30 November 2009

Let Us Now Praise Unknown Women

My Aunt Martha sets the domestic arts bar pretty high in our family. This is a woman who has been known to dry and grind her own corn for cornbread, people. She ain't messing around. Every fall she "puts up" (I love that expression) her own applesauce and apple butter. Don't get me wrong, my mom and sister and I are no slouches or anything. We join her in that endeavor whenever we're able, but the trip is a tad far for me to make these days, alas.

Fortunately, for my birthday she gave me a veritable cornucopia of thoughtful things for my kitchen, from hers: a beautiful butternut squash grown in my Uncle's prodigious garden, a Portuguese ceramic casserole dish and some irresistible home made canned goods:

Clockwise from back left: My mom's raspberry jam, Martha's apricot preserves, pickled beets, and apple butter.

Here is a recipe (adapted from Nigella Lawson) to thank her - because I know she's probably up to her ears in butternut squash about now - for a frugal, easy, delicious and what the hey, vegetarian dish.

Butternut Orzotto -- like a risotto, but made with barley instead of rice.

Serves 8-10

1 butternut squash
4 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp mace
1 onion, chopped
16 oz barley
1/2 cup vermouth or white wine
5 cups hot vegetable stock (and more for reheating)
½ cup creme fraiche
¼ cup pine nuts
1 tsp finely chopped sage

Preheat oven to 425. Halve the butternut, remove seeds and cut into cubes. Don't bother peeling.

Toss butternut cubes in a casserole pan with olive oil and half a teaspoon of the mace. Roast for 40-50 minutes, until tender.

Saute the onion over low heat for 10 minutes.

Add the barley to the onions, stir for about two minutes. Turn heat up to high, add vermouth or wine and let it cook down.

Add hot vegetable stock, put a lid on it and cook gently for about 30 minutes.

Remove squash from oven when tender and put half in a blender with half the creme fraiche. Blend. Add this to the cooked barley and season to taste.

Add remaining creme fraiche with remaining squash cubes and mace. Stir.

Toss the pine nuts in a hot, dry frying pan until golden.

Stir half the pine nuts into the orzotto and garnish top with remaining half and sage.

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