Category Archives: squash

Cambodian Noodle Soup

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With the exception of my travels through the Balkans, I have yet to visit any metropolitan area where I didn’t stumble upon a pho shop.  With their steaming bowls of noodles, broth, and an endless variety of add-ins, these Thai noodle soup shops have a cult like following that make them both universal and hard not to like.  In grad school my favorite lunch was a steaming bowl of pho from the student union.  The options were endless so I could eat there every day without repeating the same bowl of soup twice.

I had never made pho before but decided to give it a try when my craving for the hot broth covered noodles got the best of me.  In browsing through recipe options I came across one in The Splendid Table’s How to Eat Supper. (For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, The Splendid Table is my favorite radio program on NPR.  I can even stream their broadcasts online meaning I can get my Lynn Rossetto Kasper fix while living overseas).  I was set to give the pho recipe a try then I turned the page and saw the Cambodian twist on the soup which sounded even more intriguing.  Unable to decide which version to make, I combined the best elements of both recipes to form what I present here.  You can also add or substitute ingredients as your palate or pantry dictates.

The verdict?  This soup is delicious but a lot more work than popping into your local pho shop. But if you don’t have one in close proximity to you, make this soup.  You won’t be disappointed.

CAMBODIAN NOODLE SOUP

For the broth:

1 medium onion, thinly sliced

5 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced

1 two inch piece fresh ginger, thinly sliced

6 whole cloves

1 star anise

Freshly ground black pepper

7 cups chicken broth

2 tablespoons sugar

2 teaspoons Asian fish sauce

For the soup:

8 ounces linguine-style rice noodles

6 ounces thinly sliced top round steak

1 1/2 cups winter squash, diced

1 cup unsweetened pineapple chunks

1 medium tomato, diced

For the table salad:

10 sprigs fresh cilantro

8 sprigs Thai or other fresh basil

8 mint sprigs

Generous handful bean sprouts

2 Serrano chiles, thinly sliced

1 large lime, cut into wedges

Add-in sauces:

Asian hot sauce

Hoisin sauce

  • Place a rack 4 to 6 inches from the broiler and then pre-heat the oven.
  • Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and evenly distribute the onion, garlic, ginger, cloves, star anise, and five grinds of black pepper over the baking sheet.
  • Broil for 5-6 minutes until the spices are fragrant and the onions begin to brown.  Scrape the mixture into a large soup pot.
  • Add the broth, sugar, fish sauce, and squash to the pot.  Cover the pot tightly and bring the entire mixture to a simmer.  Cook for 20 minutes or until the squash is tender.
  • Meanwhile, place the noodles in a large pan and cover with very hot tap water.  Allow to soak for 20 minutes or until the noodles are tender.  Drain, rinse with cold water, then divide evenly between two large soup bowls.
  • Thinly slice the steak into bite sized pieces.  (Hint:  For easier slicing, place the steak in the freezer before you begin making the soup.  Allow it to sit for 20 minutes then remove it from the freezer and slice).  Evenly divide the meat between the two soup bowls.  The hot broth will cook it to a medium-rare
  • Arrange the table salad ingredients on a medium-sized platter and place on the table.
  • When the squash is tender, add the pineapple and tomatoes to the broth and stir well to combine.  Cook for 1 minute to allow the broth to return to a simmer.
  • Ladle the broth over the noodles and meat and serve immediately topped with the table salad and sauces of your choice.

Serves 2

Cambodian Noodle Soup

photo 2-37

With the exception of my travels through the Balkans, I have yet to visit any metropolitan area where I didn’t stumble upon a pho shop.  With their steaming bowls of noodles, broth, and an endless variety of add-ins, these Thai noodle soup shops have a cult like following that make them both universal and hard not to like.  In grad school my favorite lunch was a steaming bowl of pho from the student union.  The options were endless so I could eat there every day without repeating the same bowl of soup twice.

