Sunday, October 16, 2011

How to stuff almost anything

I love gifts.  And a friend whose husband has a garden recently gifted me with a large bag of fresh squashes, peppers, and eggplant.  The eggplant: long, elegant Japanese eggplant, will be transformed into a side dish for tonight's dinner (and that dinner is a long-anticipated dinner with friends where we'll be learning how to play Four Winds Mahjong).  But meanwhile, let me tell you what I've done with the squashes and peppers!

The squashes were fairly large, pale-skinned and soft, similar to the kinds of tatuma squashes you see in local grocery stores during the summer.  I thought about hollowing out and stuffing those squashes, something I love to do with all kinds of larger, gourd-shaped vegetables.  For those of you who are Mollie Katzen fans, then you will likely have a beloved and heavily-stained copy of Moosewood Cookbook, and you will have likely tried Mollie's recipe for stuffed eggplant (and there are three versions!).  When you have the time, do look up this cookbook at a local bookstore and at least glance through it.  It is completely vegetarian and entirely charming for its hand-printed recipes and whimsical line drawings.

I ended up stuffing all kinds of things during the week because I made a lot of stuffing which was a riff on Mollie Katzen's idea.  Only my stuffing wasn't vegetarian.  It had brown rice, aromatic vegetables, hot Italian sausage, fire roasted tomatoes and raisins.  And I made a really rich, really lovely four-cheese bechamel sauce to adorn everything after it came out of the oven.  My husband liked the stuffed miniature bell peppers, but I liked the squash the best.  I also stuffed some cabbage leaves, but they were a bit disappointing since I think I was really looking for my grandmother's holupki.  And this was not my grandmother's holupki.

The stuffing recipe follows.  If you stuff squash or eggplant, you need to cut them first lengthwise and grill or bake them until partially softened.  I've been known to bake my eggplant in a shallow bath of dry sherry and water in a steep-sided pan that I've covered with foil.  Now, that is some seriously good eggplant to stuff.  After the stuffing vessel is cooked and softened, scoop out the seeds (if it's a squash), and mash down the insides with a spoon.  Then you're ready to fill your lovely edible vessel with stuffing.  You can use a winter squash for stuffing as well, but make sure that it is well-softened before filling since winter squashes take a lot longer to cook. 

Sausage and Brown Rice Stuffing

       Make this recipe your own by substituting quinoa or Israeli couscous for the rice, or use white rice if that's what you have on hand.   Sometimes I add toasted pine nuts for        extra richness.

4 links spicy or mild Italian sausage, casings removed
1/2 cup diced onion 
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded, stemmed and minced
1 large clove garlic, minced
salt and pepper to taste
2 cups hot cooked brown rice
1/2 cup diced fire roasted tomatoes, drained and juice reserved
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup toasted pinenuts (optional)
1 medium/large cooked or grilled halved squash or eggplant, or halved, seeded and stemmed 
    red, orange, yellow or green peppers (or a combination)
1 cup beef broth
1/2 cup juice from tomatoes
1/4 cup dry sherry
Four Cheese Bechamel Sauce (recipe follows)
chopped flat leaf parsley for garnish

1.  Brown the sausage in a skillet, breaking it up as it cooks.
2.  Add onion, jalapeno and garlic to sausage and reduce heat, sauteing until onion is slightly caramelized.
3.  Salt and pepper to taste.
4.  Add hot rice, fire-roasted tomatoes, raisins, and pinenuts, if using.
5.  Mix well and combine.  Set aside.
6.  In a sided baking pan, combine beef broth, tomato juice and sherry.
7.  If using squash or eggplant, place skin-side down in pan, then fill with sausage stuffing.  If using peppers, fill then place in pan, nestling against each other to stabilize them.
8.  Cover with foil and bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes; uncover and bake 10-15 minutes more.
9.  Serve hot, adorned with Four Cheese Bechamel Sauce and garnish with chopped parsley.  Serves 2 to 4 generously.

Four Cheese Bechamel Sauce
      I used Monterey Jack, Parmesan, Manchego and Pecorino Romano for this sauce, but feel free to use whatever you have on hand.
2 Tbs. flour
2 Tbs. butter
salt to taste
1 cup milk, heated
1/2 cup heavy cream or half and half
1 cup grated/shredded cheese, any combination
white pepper to taste
scant 1/4 tsp. nutmeg

1.  Combine flour and butter in a small saucepan.  
2.  Cook over medium heat until butter is melted and flour is incorporated.
3.  Salt to taste.
4.  Add heated milk slowly, stirring with whisk until no lumps remain.
5.  Cook until thickened and just starting to boil.
6.  Stir in cream and shredded cheese, stirring well until cheese melts.
7.  Add white pepper and nutmeg.  
8.  Keep covered and warm until ready to serve.  Makes about 2 cups sauce.

No comments:

Post a Comment