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Thursday, November 27, 2008

delicata squash filled with wild rice, golden raisins, and pine nuts

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What’s the most important consideration on Thanksgiving Day?  I mean aside from the attention to what we’re thankful for, counting our blessings, and all that…  Once our contributions to the feast have been duly baked, sautéed, roasted, and steamed, it’s time to make the single-most important decision that will make or break your Thanksgiving dinner. What will you wear?

I used to advocate for elastic waistbands. An elastic waist on your pants or skirt ensures that no matter how many wonderful, home-made, once-a-year fabulously traditional savory and sweet delights you consume, you will still fit in your garment (no need to unbutton or unzip). However, the elastic band has an unfortunate tendency to become rather tighter as the evening proceeds; an unwelcome reminder that perhaps you have overindulged. 

Much better to adopt my latest paradigm: no waist at all! (See photos, below, of Meredith and I, dressed in our waist-less best for the festivities!) Meeting the no-waist criterion is probably the easiest for the younger set—how I wish I could find some of Meredith’s getups in my size—but still, with a little persistence, I’m sure you can find something that won’t look too frumpy, but will be extremely comfortable for your holiday gastronomic adventures. What I’ve found is that these sorts of dresses aren’t ever terribly unfashionable, because they were never fashionable to begin with. Perfect! And our dear friends, the Nelson’s, family friends since I was a small child, would certainly never bring up the fact that I wear this same dress, year after year.  Hopefully your crowd is equally forgiving!

This probably won’t help you men out there. The best I can recommend is that you wear your pants with the roomiest waistband. But don’t wear a belt—buy yourself a pair of suspenders! My husband, Dan, tried to think of a waistless item in his wardrobe, and the best he could come up with was his rubber overall rainpants with the built-in suspenders. I might have humored him, but they are florescent orange.

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delicata squash filled with wild rice, golden raisins, and pine nuts

This wonderful recipe is one of my very favorite things to do with delicata or sweet dumpling squashes. You can also use acorn squash for it, if you can’t find the other kinds. This recipe with either celery or fennel—extra-special with the fennel, but the crushed fennel seeds make up for the lack of fennel. It’s perfect for a Thanksgiving feast—or for anytime!! This is our contribution to the Nelson’s feast. (Along with fresh rosemary sourdough bread, of course, from our bakery!)

This stuffed squash recipe is based on one from Annie Somerville’s Fields of Greens, one of my favorite books for soups and salads and vegetable dishes.

The Squash

3 or 4 medium sweet dumpling or delicata squash
olive oil
sea salt or kosher salt
freshly-ground pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Rinse the squash, cut them in half lengthwise, and scoop out the seeds. Brush the flesh with olive oil and place the squash halves cavity side down on a baking sheet.
2. Bake for about 20 minutes, until just barely tender. (The squash will finish cooking after it’s filled.) Remove the squash from the oven, turn it cavity side up, and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. While the squash is baking, prepare the filling.

The Filling

½ cup golden raisins
½ cup dried currants
sea salt or kosher salt
freshly ground pepper
1 cup wild rice
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large or two small red or yellow onions
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 large or 2 small fennel bulbs, quartered lengthwise and diced (about 1 ½ cups) OR several stalks celery, diced, OR a combination of both, to make 1 ½ cups
1 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed in a mortar & pestle
½ cup dry white wine
zest and juice of one orange
2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted over low heat in a small skillet

1. In a small bowl, combine the golden raisins and currants; cover them with boiling water and set aside to plump. 
2. Bring 1 ½ quarts of water to boil in a medium-sized saucepan. When it boils, add ½ teaspoon salt and the wild rice. Lower the heat to a gentle boil; cover and cook until the grains are tender but still chewy, about 30 to 35 minutes. Drain the rice.
3. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a sauté pan; add the onions and ½ teaspoon salt. Saute over medium heat until the onions are soft, about 5 minutes, then add the fennel and/or celery and the crushed fennel seeds. Saute the fennel and/or celery for about 5 minutes, until it’s starting to soften, then add the garlic. Saute for a minute or two longer, then add the wine and simmer until the pan is nearly dry and the fennel/celery is tender.
4. In a medium-sized bowl, toss the rice with the sautéed onions and fennel; drain the fruit and add it to the rice mixture, along with the pine nuts, orange zest and juice and season with salt and pepper to taste. The filling should be very well seasoned.
5. Divide the filling among the squash halves and place in a baking dish with ¼ inch of water in the bottom. Cover with foil and bake until the filled squash is hot and steamy, about 30 to 40 minutes.
6. Serve hot or warm. These make fantastic leftovers, too, heated in the microwave.


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