Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Don't Pattypan-ic!

I had an email from my friend/food guru Jill the other week, asking me about what I'd done with the pattypan squash in that week's veg delivery box. It was about 3 days after the box had been delivered, and sad to say I hadn't even clocked that vegetable yet. Carrots (check), beetroot (check), courgette (check), mystery yellowy squashy thing (hmm, check on it).

The squash is small and doesn't look like it would have much flesh within (which, it turns out, it doesn't). Jill had searched high and low for recipes and recommendations, and concluded that what seemed to be the done thing with the pattypan is to cut it open and fill it with something rather more delicious. So off Jill went with her chorizo and white beans, off I went with sausages and roman beans, and we both cooked our pattypans and relayed each other the results.

We independently discovered some of the same universal truths:

  • Sausages in any form are wonderful, and sauteeing them with other good things make them even better.
  • A pattypan squash doesn't taste of much, but it does give off an awful lot of water. Fairly tasteless water.
  • The pattypan is nice to look at, but remains a curiosity in how it's survived as food for so long given it's pretty short short comings.
  • Pattypan is a great word. The most fun I had in cooking and eating the squash was in trying to use the word in sentences ("Don't pattypan-ic, I know what I'm doing", "Well darn this pattypanning thing, it's just not cooking", etc). The makers of Sponge Bob Square Pants agree with me on this point.

Our adventures with with pattypan are done for now, and I'm not sad to see it go. Mr A&N loved the filling (naturally, it contained sausages) but thought the squash was as pointless as a pair of high heels on a camel. I feel bad harboring ill will against my food and so didn't take as hard a stance on the pattypan as he did, but I'm not about to start a clandestine affair with it either. If you, too, get landed with a pattypan squash, just keep Douglas Adams in mind: don't pattypan-ic, it will be fine.

Sausage and Sage Stuffed Squash
makes enough for 2-3 people as a main, though you should have a side dish too

  • 4 - 6 pattypan squashes, depending on size
  • olive oil to cook (a tablespoon or two)
  • 1 onion, well chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, sliced thinly
  • handful of fresh sage, roughly chopped
  • 400g / 1lb of sausages (cumberland, simple pork, or something similar)
  • 1 tin of romanesco or white beans, drained
  • Parmesean cheese for topping (optional)
  1. Pre-heat oven to 200C / 450 F
  2. Cut off the tops of the pattypan squash so that you have about 1/4 of the squash as the lid, 3/4 as the bottom
  3. Place the squash bottoms and top in the oven once it's heated, and cook for about 10 minutes
  4. Meanwhile, heat a frying pan over medium-high heat, and add the olive oil. Once that's warm, add the onions, garlic and celery to sautee, and cook for a couple of minutes until the onions are softened (make sure you stir every so often).
  5. Add in the sage and give it all a good stir.
  6. Add in the sausages, keeping them whole for now. Cook until the sausages are mostly done, then cut them up into bite-sized pieces.
  7. Throw in the tin of beans, give it all a good stir and let it cook for a further minute or two
  8. Salt and pepper to taste.
  9. Take the squashes out of the oven, and stuff them full off the sausage mix. Top with parmesean if you want to, and put the filled squashes back in the oven for a further 10 minutes or until a fork inserted into the flesh goes in and out easily.
  10. Serve with some vegetables and something like a potato gratin or hash browns on the side.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Oven-Baked Skate

A skate – either in the ocean or on a plate – is a strange creature to look at. It’s a bottom-dwelling, pre-historic seeming family of fish with a large pointed nose, eyes atop its head, and wings travelling from the tip of its nose down to its body, looking almost like a baby elephant that has been flattened and sent to live on the ocean floor. It’s those large wings which are of edible interest in the skate, covered in tender meat on both the top and the bottom of the fronds of cartilage that give the wings their structure.

I must have lived more sheltered a life than I realized, since skate is another food-stuff that I’d never come across until I was in my 20s (along with rhubarb and broad beans, gooseberries, and any kind of crumble). Like my other late-in-life food deprivations, I try to make up for lost time by eating skate whenever I find it. Mr A&N, more conversant in cooking skate wing than I am, has persuaded me that oven baking is the best way to cook it. The flesh is meaty, succulent and a bit sweet and always reminds me of crab. The oven baking keeps the tenderness sealed in along with its flavor. Oven baking is also an easy-as-anything way to cook the fish, as well as a healthy way of doing it. A strange looking creature, but an excellent dining companion.

