Monday, January 21, 2008

Are You Sick of Squash Yet?

Apparently I'm on a bit of a squash kick. Whether it's pumpkin or squash, I've really been enjoying discovering them over the last month or so. I've discovered versatility that I didn't know was there before- or rather, versatility that I was afraid to try. So when I saw a recipe in the latest issue of Eating Well magazine, it called to me, and I knew I had to make it.

Squash Topped Cottage Pies looked really simple to put together. Essentially, a shepherd's pie, except it was topped with smashed squash instead of potatoes, and I guess technically, shepherd's pie must be made with lamb, while cottage pie is made with beef. This was cottage pie, and I just wasn't sure it was going to work out, I had my doubts, but I plugged ahead anyways.

I started with my squash. The recipe called for frozen squash, but I had fresh, so I needed to prepare it. I peeled and cut my butternut squash into cubes and put in a pan with water, and simply boiled until tender, then drained and mashed, and set it aside.

Next, came the beef mixture. I drifted a bit from the directions for this one. First of all, it called for garlic powder, and I opted to use a clove of fresh garlic instead. And secondly, I had these gorgeous red bell peppers in the fridge, I decided to add about 1/2 cup of chopped bell pepper as well. I sweated the onions a bit, then added the garlic and bell pepper, and then added the beef to brown. Once all browned, I added the flour and tomato paste, followed by the beef broth and some seasonings. After it thickened, I added several good handfuls of chopped baby spinach and salt and pepper. I didn't use as much spinach as called for, because Abigail doesn't like spinach cooked-loves it raw in a salad, but I wonder if it's a texture thing for her cooked.

Anyway, next I went to get my ramekins out, and only then did I remember that I'd broken one a while back, so I only had three instead of four, and then sine I also figured the kids wouldn't eat that much, I decided to make one big cottage pie instead of several little ones. I cooked it a little longer than called for then, but overall, it was still a fairly quick dish to put together. Had I started with frozen or already-cooked squash, it would have been much faster. Since I had plenty of time, I certainly didn't mind.

Overall, I loved these. I thought the beef mixture was nicely flavored- but not overwhelming, and it really played off the sweetness of the squash nicely. I would most definitely add the bell pepper and the garlic again just the way I did. I should mention though that Andy was ambivalent about the squash as the topping. He didn't think it added to it, but he also didn't think it took away from it. He really liked the beef filling though, but to him, he ate the squash portion because it was there. Zander liked the beef filling, but was careful to remove any traces of other vegetables. Abigail was freaked out by the spinach and basically didn't care for it. I thought it was a great way to use squash, and so much healthier than other versions of cottage pie. I can't quite figure out a good way to make this vegetarian, but I suppose if you like TVP or soy crumbles you could substitute accordingly.

Squash-Topped Cottage Pies
from Eating Well magazine

2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
12 ounces 93%-lean ground beef
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup reduced-sodium beef broth
6 ounces baby spinach, chopped
3/4 teaspoon salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder, divided
2 12-ounce packages frozen winter squash puree, thawed
1/3 cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese

1. Position rack in upper third of oven; preheat broiler.

2. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and cook, stirring, until beginning to soften, about 2 minutes. Reduce heat to medium, stir in beef, tomato paste and flour, and cook, stirring, until the beef is mostly browned, about 3 minutes. Add broth, scraping up any browned bits with a wooden spoon. Bring to a boil and cook, stirring occasionally, until the broth is the consistency of thick gravy, about 4 minutes. Stir in spinach, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder; cook until the spinach is just wilted, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat.

3. Place squash in a fine-mesh sieve and gently press on it to extract excess liquid. Transfer to a bowl. Stir in the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder. Divide the meat mixture among four 10-ounce broiler-safe ramekins. Top each with about 1/2 cup of the squash. Place the ramekins on a baking sheet. Broil until heated through and bubbling around the edges, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle with cheese and broil until it is just melted, about 3 minutes more.

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