Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Okay, here's the deal. If you're looking for a unique and unexpected side dish for Thanksgiving, I found it for you. If you need something that can be prepared ahead of time and then just heated in the oven for 20 minutes before serving, you're in the right place. And if you want something really, very delicious, I've got that for you too. With one caveat.
But first, the dish. A succulent filling of butternut squash, its flavor deepened by two unexpected but quite traditional Italian ingredients, mounded into the shell of a roasted, meltingly sweet onion. And now the caveat. It's possible, that depending on where you live, it might be kind of hard to find the secret ingredients. The second one is perhaps more difficult than the first. So first. You're going to need a handful of traditional Italian cookies called Amaretti. They're those crispy little mounds that taste of pure almond, the Italian macaroon. You can find them in a good market, I'm sure Whole Foods would have them, or in a specialty store. You can also order them from Amazon. For your reference, you might keep an eye out for this package while you're shopping around. I bought mine at Eataly. They were exorbitantly priced but so delicious. I've seen them paired with butternut squash in many incarnations: soup, risotto, as a ravioli stuffing.
Now for the second secret ingredient. This one might be a bit trickier, but again, you should be able to find it in a specialty store, maybe even Whole Foods, although I haven't checked there. Again, I bought mine at Eatlay, so if you're in New York and care to brave the crowds, you can get it there. Mostarda di Cremona. An Italian condiment made by preserving chunks of fruit in a syrupy, mustardy, sweet concentrate. That's actually the Mostarda part. Different regions of Italy use different fruits, and the city of Cremona specializes in a particularly well-known incarnation. At Eataly, however, I didn't find the Mostarda from this particular town, so went with a Mostarda di Mele Campanine, or an Orchard Apple Mostrada produced by a company called Le Tamerici. There were other versions, like a mostrada made with prunes. But apple and butternut squash are such good friends. So. If you're interested, you can also make mostrada, but that's a bit too much work just for this recipe.
So anyway, let's say you get your hands on these two secret ingredients. The rest is ridiculously easy. You can make the filling early, you can boil the onions early, you can stuff them and cover them, and then roast them off just before serving. The recipe is from Biba Caggiano's Trattoria Cooking. Caggiano did her how-did-she-get-that-lucky research for the book all over Italy, eating at the best trattorias (those less-formal, home-cooking based restaurants) and asking for the recipe. Trust me, try this recipe and you'll be glad she did.
Roasted Onions Stuffed with Butternut Squash
Adopted from Biba Caggiano's Trattoria Cooking
1 very small butternut squash, about 1 pound.
3 ounces imported Mostarda (see above). Strain the fruits of the syrup and finely chop them
10 Amaretti cookies, finely crushed
1/2 cup grated fresh parmigiano
Salt to taste
1/3 cup plain bread crumbs
5 medium-sized onions, peeled
Oven preheated to 375F. When I'm faced with roasted a squash, I always start it off in the oven to soften it a little before I cut it in half. Otherwise, it's too darn hard. So I roasted the squash for an hour, removed it from the oven, cut it in half, and continued roasting for another 30 minutes. If you want to just go straight for the kill, you can cut it in half to begin with and then roast for 1:00-1:30 hrs. Cool the squash and spoon out the pulp (not the seeds!). Put them in a bowl and mash the pulp with a spoon or potato masher. Don't blend or process or too much liquid will be released.
Add the mostarda, amaretti and cheese. Season with salt and mix everything until well combined. You can save the filling at this point if you want.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add the onions. Boil for about 20-25 minutes until the onions are softening, but still relatively firm. Drain the onions and allow them to cool. When cool, trim off either end so that they can stand up, and cut in half. Remove the inner few rings with a spoon. Place the onion halves into a buttered baking dish and season with a little salt. Fill with the squash mixture, then bake for 20-30 minutes (start checking early, depending on how soft they were when you took them out of the oven). They should be golden and a fork should go through easily. Serve.