Oven-Baked Skate
serves 2

  • 2 skate wings (we prefer the biggest we can find, but then we're greedy)
  • juice 1 1/2 lemon (2 lemons if your lemon isn't that juicy)
  • 1 Tbs capers, rinsed and roughly chopped
  • about 5 Tbs olive oil (bit more if your skate wings are on the large size and they're not being coated)
  • handful each of flat-leaf parsley and basil, well chopped
  • 1 C dry white wine
  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180 C/ 425 F
  2. Rinse and pat dry the skate
  3. Combine the lemon juice, capers, olive oil, herbs, white wine
  4. Place the skate in an oven-proof dish large enough to hold the two wings without overlapping.
  5. Cover the wings with the lemon juice mixture, making sure that the dish has enough liquid in it to cover the bottom completely with some of the mixture staying atop the skate.
  6. Cover the dish with foil and bake for about 15 minutes, then turn the fish over
  7. Cook for another 15 or so, until the fish is cooked through (the flesh will come away from the cartilage fingers easily and will be opaque).

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Spicy Spanish Prawns with Chorizo

I'm still reliving the night, 2 months ago, when Mr A&N and I went on a hot date to the local tapas place. No baby! No responsibilities! Fabulous food! It stands out not just for being a great evening but for being the one time my husband and I have been out alone in 8 months. Baby A&N is good enough with other people that he doesn't mind being baby-sat, but the babysitting chances are few and far between. Other friends have their own families to look after, and our parents live far enough away that when they visit, we spend the short time as an extended family rather than ducking out to grab an evening to ourselves. Boo hoo, poor us. We're a happy family, but sometimes you do long for those couple-only times, even if it's only to enjoy nice food without interruption.

Mr A&N is evidently re-living the night out as well, since he came home with a batch of king prawns and an itch to do them up Spanish-style. Prawns pil pil is a regular on tapas menus, a spicy and garlicy dish easy enough to re-create at home. The prawns we had at our tapas place, though, were just that bit better and that bit different from the other versions we've tried. The memory of me returning to the ceramic plate, another piece of bread in hand ("My last bit of bread, I promise - I won't ruin my dinner") chasing around the last drops of oil in the lingers.

We didn't know what went into the restaurant dish, so we had to riff on the idea of prawns pil pil. We wanted to make sure that even if we didn't recreate what we'd eaten, we'd at least create something we'd be happy eating, which we were. If you do make this, though, consider going through the trouble of shelling your prawns first. Sticky spicy oily fingers might not be everyone's ultimate dinner companion, but they do ensure that any bread you pick up to dip in the oil gets a good coating of flavor before it even reaches the bowl.

Spicy Spanish Prawns with Chorizo
serves 4 as a starter

  • 5 Tbs olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1 lb prawns (shell off if you have the time and paitence)
  • 1 tsb spicy smoked paprika
  • 1 small red chilli, chopped or 1/2 tsp already chopped chilli
  • 1 Tbs butter and 1 Tbs olive oil
  • 4-5 inches of dried cooking chorizo, cut into small bite sizes (I prefer to quarter the circles)
  • 2 tsp cooking sherry
  • salt and pepper
  1. Mix the 5 Tbs olive oil, garlic, prawns, paprika, and chilli in a bowl. Set aside for an hour or two to let the flavors marinate.
  2. Heat the butter and 1 Tbs olive oil in a frying pan over a medium-high heat until the oils are mixed and well warmed.
  3. Add chorizo and stir around for a minute, until the chorizo just begins to cook and give off oil.
  4. Add the prawns mixture and stir well, then leave it for a couple of minutes to let the prawns cook on one side.
  5. Carefully turn the prawns over, and leave them to cook on this side for a couple of minutes, until they're good and pink.
  6. Add the sherry and give it all a good stir, allowing it to cook for a further minute or so.
  7. Remove from heat and salt and pepper to taste. Serve with some mighty good bread.