I had never made pho before but decided to give it a try when my craving for the hot broth covered noodles got the best of me.  In browsing through recipe options I came across one in The Splendid Table’s How to Eat Supper. (For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, The Splendid Table is my favorite radio program on NPR.  I can even stream their broadcasts online meaning I can get my Lynn Rossetto Kasper fix while living overseas).  I was set to give the pho recipe a try then I turned the page and saw the Cambodian twist on the soup which sounded even more intriguing.  Unable to decide which version to make, I combined the best elements of both recipes to form what I present here.  You can also add or substitute ingredients as your palate or pantry dictates.

The verdict?  This soup is delicious but a lot more work than popping into your local pho shop. But if you don’t have one in close proximity to you, make this soup.  You won’t be disappointed.

CAMBODIAN NOODLE SOUP

For the broth:

1 medium onion, thinly sliced

5 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced

1 two inch piece fresh ginger, thinly sliced

6 whole cloves

1 star anise

Freshly ground black pepper

7 cups chicken broth

2 tablespoons sugar

2 teaspoons Asian fish sauce

For the soup:

8 ounces linguine-style rice noodles

6 ounces thinly sliced top round steak

1 1/2 cups winter squash, diced

1 cup unsweetened pineapple chunks

1 medium tomato, diced

For the table salad:

10 sprigs fresh cilantro

8 sprigs Thai or other fresh basil

8 mint sprigs

Generous handful bean sprouts

2 Serrano chiles, thinly sliced

1 large lime, cut into wedges

Add-in sauces:

Asian hot sauce

Hoisin sauce

  • Place a rack 4 to 6 inches from the broiler and then pre-heat the oven.
  • Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and evenly distribute the onion, garlic, ginger, cloves, star anise, and five grinds of black pepper over the baking sheet.
  • Broil for 5-6 minutes until the spices are fragrant and the onions begin to brown.  Scrape the mixture into a large soup pot.
  • Add the broth, sugar, fish sauce, and squash to the pot.  Cover the pot tightly and bring the entire mixture to a simmer.  Cook for 20 minutes or until the squash is tender.
  • Meanwhile, place the noodles in a large pan and cover with very hot tap water.  Allow to soak for 20 minutes or until the noodles are tender.  Drain, rinse with cold water, then divide evenly between two large soup bowls.
  • Thinly slice the steak into bite sized pieces.  (Hint:  For easier slicing, place the steak in the freezer before you begin making the soup.  Allow it to sit for 20 minutes then remove it from the freezer and slice).  Evenly divide the meat between the two soup bowls.  The hot broth will cook it to a medium-rare
  • Arrange the table salad ingredients on a medium-sized platter and place on the table.
  • When the squash is tender, add the pineapple and tomatoes to the broth and stir well to combine.  Cook for 1 minute to allow the broth to return to a simmer.
  • Ladle the broth over the noodles and meat and serve immediately topped with the table salad and sauces of your choice.

Serves 2

Farfalle w/ Squash & Red Peppers

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It is Fast Friday again and time for another fast and fabulous dinner suggestion. If you are anything like me, by the time Friday rolls around the last thing you want to do to cook a big meal yet we all still have to eat.  The dishes featured in this series aren’t necessarily fancy but they bring together simple ingredients most people already have in their pantries or have easy access to and allow you to put a real meal on the table in between 30 and 45 minutes.  Enjoy and if you have your own fast recipes you want to share, please send them my way and I will in turn share them with all of my readers.

Pasta is the ultimate in fast dinners but ordinary pasta and tomato sauce grows old fast.  This recipe, from the always reliable food section of the Washington Post combines your expected tomatoes with the red peppers and the totally unexpected winter squash and cinnamon (yes cinnamon) for a surprising flavor combination that totally works.  It is rich and satisfying and if your family is like mine, it allows me to sneak in extra vegetables without drawing attention to them.  Its a sure win for an end of the week dinner.

