|‘Simple preparations of impeccable ingredients’ is a great adage, but winter ingredients often require a little more effort.|
Last April I attended a Harlem Earth Day event that explored the farm to table movement within my community. Hosted by the Harlem Business Alliance, the panel anchored by Red Rooster’s Marcus Samuelsson surveyed topics of the new food movement. Karen Karp spoke to the green carts as an answer to food desert challenges, Red Rabbit’s Rhys Powell noted how healthy meals in schools help students to be more energetic learners in the classroom, and Candice Kumai reminded the audience that every ingredient of what we eat should contribute to our nutrition. For me the greatest takeaway, and the lesson that has informed my food choices for the past year, is to always be guided by my spiritual compass when eating.
Farm to table is easy in the spring and summer when there is plenty, however sacrifices through the long winter are the context for understanding where food stands in my value system. The farmers market a block from my home in Harlem has been closed for months now and the remaining greenmarkets have turned dull and brown with tubers and squash. I’ve had to overcome the temptation of convenience and try a little harder to find the still-vibrant ingredients.
Mario Batali’s adage is to find the best ingredients for the place and season and preserve that inherent value with a simple preparation. For winter, Marcus Samuelsson said it better: everything can’t be simple. It takes a little time and some elbow grease to cook down tough winter vegetables or make it all less redundant. So I’m not going to apologize for how long this recipe is. There are many steps, but none are difficult. As empanadas these little guys are elegant party hit and also reheat well in a toaster oven. (Hint: local & seasonal #mealprep once again!) The creamy mashed squash and spinach (a repeated favorite vegetarian combo) is also excellent on baguette if you have leftover filling or need to cut the production time. But the garlic infused buttery crust is not to be missed.
|Focusing on seasonal ingredients does make menu planning for my frequent dinner parties a lot easier.|
Where does food stand in your value system? How do you balance everything to make food choices?
Butternut Squash and Creamed Spinach Empanadas
2 cups flour
Scant 3/4 cup unsalted butter
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder
Ground black pepper
1 egg, beaten
3 Tablespoons heavy cream or yogurt
Whisk together dry ingredients. Cut butter into 1/8 inch cubes. Pinch butter and flour between your fingers to form even, small crumbs. Work in egg and cream, mixing evenly with your hands until dough is even and holds together. Turn out onto plastic wrap, wrap tightly and refrigerate for at least an hour.
|This happens if you roll the dough too thinly, but there’s no shame in cracks.|
1 small Butternut squash
1 bunch spinach, cleaned and chopped
1 small onion
4 Tablespoons butter
1/2 crushed red pepper
2 Tablespoons flour
3/4 cup heavy cream or yogurt
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
Salt and pepper, to taste
Quarter squash lengthwise, drizzle with olive oil, and season with salt, pepper and thyme. Roast squash in a 375° oven for 45-60 minutes, or until fork tender.
Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Cook spinach for 3 minutes then remove to a colander under cold running water to stop the cooking process. Wring water out of spinach using a clean dish towel.
Melt butter in a small sauce pan with crushed red pepper then cook onion until translucent, about 5 minutes over medium heat. Whisk in flour and cook for 2 minutes until light brown. Whisk in cream and season with thyme and nutmeg. Remove from heat.
Scoop and peel butternut squash into a large bowl and mash evenly. Stir in spinach, sauce, and Parmesan and season to taste with salt and pepper. Filling can be made 1 day ahead.
1 egg, beaten with a bit of water
2 Tablespoons sesame seeds
Preheat oven to 350°.
Roll out dough on a floured surface until 1/16th inch thick. Cut 3-inch rounds from dough. Roll each round into a an oval about about 6 inches long and 3 inches wide. Repeat with scraps of remaining dough.
Spoon a heaping tablespoon of filling into dough, fold shut and press to seal. Brush each with egg wash and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake for 20-25, or until golden brown. Serve warm or at room temperature.
|A perfect little hand pie.|
|I tested this original recipe with cubed squash and mashed. The mashed won because the spices were better integrated.|
|Perfect for a party or a lunchbox.|