Delicata Squash, Red Quinoa and Lillet Blanc Herb Crème Gratin!
Autumn is winter squash time! I try to feature a few interesting winter squash varieties when they are available each year. Variety is the spice of life and there certainly are many squash varieties to be found in grocery stores.
Winter squash varieties, gourds, pumpkins and summer squash varieties are native to the Americas. Seeds of some squash were spread worldwide by migrating birds in ancient times, but most squash varietals were not known till Europeans landed in the new world.
Domestication of squash began thousands of years ago. The Native American food trinity (The Three Sisters) of maize, squash and beans provides all the nutritional requirements needed to sustain life. In modern times, a soup or stew made with these items is more than just a meal. It is a tradition.
Squash is one of the few vegetable plants that is entirely edible. Every part of the plant can be eaten and there are no toxins. Some gourd varietals were developed for decorative or utilitarian purposes, like canteens or cups. Decorative gourds and hard shell gourds are edible, but they are not palatable unless one is really very hungry. Usually only the gourd seeds are eaten.
Many breeds of squash have brilliant colors. Occasionally the colorful squash varieties are stocked in markets and customers look upon these ancient squash breeds as if they are something new. Shoppers can be overheard saying things like, "That is a pretty squash! I wonder what it tastes like?" Some customers actually say, "That is a squash? I always thought those colorful things were gourds!"
Squash are nutritious and many breeds have medicinal value. The seeds of some squash breeds contain chemical compounds that actually kill cancer cells. One thing that I have noticed over the years is that folks who eat plenty of squash tend to be healthier than the average bear. Every time that I get a belly full of sautéed summer squash and onions, I notice a good strong healthy feeling shortly after the meal. Squash does not make a belly feel stuffed to the brim, because squash has a high water content. Squash actually is one of the best dietary foods for controlling excess weight.
Many of the hard winter squash varieties are semi sweet tasting after they are cooked. The most common hard squash cooking methods are roasting or baking. Some hard winter squash have a thick skin and the cooked squash meat is easily scraped off. Winter squash that have thin skins are easy to peel with a paring knife after roasting, but many people prefer to east the thin skin.
Dumpling Squash and Delicata Squash have similar striated shapes and streaked color combinations. The flavor of these two squash varieties taste just about the same. Dumpling Squash tend to be shorter and sometimes they have a ball shape. Delicata Squash have an oblong cylindrical shape. Delicata Squash have an edible thin skin. The colors can vary from pale green stripes on whitish pastel tones to bright yellow orange with deep forest green stripes.
A bright yellow and forest green color Delicata Squash color is what I chose for today's recipe. The pictures of the Delicata Squash halves above were taken after the squash was baked. Delicata Squash retains its bright color even after it is fully cooked.
Lillet Blanc is a classic tonic wine that is made with a Bordeaux region white grape varietal blend and macerated citrus liquor. It is called tonic wine because Cinchona Bark Liquor (Quinine) is added to the blend. Lillet Blanc has a classic Noble Rot sweet white raison Bordeaux dessert wine flavor with hint of tart citrus tones and quinine bitterness. Lillet Blanc is used in a variety of savory and sweet French recipes. A Lillet Blanc flavored Cream Sauce is a perfect match for Delicata Squash. Adding a few select herbs enhances the rich flavor.
Incan Red Quinoa is an ancient high protein super grain. Red Quinoa is very nutritious and it can make a tummy feel full for hours. Red Quinoa adds a nice complex grain flavor to the gratin and a nice level of comfort.
Gratin basically means "a topping or a sauce coating that is browned." Golden brown to very light brown is the best color for a gratin. Excessive browning results in unpleasant bitter flavors.
Baking the gratin in an oven till the sauce bubbles and then briefly passing the gratin under a broiler (salamander) is the best cooking method. Broiling a gratin till it gains a golden brown color only takes a few seconds, so keeping an eye on the gratin is important to do!
*This entire recipe yields 1 stuffed squash. (1 individual portion)
Step 1: Bring 1 1/2 cups of water to a boil in a sauce pot over high heat.
Add 1 tablespoon of whole red quinoa.
Boil for 1 minute.
Step 2: Reduce the temperature to very low heat.
Gently simmer the quinoa, till it becomes tender. (Allow the liquid to reduce and evaporate. Only add a splash of water if necessary.)
Step 3: Drain off any excess liquid.
