My oldest apple tree -a Liberty- is big enough now that we have enough apples from it each year that we must come up with creative ways to use those apples, or they just go bad. That means that I’m always looking for new ideas of how to use apples in our everyday cooking – and I recently found a very nice little trick that’s useful in dozens of creative ways to add a new face to old standards, or to make new dishes of your own design – don’t you like the idea of “inventing” new dishes? Even if lots of other cooks have invented the same dish, and we just don’t know it? So what – if it’s new to us when we come up with the idea, then we invented it!
So, here’s the little apple trick that I came across somewhere (I borrow many of these kinds of ideas from so many different sources, and then I don’t make note of where it came from – so if you recognize this as one of your ideas, let me know and I’ll give you credit for it.). It’s a very simple savory saute of sliced apples with sliced onions in butter or olive oil, and a pinch or two of fresh or dried thyme added. When sauteed together for 5-8 minutes to soften the apples and onions, and to meld the flavors, it becomes a fantastic companion for a simply cooked chicken breast or pork chop – or whatever – I love the taste combination – and it sophisticates a simple preparation as easily as anything I can think of.
But as is my wont, when I made this wonderful mixture up last week, I made quite a lot of it. And as I gazed into the fridge one afternoon to see what veggies were available, I spied a goodly amount of fresh, uncooked winter squash, and the container of the left-over sauteed apples and onions – my thought was, “How bad can they be together?” So I pulled them out to proceed.
First I cubed the hard squash and dropped it into a saucepan with some water and salt, and started it on a boil. A caution here: I have several different kinds of winter squash in storage from my garden – this one was a Japanese Kabocha type and this year was the first time I had grown it – it is a very hard squash, and like many, it was difficult to cut – and so I was expecting a fairly long cooking time. No! I brought it to a boiling simmer and walked away for 5 minutes. When I next looked at it, it was starting to “disintegrate” – I immediately pulled it and ran some cold water over it to stop the cooking.
OK, shift in plans – I had thought I’d simply cook those cubes until they were soft, and then I’d melt some butter in a saute pan and throw the squash cubes in there for a few minutes, and then add some of the apple/onion mixture just before serving. But now … let’s see, now I decided to mash the squash, and then add the butter and apple/onion mix, along with salt and pepper – it worked.
What a nice surprise this was. Naturally sweet and nutty, and a perfect combination with the newly discovered mix of apple and onion and thyme. And with every bite of appreciation, I couldn’t help but think, Hey, you invented this!
For those of you who must have a recipe, here it is.
Sauteed Winter Squash with Apples and Onions
- A medium sized fresh winter squash, or equivalent chunk
- 2 large, or 3 medium fresh apples, cored and chopped into bite sized chunks or thin slices
- 1 large, or 2 medium yellow onions, halved and sliced
- 2 tsp fresh, or 1 tsp dried thyme, minced
- 2-3 Tbs butter or olive oil
- Salt and Pepper to taste
- Peel and cube the squash (size is your choice)
- Place squash into medium size sauce pan, and cover with water – add salt to taste
- Bring to boil, and reduce to simmer – watch pot and when cubes can be easily pierced by fork, squash is done – drain and set aside
- Cut apples into quarters, core, and cube or slice as desired into bite sized pieces
- Cut onion in half, skin and slice as thinly as desired
- Place a large saute pan over a medium heat, and add 1 Tbs butter or olive oil
- Put apples and onions into saute pan with hot butter/oil
- Add thyme, and salt/pepper, if desired
- Stirring often, saute apples/onions for 5-7 minutes or until they begin to soften – remove from pan and set aside
- Add 2 Tbs butter or olive oil to the saute pan, and bring back to medium heat
- Add the squash cubes to the saute pan – stirring often, allow the cubes to lightly color, perhaps 5 minutes
- Add the apple/onion mixture and stirring, allow all to cook together for an additional few minutes
- Taste and adjust for final seasoning – Serve.
I think winter squash are one of our truly neglected foods – Why? It’s high in nutrition, low in price, and, if you get the right type (I avoid Danish Squash), it’s also high in flavor. So what’s not to like? Well, often the kind that tastes best is difficult to cut up, or might be huge – but many groceries chop them up and just sell pieces. If you get a monster as a gift, take it outside and use an ax or machete on it – once it’s cracked, it’s a lot easier to cut up.
An easy, but good one to start with is a Delicata – its only about 1 or 2 pounds, and its got a rich and sweet, deep orange colored flesh – and it will keep well after picking. Easy to recognize in the store too – it’s shaped like a big fat cucumber, and distinctively colored with alternating green and white stripes. If you’ve never had a winter squash that tasted good, try this one.