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Nigel Slater's Kitchen Diaries

Russ Parsons' Caramelized Winter Squash

Squash_2

You all know how I feel about Russ. Russ of Mushroom Hash and Radicchio Bruschetta and Braised Cauliflower fame. So, at this point, when I choose to make one of his recipes, I know I don't have to worry about the outcome. I know the food will taste delicious and the method will work exactly as he says it will. There's nothing to worry about at all.

So it went with this latest recipe of his, a panful of sauteed squash tossed with a garlicky gremolata. The recipe was easy as pie, the flavors so simple and yet nuanced (the zing of fresh garlic, the low hum of rosemary, the flash of lemon peel all coaxed out by a hot toss in the pan). And even the presentation - a bowl of orange chunks edged with caramelization, flecked with greens and yellows, and topped with toasty pine nuts - satisfied my soul.

Except that as I chewed my first forkful, I suddenly discovered that I apparently find the texture of squash to be distinctly, for lack of a better word, squicky. I don't know how and I don't know why. I love squash in soups (pureed) and pies and mashed, but in chunks the squash sort of gets stuck in my throat and gives me goose bumps (not the good kind).

I finished the spoonful I had on my plate (because I am a good and dutiful eater - and because it tasted so darn good), but I had to put the rest away. And think about my predicament.

Luckily, the answer was just around the corner. At dinner the next day, I sauteed a small glass of diced tomatoes, leftover from a previously opened can, with some olive oil until the juice reduced a bit, then folded the squash leftovers gently into the pan. I cooked the tomato-squash mixture for a little while longer, the tossed it with freshly cooked whole-wheat spaghetti and grated an ample amount of Parmigiano on top.

The results? Fantastic and inspired. The squash had melted slightly into the brassy tomato sauce and the herbs really came alive in the warmth again. The bold flavors of the garlic and the cheese were well-balanced against the milder flavors of the pasta, sauce and squash. Ben ate several helpings eagerly, which always signals success, and I found myself quite proud of the improvised dinner.

And also so relieved. I knew Russ couldn't let me down.

Caramelized Winter Squash
Serves 4 to 6

2 tablespoons pine nuts
2 teaspoons minced rosemary
2 teaspoons minced lemon zest
1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds peeled winter squash, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (5 cups diced)
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper

1. Toast the pine nuts in a small skillet over low heat until lightly browned, about 4 to 5 minutes. Set aside.

2. Combine the rosemary, lemon zest and garlic in a small bowl and add just enough lemon juice to moisten. Stir together with a spoon, crushing and smearing to make a thick herb paste. The garlic and rosemary should be extremely fine because they will need to cook in a flash.

3. Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. When it is very hot, add the squash. Sprinkle with salt and toss to combine, so the squash cubes are evenly coated with hot oil and seasoned with salt.

4. Cover tightly and cook without stirring for 2 minutes. Remove the lid and stir the squash. The cooked sides should be starting to caramelize. Cover and cook 2 minutes.

5. Remove the lid and toss the squash. Reduce heat to medium, stirring occasionally, until the squash cubes are just tender enough to pierce with a small sharp knife, about 5 minutes. The squash should appear somewhat glazed and browned on much of the surface but should not be so cooked that it falls apart.

6. When the squash is cooked, sprinkle with the herb mixture and the remaining lemon juice. Toss to coat the squash, letting the herb mixture sizzle briefly and become aromatic. Taste and adjust the seasoning for salt, lemon juice and black pepper. Scatter the pine nuts over the squash and transfer to a bowl.

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