There’s been something appealing about trying difficult recipes lately. Some days – well let’s be honest, a lot of days – all I want to cook is something familiar and easy (i.e., Japanese noodles and salmon). And tonight’s recipe seemed, at first, to fit into the difficult category. Although, as it turned out, it wasn’t hard, just slightly exotic. And exotic can seem hard at first blush.
The squab were beautiful and from the food heroes at d’Artagnan, so I had extra incentive to do my very best cooking to pay proper homage. I had been kicking around the idea of making “pasta” from a butternut squash (remember it’s Week of Gourd) so I figured it’d be a good time to give that a shot, too. This wasn’t pasta at all, just thin ribbons of butternut squash cooked for 30 seconds in boiling water, then finished in a saute pan with butter, a little grated nutmeg and some parmesan. The result was a remarkably fast dinner (it did require some afternoon prep time) that wasn’t too low on the sophistication scale.
Chestnut-Stuffed Squab with Butternut Squash “Pasta”
2 squab, each about a pound, necks and wings removed
Zest of 1 orange
1 clove garlic
1/2 t grated star anise
2 T cumin
2 T brown sugar
20 turns of a pepper mill
1 t salt
For the stuffing:
Two thick slices of artisan bread, cut in very small cubes
2 cloves of garlic, minced
4 sage leaves, finely chopped
6 roasted and chopped chestnuts
Vegetable stock, salt, pepper
For the Butternut squash “pasta”
1 butternut squash, peeled into ribbons
Butter, salt, pepper, fresh grated nutmeg, parmesan
To marinate the birds:
In a mortar and pestle combine the garlic, zest and all the spices and enough olive oil to make a nice paste. Rub this all over the birds. Set aside.
In a small bowl combine the bread, garlic, sage and chestnuts. Add about 1/2 c vegetable stock along with salt and pepper, toss to combine. If you feel the stuffing needs a bit more liquid, add it, you want it to be a bit moist. Taste for seasoning. Lightly spoon a few generous tablespoons of stuffing into each bird.
Truss with kitchen string. Refrigerate and let marinate for at least two hours.
To cook the birds:
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. In a pan over medium high heat, add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the squab. You will need to baby sit these a bit. You want to turn them frequently to get a nice even brown all over them, about 15 to 20 minutes. Slide the pan (make sure it’s oven safe!) into the oven for about 5 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches at least 145 degrees. (This means your birds will be very rare. It’s good like this!)
To cook the “pasta”:
While the birds are in the oven, and while they are resting (give it at least 10 minutes), prepare the “pasta.” In a pot of boiling, heavily salted water, cook the squash strips for 30 seconds, drain. In a small saucepan, melt three or four tablespoons of butter and add the drained squash, along with some salt, pepper and nutmeg. Toss very, very gently. Taste for seasoning.
Untruss the squab, place on a warmed plate with a pile of the pasta topped with fresh grated parmesan.
Original squab rub recipe adapted from Terje Ness as seen in Kitchen of Light.
Playlist included Get Outta My Way, by Kylie Minogue. Every person in this house, including three-year old Cherub, loves her. You should see the dance parties in the kitchen. Or not.