Set the red quinoa aside or chill it for later use.
Step 1: Select 1 Delicata Squash that is about 8" long and about 3 1/2" to 4 1/2" wide.
Split the delicata squash in half lengthwise.
*Judge which side of the squash will sit flat and stable on a plate. This half of the squash will be used as the shell, so split the squash accordingly.
Scrape out the seeds and pulp.
Step 2: Place the squash halves on a roasting pan with the skin side facing down.
Brush the squash flesh with melted unsalted butter.
Bake in a 325ºF oven till the squash flesh becomes tender.
Step 3: Allow the squash to cool to room temperature.
Set the squash half that will be used as a shell aside.
Step 4: Peel the other roasted Delicata Squash half.
Cut the peeled Delicata Squash half into large diced pieces and set them aside.
This recipe yields a little more than 1 cup.
Because the size of a Delicata Squash can vary, it is best to make too much sauce, than too little. Any extra béchamel sauce that can be saved for another recipe.
Step 1: Heat a sauce pot over medium/medium low heat.
Add 1 tablespoon of unsalted butter.
Add an equal amount of flour, while constantly stirring, to make a roux. (The roux should be shiny and not caky looking.)
Constantly stir till the roux become a white color, with very little hazelnut aroma.
Step 2: Add 1 cup of milk while whisking.
Add 1/2 cup of cream.
Stir as the sauce heats and thickens to a very thin sauce consistency.
Step 3: Reduce the temperature to low heat.
Add thick slice of onion.
Add 1 spice clove.
Add sea salt and white pepper.
Add 1 small pinch of nutmeg.
Add 1/2 of a small bay leaf.
Step 4: Gently simmer and reduce the sauce, till it becomes a thin sauce consistency that can coat a spoon.
Step 5: Pour the sauce through a fine mesh strainer into a container.
Keep the sauce warm on a stove top or chill it for later use.
Delicata Squash and Red Quinoa en Lillet Blanc Crème:
This recipes may yield a little bit extra stuffing (farci).
Step 1: Heat a sauté pan over medium/medium low heat.
Add 1 tablespoon of unsalted butter.
Add 1/4 teaspoon of minced garlic.
Add 1 tablespoon of minced onion.
Add 1 tablespoon of minced peeled celery.
Sauté till the onions turn clear in color.
Step 2: Add the reserved prepared red quinoa.
Add the reserved large diced peeled Delicata Squash.
Briefly sauté till the squash becomes hot.
Step 3: Add 1/3 cup of Lillet Blanc.
Add 1/4 cup of light chicken broth.
Add about 2/3 cup of béchamel sauce.
Bring the sauce to a gentle boil.
Step 4: Reduce the temperature to low heat.
Add 2 pinches of dill weed.
Add 1 pinch of marjoram.
Add 1 small pinch of thyme.
Add 1 small pinch of cayenne pepper.
Adjust the seasoning with sea salt and white pepper.
Simmer and reduce till the sauce is a medium sauce consistency that easily coats the squash.
Step 5: Remove the pan from the heat.
Allow the ingredients to cool to room temperature.
Gratin de Courge Delicata et Quinoa Rouge en Lillet Blanc Crème:
Step 1: Place the reserved roasted Delicata Squash half on a countertop.
Use a slotted spoon to mound the Delicata Squash and Red Quinoa en Lillet Blanc Crème in the prepared squash shell.
*If there is extra stuffing, then just snack on the excess stuffing! This is what is known as a cook's reward!
Step 2: Place the stuffed squash on a roasting pan.
Sprinkle about 2 tablespoons of finely grated Gruyere Cheese over the stuffing.
Sprinkle about 1 tablespoon of plain French bread crumbs over the stuffing.
Drizzle a few drops of melted unsalted butter over the toppings.
Step 3: Place the pan in a 350ºF oven.
Roast till the stuffing becomes hot and the sauce starts to bubble.
Step 4: Remove the pan from the oven.
Place the pan under a broiler that is set to a moderate temperature.
Broil till the gratin topping turns a golden brown color. (This only takes a few seconds!)
Step 5: Use a long spatula to place the finished stuffed squash gratin on a plate.
Sprinkle a few pinches of minced Italian Parsley over the gratin and plate.
Garnish with Italian Parsley sprigs.
Viola! A very nice gratin style Delicata Squash that has an intriguing Lillet Blanc flavor!