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Cibus Corner: A Rebuttal

Odi et Amo Editor's Note: A few weeks ago two very dear friends of mine (let's call them DK and his lovely wife and sous-chef KK) submitted the following post as a rebuttal of sorts to my sister's Cibus Corner post on her favorite autumn dishes. Given that they're both medical residents in Boston and have approximately 30 minutes (combined!) a week to devote to recreational activities like cooking and blogging, I was beyond impressed that (a) they found time to write a post for Odi et Amo and (b) that they're still managing to cook up amazing, gourmet dinners every now and then. Since their post is devoted to a wonderful fall (vegetarian!) dish that also happen to be healthly, I thought this post would be particularly appropriate this weekend as we head into Thanksgiving and the start of yet another fattening holiday season.

Sous-chef KK and I had been looking forward to the return of Cibus Corner for a very, very long time, and I am sorry to admit that we were a little disappointed in this most recent installment. Namely this is because Chef Babs already gave us the recipe for Grandma Christine’s delicious apple cake several years ago, and it is hard to get excited about being given a recipe for a second time. Maybe the rest of the adoring public won’t follow me on that one; but let me also point out that anyone who knows Chef Babs knows that her claiming to have a favorite cookbook written by someone who isn't Nigella Lawson is a lie. And Averill, those Martha Stewart pictures—how is anybody going to share a meal on that dining room table if it is covered from end to end with giant gourds? I’m just saying.

We therefore undertake it upon ourselves to offer a rebuttal to Chef Babs’ most recent column and propose our own autumn dinner fantasy. It happens to be (mostly/optionally) vegetarian, and this is because I think the most exciting parts of the fall table are the seemingly exotic vegetables that many of us have seen at the table but not necessarily eaten, or at least not often. For example: the gourds on Martha Stewart’s barn-home dining table. I pulled our main course from my favorite New York Times kitchen serial, “Recipes for Health” by Martha Rose Shulman. I find myself turning more and more frequently to this column as the months go on—not because I am trying to cut calories but because Ms. Shulman does such a wonderful job of introducing me to new food items that I otherwise wouldn’t know how to cook. My opinion is that unless you have a medical condition dictating otherwise, one of the most important elements of maintaining a healthy lifestyle is variety in what you eat (and I’m an MD, so my opinion matters).

Winter Squash Gratin

The recipe is called winter squash gratin, and you can find the original here. Meanwhile, this is what I did with it:


2 acorn squash
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
3 eggs
½ cup skim milk
½ cup grated Gruyere
¼ cup grated Parmesan
olive oil
salt and pepper
herbes de provence (or mixed herbs of your choice)

1. Cut acorn squash in half, remove seeds/strings and rub with olive oil. Roast cut-side down at 425 degrees for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven, allow to cool, peel, and then mash with a fork in a large bowl.

2. Cook the onion in 1T olive oil over medium-high heat until soft. Add the garlic and herbes de provence and cook for another minute. Mix into the mashed acorn squash and season with salt and pepper to taste (about 1t salt and 1/2t pepper).

3. Whisk the milk and eggs together and add to the squash mixture. Then add the Gruyere. Pour into an oiled pie-dish and sprinkle with the Parmesan.

4. Bake at 375 degrees for about 40 minutes (should be starting to get brown on top).

When this comes out of the oven, it is a lot like a quiche only with a heavy vegetable element. It would be perfectly reasonable to bake this in a pie-crust (Nigella’s pizza rustica crust being my choice) as if it were a quiche, and in fact it went very well with bread when we ate it. Another good option would be to cook about 4oz of chopped bacon in the pan before step 2 and frying the onions in 1T bacon fat instead of olive oil. This would make this meal a little fattier, but it doesn’t completely undermine the nutritional value of the squash. I also think it might be interesting to use pumpkin instead of acorn squash, add a little more spice to the mixture (cinnamon, chili powder, cumin) and turn this into a savory pumpkin pie. I’ll let you know if I come up with a recipe that works.

On this occasion, we served the gratin with Ina Garten’s cream of fresh tomato soup. The benefit of early- to mid-fall is that you can still find good tomatoes, although this becomes harder as you get closer to winter. The tomatoes we used weren’t perfect, but the soup still turned out great. The croutons are essential, and they have to be home-made—just bake slices or cubes of bread (stale or fresh is OK) brushed with olive oil and salt and pepper (Parmesan and/or garlic won’t hurt) at 400 degrees for 10 minutes. All of this went magnificently well with our house staples of under priced red wine from Trader Joe’s and a few chilled bottles of San Pellegrino.

For dessert, well, we bought a pumpkin pie. In an ideal world, I think it is better not to have squash pie for dinner followed by squash pie for dessert, but sometimes we don’t plan everything out as we should. At any rate, we heaped whipped cream (Aunt Joe Ann’s recipe, of course, which is still the best I’ve found) on it and were very happy. In fact, we could have foregone the pumpkin pie and just eaten the cream. But if I had to plan it over again, I can't think of any better dessert to go with all of this than Grandma Christine's apple cake.

Photography Credits: Martha Stewart Living and The New York Times.

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