besides, cutting squash is so hard.  I think I chipped a floor tile doing it one time," Meredith added.

"I use a cutting board," I said.

"I did too," Meredith said.

(Thomas and Marlie have set me up with nice appliances in recent years, like the mini-food processor on the Smart Stick, and a scale.)

Marlie looked quizzical.  "What do you do?"

"Acorn squash," I said, "it's so hard, that I get on the floor with the Chinese cleaver to cut it. I give the squash a good whack.  Then the knife comes back up with the squash attached, and I whack it again, until it is cut all the way through."  Even as I said this, I realized how absurd the picture was that I was painting, despite having been doing this my entire adult life.

"Yeah, it is hard," Meredith added, "Lots of times I don't bother to do the slices, I just cut it in half."

(Four burners are busy.  This meal looks more complicated than it is.)

Marlie asked, very diplomatically, "You don't put the knife in, and pull it out, making slits until the squash comes apart?"

"Oh," Meredith said, "like when you carve a pumpkin?"

"Yeah." We agreed that this might be a better method. Then, in a tentative voice, Marlie asked, "But...why do you do it on the floor?"

Meredith and I responded almost in unison, "The banging would shake everything in the cupboards if we did it on the counter!"  I started to laugh.

Meredith added, "Kitchen violence!"

(Starting to look yummy.)

Suddenly, it seemed terribly hilarious.  All three of us were laughing. I gasped from laughter, and a tear trickled down my cheek, as I envisioned Meredith using the fine culinary techniques that she had learned at my knee.

I managed to say, "My mother taught me some cooking skills, but I don't think she ever whacked squash with a cleaver!!"

(Squash rings with homemade pita chips, ready to eat!)

Somehow, we composed ourselves, and our conversation advanced beyond acts of violence on the kitchen floor to myriad other topics. Now and then, I felt a giggle rising in my throat, and thought, what happens in the kitchen should stay in the kitchen!

Acorn Squash Rings (originally from a magazine ad for California Walnuts)

3/4 cup walnut pieces, toasted
1 acorn squash cut into 1 1/2" rings
1 Tbsp mustard
2 Tbsp lemon juice
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium red onion, sliced into 1/4" thicknesses
8 oz orzo pasta
1 large bunch chard
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp fresh dill, or 1 tbsp. dried
4 oz smoked salmon, cut into thin strips
salt and pepper

Steam squash rings, set aside.  Whisk mustard, lemon juice, salt and pepper together, adding oil.  Coat frying pan with cooking spray. Add onions and cook until soft and brown.  Combine onions with mustard mixture.  Cook pasta.  Wash chard and remove stems.  Cut into 3/4" wide ribbons.  In skillet cook chard until wilted.  Add garlic to skillet and cook.  Stir in onion mixture, dill, orzo, half of the salmon, and half of the walnuts, salt and pepper.  Place a squash ring on each plate.  Fill with chard mixture.  Top with remaining salmon and nuts.  Warm each plate for one minute in the microwave.

Seasoned Pita Chips

4 (6-inch) pita breads
1/4 cup butter plus 1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
2 tbsp Italian seasoning

Heat oven to 375 degrees.  Cut each pita into 6 wedges, separate each wedge in half.  Melt butter, add olive oil. Stir in cheese and seasoning.  In a large bowl, pour over pitas and toss to coat.  Place pitas on large pan and bake 8 minutes.  Turn wedges over and bake 4-6 additional minutes, until golden and crisp.