FARFALLE w/ SQUASH & RED PEPPERS

Sea salt

1 pound farfalle pasta (or a small shape of your choice)

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 medium onion, thinly sliced

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 large red bell peppers, stemmed, seeded, and thinly sliced

1 pound acorn squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/2 inch cubes

15 ounces canned diced tomatoes, plus their juices

1 cup toasted walnut pieces

  • Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over medium-high heat.  Add the pasta and cook according to the package instructions, leave the farfalle slightly undercooked.  Drain, reserving 1 cup of the pasta cooking water.
  • Meanwhile, pour the oil into a large saucepan set over medium-low heat.  Add the onion, garlic, crushed pepper flakes, and cinnamon, stirring to coat.  Cover and cook until the onion and garlic have softened, about  minutes.
  • Increase the heat to medium; add the bell peppers, squash, tomatoes, and their juices.  Cover and cook until the peppers and squash are tender, about 10-15 minutes.  Remove from the heat and season with salt to taste.
  • Toss the pasta into the vegetables, along with as much of the reserved pasta cooking water as needed to create a sauce.  Stir to coat.
  • Divide among individual bowls and top with the toasted walnuts.

Serves 6

Sausage Macaroni & Cheese Stuffed Squash

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Macaroni and cheese is perhaps the ultimate comfort food and because making it involves more of a method rather than an exact recipe, I’m always on the quest to find new versions of this oh-so-satisfying meal.  I am just as likely to serve macaroni and cheese at a formal, sit down dinner for guests as I am for casual dinners for my own family.  And I have yet to meet someone who isn’t a fan.  So you can imagine how excited I was when I came across an entire new cookbook dedicated to nothing but macaroni and cheese.  From classic renditions to new twists on an old favorite, Melt:  The Art of Macaroni & Cheese has it all.  There are so many options here that I almost didn’t know which one to try first.

But then I came across an intriguing option that stuffed this classic dish inside of a pumpkin.  I  loved it but not being able to find actual pumpkins here I put my own Albanian twist on the recipe by using a squash instead of pumpkin and mixing up the combination of cheeses to fit what I could find in the local stores.  (My squash looked like a green pumpkin but was definitely a squash).  My results were both tasty and impressive and I’m already thinking ahead to the next time I tweak the recipe even further……how about individual sized squashes stuffed with the creamy mac and cheese?  Or substituting the sausage with bacon and the Cheddar with a creamy gorgonzola?  For vegetarians I think a smoked gouda paired with meaty mushrooms would be delish!  The possibilities are endless and I bet my guests will love it!  In the mean time, here’s the single family sized version that my family devoured.

SAUSAGE MACARONI & CHEESE STUFFED SQUASH

1 large squash, about 5 pounds

Sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon sugar

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/4 pound hot Italian sausage

4 ounces small macaroni of your choice

5 ounces Gruyère, cut into 1/4 inch cubes

2 ounces sharp Cheddar, cut into 1/4 inch cubes

3 scallions, diced

1 tablespoon freshly chopped rosemary

1 tablespoon freshly chopped thyme

1 tablespoon freshly chopped sage

1 cup heavy cream

  • Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.
  • Cut off the top of your squash, as you would when you are carving a pumpkin, and scoop out as much of the seeds and strings as you can.
  • Sprinkle the inside of the squash with salt, pepper, and the sugar then replace the top.
  • Place in a rimmed baking dish and roast for 45 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a saute pan over medium heat.  When the oil is hot, add the sausage to the pan and cook, crumbling the meat as you go, until the sausage is no longer pink.  Drain with a slotted spoon and place in a large mixing bowl.
  • Cook the macaroni according to the package instructions.  Only cook until the pasta is al dente then drain and move to the bowl with the sausage.
  • Add the cheeses, scallion, and chopped herbs to the bowl and toss well.
  • Remove the squash from the oven and loosely pack it with the macaroni and cheese mixture.
  • Pour the cream over the top of the macaroni and then replace the squash top.
  • Bake for a total of one hour, removing the squash top during the last 15 minutes of cooking.
  • For an impressive presentation, serve directly from the table being sure to scoop out the squash along with the macaroni.

Serves 4

Smashing Pumpkins

Autumn is my favorite season and pumpkins are my favorite part of fall.  I blame it on my New England roots but there is something about the weather changing from warm and humid to cool and crisp that excites me. Add in colorful foliage, the necessity to put on an extra layer when you venture outside, and the feeling of starting afresh and it is no wonder I look forward to this time of year.  I know fall has really arrived when Starbucks rolls out their pumpkin spice latte, my perennial favorite drink which, being overseas, I had forgotten about, until I was reminded of their reintroduction by a stateside friend.  (We do not have Starbucks or anything remotely resembling it here).  The cooler fall weather also means I can comfortably crank up the oven to bake goodies filled with the best apples, pumpkins and spices of the season.  Well, that was until we arrived in Albania.

