Thursday, November 17, 2011

Spicy Butternut Squash Pudding--A Wonderful Fall Starter

Somehow, it seems I have been working a lot with the vegetables from the pumpkin family. Last year, I often made pumpkin risottos and gnocchi. This year I experimented with different pumpkin soups and savory dishes. If you came to my home for dinner lately, chances are, as a starter I would serve you spicy butternut squash pudding--my newest invention--with freshly baked bread. I fell in love with this dish.

As it is often the case the best ideas come accidentally. And so did mine. The idea for this dish came to me last year when I had friends for dinner and wanted to prepare something vegetarian. I made a squash bisque but still had plenty of squash left and I wanted to prepare a dish that could be made ahead and served later. I roasted squash, added some other vegetables and spices, and baked it in water. The dish came as a big surprise and was a great success. I served it in individual ramekins, decorated with sage or pumpkin seeds. It looked nice and tasted even better. Everybody liked it very much and even two extra portions were gone as well.

At that time I did not have time to write down this recipe and as it is with some improvisations, I did not remember exactly how I made it. After many phone conferences with my sister who was at that dinner as well, I finally reproduced this recipe. She could not remember how I prepared this dish, but had a vivid impression of its taste. I tried it several times and finally got it right. This week, I will make it again for my friends.

It can be served as a dinner starter, or a stand-alone dish alone with fresh baguette, and I am pretty sure everybody will enjoy this simple fall dish.

Spicy Butternut Squash Pudding
(Serves six)

1 medium butternut squash (about 4 pounds of peeled cubes),
3 celery sticks, sliced,
4 shallots, chopped,
1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped,
1 tsp mild curry powder,
2 tbsp freshly grated Parmesan cheese,
1 tsp paprika (smoked or Hungarian),
1/3–1/2 cup heavy whipping cream,
2 small eggs,
1 tbsp lemon juice,
sage leaves or pumpkin seeds to decorate,
olive oil for frying,
salt and pepper to taste.

1. Preheat oven to 400 F. Peel off squash and cut into medium cubes. Coat pieces with one tbsp of olive oil and bake for about 20 minutes until they get slightly brown on the sides.
2. Meanwhile, in a medium heavy duty frying pan, heat about 2 tbsp of oil. Add chopped shallots and fry them until transparent. Add thinly sliced celery sticks and fry together for another 3-5 minutes, until they become soft. Add squash pieces and parsley to the pan. Mix well and turn off the heat.
4. Using a blender (I use a hand blender) puree all the ingredients into a smooth paste. Add curry, paprika, salt, pepper, lemon juice and Parmesan cheese. Try and decide if you need more salt and pepper.
5. Add two eggs and heavy whipping cream and mix well. Up to this step a dish can be made hours ahead.
6. Preheat oven to 400F.
7. Divide the squash puree among six slightly buttered ramekins. Place them on a large baking pan with higher walls and pour around hot water, up to the half of ramekins' height.

8. Place the baking pan in the oven and bake for about 45 minutes or until top is set and slightly gold.

Serve warm decorated with butter-fried sage leaves or pumpkin seeds and freshly baked bread.