Okay, it's time to stop denying it, this is really happening: we're at that point where there's hardly any fresh, local, in-season produce in the markets to inspire wild innovation in the kitchen. It's time to stretch.
How do you honor the hearty ice-kissed greens and mighty squash of winter and not yawn over your dinner plate? This is a great problem to have and one that has made me a better cook than when I have all the produce I ever desired handed to me in a farmers' market tote. Stretch and you shall build muscle.
A few tips and they all start with b: break out the balsamic and bacon...
Here's a recipe that pairs sweet striped Delicata squash roasted in balsamic, with bitter winter greens and caramelized onions. I add crispy fried pancetta and red chile flakes for more punch, and top it with plenty of shaved Parmesan. For the greens, try it with whatever you find at the market that's in season; I love it with escarole for its deep grooves and bright hue, but pick from anything hearty and leafy like endive, radicchio, frisée or even kale or chard.
One last note on the pasta. Obviously the shape of the pasta is not integral to the dish. I happen to like a nice floppy wide noodle for this dish but don't let a lack of fettucini stop you. Any noodle will do. Please, I couldn't care less. I just want you to enjoy your winter bounty.
Fettucini with Balsamic Delicata Squash & Bitter Greens
1 pound fresh or dried fettucini
2 Delicata squash (1 to 1 1/2 pounds total)
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon plus 1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt, divided
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 sweet yellow onion, such as Vidalia, sliced
1/4 pound pancetta, diced (about 2/3 cup)
1/4 teaspoon dried red chile flakes
10 ounces bitter greens, washed, stem removed, chopped crosswise into 1/2-inch ribbons
freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
Parmesan cheese, to taste
Preheat the oven to 350° F.
Slice the squash in half lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds. Slice crosswise into 1/4-inch thick crescents, discarding the root and stem ends.
Grease a baking sheet with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Arrange the squash slices in one layer and sprinkle with the vinegar and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Place the baking sheet on the lower rack of the oven and roast, agitating every ten minutes, for 25-30 minutes until squash skin shows some wrinkling. Remove from oven and set aside.
Set 4 quarts of water with 1 tablespoon salt to boil in a stockpot.
While the water is heating, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil in a skillet over medium low heat. Add the onion slices and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, and cook slowly, stirring occasionally, until onions caramelize to a light brown color, about 10 to 12 minutes. Scrape from the pan and set aside.
In the same pan over medium heat, cook the pancetta and chile flakes, stirring frequently, until crispy, about 2 to 3 minutes. Raise the heat to high and add the greens, stirring until wilted.
When the water is boiling, add the pasta and cook until al dente. Drain, reserving a few tablespoons of pasta water, and add that water to the pan with the greens. In a large serving bowl, combine the cooked pasta, greens, roasted squash, and caramelized onions. Serve with freshly cracked black pepper and Parmesan.
Related: Rich & Meaty Lamb Ragu
(images: Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan)