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Time to roast fall vegetables

October 25, 2011

The crisp air of fall means it is time to fire up the oven for roasting. I simply cannot get my fill of root vegetables and winter squash these days. Between the red curry carrots, the roasted root vegetable pot pie, the glazed carrot and parsnip soup, the roasted squash in a squash – all eaten in the last week – I’m taking in a lot of colorful food. The tips of my fingers have developed an orange tint from all the carotene. I’m one more carrot dish away from a Snooki-like glow.
Let’s talk about orange. Orange is the color of fall and the color of the flowers on my carpet.  It is the color of October, and it is the color of my favorite cereal bowl. Orange is the taste of a fruit and the scent of both orange-flower water and Triamenic. Orange is the color of comfort.
A house divided? Our household is unified by the color orange. It brings together the Pomona College Sagehens and the Hokie Nation of Virginia Tech. I have yet to receive a satisfying explanation, by the way, of what exactly the Hokies are – is it one single bird answering to the name Hokie? Is it a type of bird? No, I’m not taunting you. I truly don’t understand. And yes, I do ask all questions with this mocking expression on my face.  Lookit. We both have an orange team shirt. With a bird on it. Same-same.
Food journalist (food activist?) Michael Pollan points out that much of the recent advice of science and industry that we so happily defer to for guidance has either served us poorly (note decreasing nutritional health of American population) or merely confirmed what our grandmothers have been telling us for years, for instance, “Eat your colors.” Or consider the Japanese food preparation rule of “go shiki” which translates to “incorporate five colors” into every meal (it’s really not difficult to do this, though no, burnt doesn’t count as a separate color). “Go shiki” is also really fun to shout. I’m sure this is tacky cultural misappropriation, but I now not only exclaim it as I begin chopping vegetables for dinner but while standing in the closet and deciding what to wear in the morning. Not that wearing five colors all at once is the best of sartorial rules. I mean, unless paisley is involved. Or Hawaiian shirts. Or Hawaiian shirts with paisley on them. Because there’s no way that could be a massacre on the eyes. In any event, nutritionists have lately decided that the bright colors of fruits and vegetables correlate with several healthful qualities – vitamins, fiber, antioxidants, and so on. So, color equals good. Certainly I additionally associate a brightly-colored dish with food prepared at home with fresh ingredients; something a little special.
The roasted squash in a squash recipe can be dialed up or down depending on how fancy you want to go. Roasting the butternut squash inside of a pumpkin or other squat winter squash makes for both a creamier consistency (people won’t believe butter wasn’t involved) as well as a pretty dazzling presentation, complete with gasps. But it requires a little more time to both pre-bake the pumpkin and dice the butternut into tinier pieces. For a quickish dinner meal, I’d forgo the pumpkin part and toss more reasonably-sized dice into a baking dish. 
And the leftovers. Puree them and use as a squishy bed for newly roasted brussels sprouts or broccoli. Or simmer them briefly with cooked shape pasta (as opposed to noodles), 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water, red pepper flakes, maybe 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese, and, say, five chopped fried sage leaves (orange - beige - red – white – green. See. Five.). You can eat orange food forever.

Roasted Squash in a Squash
A variation on a recipe by Deborah Madison
Serves 4-6
Time: Between 1 and 2 hours total, 35 minutes active either way
A medium-sized, squat pumpkin (if you’re going the fancy route)
1 large butternut squash or other flavorful winter squash (2 to 2.5 lbs)
5-7 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 cup finely chopped kale, chard, collard greens, or flat-leaf parsley
3 Tablespoons flour
extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and, if you’re using the pumpkin, cut off a lid and clean out the seeds and guts. Lightly brush the inside of the lid and the outside edge of the cavity with olive oil.  Place the lid and pumpkin cut sides down on a baking sheet and place in the oven.  While it’s roasting, peel, seed, and dice the butternut squash.  Smaller dice on the order 1/3 of an inch look fancier but are also more of a pain. If you don’t want to bother, aim for 1/2 inch dice. Toss the squash with the garlic, kale, salt, and pepper. Then toss again with the flour until the pieces are all lightly coated, letting the excess fall off.
When the outside of the pumpkin is softened, maybe 30 minutes, pull it out and carefully flip it over.  If the lid is fully cooked, set it aside for when you’re serving.  Fill the cavity with the butternut squash.  If you have any left over, or you’re not using the pumpkin, put the butternut squash into a lightly-oiled baking dish.  Generously drizzle additional olive oil over the top.  Bake uncovered and undisturbed until the top is browned and tender when pierced with a fork.  This can take up to 2 hours though I’ve also pulled it out in as little as 40 minutes because I was hungry. It should be cooked after 40 minutes, but at such low temperatures it probably won’t burn and, the longer it stays in the oven, it will become softer and more flavorful and develop a nicer crust of browning on top.  Go shiki.
 
Alix Hui is an assistant professor of history at Mississippi State University. Email her at alixhui@gmail.com.

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