I tried two more recipes from Bittman's The Best Recipes in the World. Pad Thai and Penne with Pumpkin or Squash.
Before I made the Pad Thai, my father was asking me why I liked to attempt ethnic dishes that involve paying for a lot of ingredients you never use again. I disagreed, saying that once you build a repertoire of spices, if you're interested in cooking these types of dishes you'll keep using the ingredients. Things like fish sauce, green curry paste, or cardamom pods, for example. I make some type of curry dish at least once a week, and Bittman is right, once you have the spices (which you can buy cheaply in small quantities at grocery stores like Whole Foods), making almost any Indian dish is usually simple. I also told my father that if the recipes are from a good source, you can guarantee good results most of the time.
Well, although I still stand by this assertion, this didn't happen for me with Bittman's Pad Thai. I have tried countless recipes for Pad Thai and never been able to make it taste like it does in a Thai restaurant. For this one, I bought fish sauce (nam pla), which was no great expense-- a little more than a dollar. I couldn't find the rice noodles at the grocery store. I went home, thought about using fettucine, then actually called up an Asian market several miles away and drove there to buy rice noodles. They were still the wrong shape, but I took them home, only to discover a little later that the bag was filled with insects. Grr... I then drove to Whole Foods and found the right kind of noodles there, but things continued to go downhill. I had every single ingredient required for the dish, but it still lacked those flavors I wanted to recreate. It was good, but it was something else. Won't be making that again.
I have a weakness for any squash with orange flesh. Pumpkins, butternut, acorn, you name it. Last year I discovered my dear friend Amy shared the same obsession for orange foods. We did many a lunch exchange at work of butternut squash lasagnas, soups, etc. Today, thinking of Amy, who no longer lives in Orlando, I decided to try Bittman's "Penne with Pumpkin or Squash" in her honor. I used only the finest ingredients, hoping to convince my husband of the subtle yet undeniable delight one derives from the consumption of orange foods. I grated fresh nutmeg, had a new wedge of Pecorino Romano (the recipe called for Parmesan), and cooked down the butternut squash into a textured, clinging sauce. It was awesome. Nour partook of seconds.
Preparation was very simple. I had a butternut squash that weighed a couple pounds, so I chopped it in half and peeled it, using only a pound of the squash. Then I cut up that one pound of squash in chunks and gave it a workout in the food processor until it looked grated. I put some water on to boil. In a frying pan, I placed a tablespoon each of butter and olive oil, and when the butter melted, I added a minced garlic clove and the squash mixture, stirring it around for a second before adding 1/2 cup water. I cooked it on medium heat for about 10 minutes, continuing to add water as the mixture got dry. I didn't want it to get too watery. In the meantime, I also boiled about 12 ounces of penne pasta.
At the end of the cooking time, I added 1/8 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg, a generous dash of cayenne pepper to make it spicy, and salt to taste. I reserved a half cup of water from the pasta water and drained the rest, then dumped the pasta in with the orange sauce, adding a little of the reserved pasta water to make it just slightly saucy and not too dry (I love that culinary trick). I mixed it all with 1/2 cup Pecorino Romano, and man, was it good. Only differences from Bittman were the cheese and the addition of a minced garlic clove, but I think I managed to convince my husband of the superiority of orange foods. If only Amy were here!
With the other half of my squash, I think I will try a recipe I found here for habanero squash soup...