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Acorn squash is neither my least nor most favourite of the winter squash family.   I use butternut squash by the bushel but acorn not so much.  I like acorn, but it’s fussy to deal with if you are doing anything that does not leave the skin in tact.  Even scooping cooked squash out of the shell can be a bit of a pain with all those grooves. Acorn squash has great flavour and texture, is low in calories and high in fibre, vitamin C and A but so are the others and I generally choose the smooth squashes instead.

That said, a ring of maple-glazed acorn squash is so pretty.   And not many squashes are of an appropriate size for stuffing.  You wouldn’t serve someone half a pumpkin, now would you?  I had envisioned doing something like that for today’s blog but when it came down to it, I really wanted pasta.    I decided on penne tossed with caramelized onions, mushrooms, and roasted squash with wilted arugula.  Sorry, there is no recipe, just an ingredient list and some basic procedures.

Squash roasted with olive oil, salt and pepper. Good enough to eat as is.

Squash Mushroom and Caramelized Onion Penne

  • ½ lb pasta, cooked al dente
  • 1 medium acorn squash, peels and cubed
  • 1 lb mushrooms, quartered
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 medium onions, julienned
  • 2 sprigs rosemary
  • 4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 4 tablespoons chicken stock
  • 4 cups baby arugula
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Toss squash with olive oil, salt and pepper and bake for 20 minutes, until cooked through.
  2. Caramelize onions adding balsamic near the end of cooking.  Set aside.
  3. Sautee mushrooms with garlic and rosemary.  Salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Return caramelized onions to the pan, add arugula and chicken stock.  Toss with mushrooms until wilted.
  5. Add squash cubes and pasta to pan.  Toss gently until liquid is absorbed.
  6. Add salt and pepper as required.

    The finished product. A sprinkle of parmesan and some sauteed prawns were perfect additions.

The best thing about squash is that it can take almost any flavour profile, from curry to bolognaise.   Your options are virtually endless.  Hope you enjoy National Acorn Squash Day.

Bon Appetit

Della

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Welcome to June! And welcome to National Seafood Month. While I could wax poetic about tuna and oysters and mussels, today I want to extol the virtues of a wonderful west-coast food: spot prawns.

What’s a spot prawn anyways?

Spot prawns are the largest of the 7 commercial species of shrimp found in Canada’s west coast waters. The prawn’s body colour is usually reddish brown or tan with white horizontal bars on the shell and distinctive white spots on the first and fifth abdominal segments. Large females can exceed 9 inches (!!) in total length.

Is that a girl prawn, or a boy prawn on my plate?

Spot prawns are protandric hermaphroditic meaning that each prawn initially matures as a male and then passes through a transition stage to become a female. In British Columbia, spot prawns usually live for about 4 years, starting their lives as males and maturing at one year of age. They function as mature males for 2 years and then transform into females in their final year of life. [So, that had nothing to do with eating spot prawns, but the biology geek in me just had to share!]

What do the conservationist have to say about spot prawns?

Wild, trap-caught, B.C. spot prawns are a SeaChoice “Best Choice” option based on the five sustainability criteria used for our fisheries assessments: inherent vulnerability to fishing pressure; status of wild stocks; nature and extent of discarded bycatch; effect of fishing practices on habitats and ecosystems; and effectiveness of the management regime. Horray – guilt free dining!

MOST IMPORTANTLY: What do spot prawns taste like?

The spot prawn is known for its sweet, delicate flavour (without a hint of fishiness) and firm texture. The fresh spot prawns I have had this year are amongst the best prawns I have ever eaten. Spot prawns are nothing like the bland and mushy tiger prawns that are imported here from asia. Vancouver magazine named spot prawns their 2008 Ingredient Of The Year.

So, did you eat them or what?

Oh, I ate them. And ate them again. Let’s recap the last few weeks:

Meal #1 – Fine Dining: Spot Prawn Spaghetti

This was part of an overall stellar meal at Zambri’s – a victoria restaurant institution, and one of my favorite places to have dinner. This dish was very simple and very very delicious. Think fried hot peppers and golden garlic, some bread crumbs, the prawns and a whole lot of browned butter. Divine.

photo credit: Rumon Carter

Meal #2 – Homemade – BBQ Spot Prawn Scampi

A few weeks after the meal at Zambri’s I found myself on the docks in Lund, a little town on the Sunshine Coast. I was in Powell River visiting my friends Janet and Graham, who also happen to love good food. Graham took me down to a boat where we bought 2 pounds of live spot prawns for $12!

Taking my precious cargo home, we put the prawns in a pot and into the fridge, hoping the cold would stun them. This gave me a chance to check out the prawns in more detail. They are surprisingly colourful, and have a wicked sharp serrated beak/nose–something to be careful of if you are handling them in your home.