The first issue with pumpkins in Albania is the actual word.  Kungull is Albanian for pumpkin. And squash as in winter squash.  And squash as in zucchini.  And any other gourd like vegetable.  Talk about the confusion this raises when ordering what you think is a pumpkin, squash, or zucchini item from a restaurant menu. After anticipating risottos with sugar pumpkin or squash soups only to have them arrive at the table filled with zucchini I’ve learned to ask for clarification prior to placing my order.  When the response is green kungull I know that the vegetable in question is actually zucchini and will adjust my order accordingly (not that I have anything against zucchini; rather it is just not the same thing as pumpkin or winter squash).

As far as I can tell, sugar pumpkins, my staple for everything from jack-o-lanterns to pies, breads, and donuts, are non-existent in Albania. Or, at least, I have been unable to readily locate them in any market, grocery store, or farmer’s roadside stand.  When asked, people have directed me to squashes of various shapes, sizes, and colors –American kids use the white squashes as “ghost” pumpkins at Halloween– but none even come close to a good old American pumpkin.  (I do have a lead on the possibility of some pumpkins being grown in the Northern Albania town of Kukes by the cousin of one of the nannies for a fellow American family here in Tirana.  Yes, I’m pursuing this but I’m trying not to get my hopes up).  I am fortunate, however, to have a small- and ever dwindling- stash of canned pumpkin imported from the United States via a military cargo plane, but I will be lucky if this supply carries me over through Thanksgiving.

Last week I found two orange looking squashes that had more of a resemblance to pumpkins than anything I had previously found here.  I took them home but lesson learned- just because it looks like a pumpkin does not mean it tastes like a pumpkin!  I’ve tried substituting these counterfeit pumpkins for the real thing with mixed results. Sometimes it works out and other times even the most tried and true recipe results in a culinary disaster.  As with everything else in this country, even creating pumpkin out of a squash is an ordeal that isn’t for the faint of heart.
First one must go to the market and find an actual squash-pumpkin. Just because they sold them yesterday doesn’t mean they are in stock today. Nor does it mean they will be restocked this year. If you are fortunate enough to find one, there isn’t any guarantee that it will even remotely resemble or taste like the one you saw yesterday or bought on your previous visit.  All of the squashes I’ve found here have been large; so large that their hefty weight is intimidating.  Once I get the monster home, and I had better not be walking on that day- the real fun begins.
We received a cleaving knife as a gift when we got married but I had never used it and only reluctantly brought it overseas with us.  Now I’m so glad I did. There isn’t any simple opening of a can of Libby’s in the Brown’s Albanian kitchen.  After washing the the squash I have to stand on a stool (in order to get enough height) and whack the squash until it splits in two.  Then I do it again and again, repeating the process until I have manageable pieces.  If I am going to roast the squash to try to bring out any of its sweetness, I will place the pieces on a cookie sheet and bake them in the oven. If I’m going to boil them, I proceed to peel the tough skin off of each piece  A vegetable peeler isn’t quite sharp enough for this task yet a knife is a bit unwieldy.  (I will only attempt to break down a squash when Glenn is home since I am sure that it is only a matter of time before an emergency room visit becomes necessary).  Whatever the cooking method, once it is cooled it is time for the vegetable to be pureed.  Thanks to my trusty stick blender, this is by far the easiest step in this entire process.

After an hour or two of work, the squash is ready to be pumpkinized with whatever spices, seasonings, or sweetener will bring it closer to its much sought after cousin.  This is always a process of trial and error.  Sometimes I get it right and sometimes I don’t.  Usually by the time I reach this point in the preparation process I am ready to call it quits for the day. When that happens I bag up my puree and stash it in the freezer until the next craving for pumpkin arises.  Then I only have to defrost my stash and being cooking. If I close my eyes and pretend really hard, I can imagine that it is just like opening a can of pumpkin puree.  Or not………………….

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