From the fridge they went right onto the BBQ for a few minutes, while I prepped this scampi sauce (hmmm… maybe I love spot prawn season because I also love butter!?). From the BBQ, the were heaped on a platter and instantly devoured by five hungry people. Nobody seemed to mind taking the heads off – it’s surprisingly easy, and kind of satisfying in a “eat what you kill way”. Don’t forget to keep the heads and the shells for stock.

Meal #3 – TENTATIVE: Garganelli Pasta with Spot Prawns and a Lemon and Thyme Butter Sauce

I still have a few weeks before the close of the spot prawn season. I’m thinking of trying this recipe put together by Vancouver chef Rob Feenie. Who wants to come over?

~Dea

ps – Graham also shared some of this stilton (fresh off the plane from England), which was so very yum – the perfect blend of sharp and smooth (and yes, I broke my own “no cow cheese rule” just for a little bit of this imported beauty.

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Most every office dweller has it. The bottom right drawer of their desk is where they keep their Stash. You know it – the snack drawer. Mine has peanut butter and kavli. Nuts. Iced Tea sachets. Bengal Spice Tea. Chocolate for The Bad Days. 

 But my friend and colleague, Rolf, has sardines in his drawer. Lets say that again: SARDINES! So when National Sardines Day came up on our list, I new that I had to blog about this day with Rolf’s help. Could little cans of oily fish really be Stash-worthy?  

 If you are like me, you maybe have only had sardines a few times in your life – or never at all. So here’s a few facts for the speed dating round of today’s post: 

  • The powers that be in the fishing industry cite 21 species that may be classed as sardines. 
  • Sardines are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which can help maintain a healthy heart and reduces the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Sardines are also a good source of vitamin D, calcium, B12, and protein.
  • Happily for a tuna eater like me, Sardines are extremely low in contaminants such as mercury, as they are on the bottom of the food chain. 
  • Canned sardines in supermarkets here tend to be of two varieties – the “brisling sardine” or round herrings. Brislings are much smaller fish (smaller than your pinky) and are about 2-3 times the price of the same size can of the larger round fish (about the size of your thumb). 

 For National Sardines Day I made a sardine pasta – inspired by my love for anchovies in pasta. What follows below is my adaptation (improvement!) of this Epicurious recipe.   

I was fortunate to have two dining companions for this meal: Mr. Sardines himself, Rolf, and Rumon (who has previously guest blogged for 365foods). Rolf added to our salute to sardines by contributing a few cans of sardines for snacking and some triscuits (which we ultimately decided were too strong tasting – look for a plain cracker for your sardine snacking needs!). Rumon took himself off to the liquor store and after inquiring “what do you recommend for sardines?” came back with a bottle of Muscat. 

This dish was a success with the fellas – Rumon commented that he liked the sharpness of the flavors. Rolf ate his second serving after adding the leftover sardine oil from the snacking sardines. We all commented that this dish smells a LOT more pungent than it tastes, the flavors are surprisingly delicate. We decided that this dish made us think of a grotto restaurant carved out of a cave on an island in Italy, where you can hear the sea. The tables are covered in red and white checked cloths, there is a single candle on the table and a nice bottle of wine on hand. It’s simple but satisfying peasant food. 

The day’s surprise for me was that I liked the simple brisling sardine on crackers. They aren’t fishy, and the texture was soft but not too soft. In fact, maybe I’ll keep my last can of sardines in my Stash. 

Pasta with Sardines

This is a very quick pasta–not more than 20 min start to finish 

3/4 pound linguini
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup drained capers, patted dry
1 cups coarse fresh bread crumbs (from a baguette – powdery store bought ones won’t do!)
1/2 cup chopped fresh dill
3 cans sardines in olive oil, two lemon, one hot pepper
4 garlic cloves
parmesan
fresh lemon

 Cook linguini in a pasta pot of well- salted boiling water until al dente. This is not a saucy pasta dish, the noodles are front and centre, so it’s important to use good quality noodles. 

Meanwhile, heat oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium heat until it shimmers. Fry capers until they “bloom” and are just a shade darker, about 2 minutes. Transfer with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain. Toast bread crumbs in same skillet, stirring, until golden, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and toss with capers, dill, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.

Open the sardine can and discard the oil from one of the lemon cans. If the hot pepper sardines have large pieces of jalapenos, remove them and chop finely. If you’re using regular (less expensive and larger) sardines, cut each sardine in half. If you’re using Brisling sardines, you can add them to the pan whole. 

Add sardines and peppers to skillet with their oil over medium-high heat, then force garlic through a garlic press into skillet. Gently sauté until sardines are golden in spots around edges, about 2 minutes. Much like anchovies, the sardines will start to break down with the heat, so you’ll have sardine bits at the end of this, not whole fish bodies.

Reserve 1 cup pasta-cooking water, then drain pasta. Add pasta to skillet with cooking water and 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Toss until pasta is coated and sauce is slightly thickened, 1 to 2 minutes. Serve topped with seasoned crumbs, and liberal amounts of fresh lemon and grated parmesan. 

Serves 3.