Photo by Kate Andersen
Thursdays in the fall, the Arlington Farmer's Market comes to Vassar, setting up in a small park next to campus. Having missed it last year while I was studying abroad, I made a point to go as often as I could this semester, whether it was to buy fresh produce and baked goods for the house, or to get lunch from one of the local vendors who come to sell their prepared food. Wildflowers, apples and cider, sourdough, tomatoes and corn on the cob, honey and jams, local wines--it's a place to buy stuff of more diversity and better quality than we normally get at the grocery store. We even have a portion of our monthly food budget devoted to "extraneous," non-grocery items such as these.
For two weeks, I'd ogled piles of eggplants, the more familiar dark purple ones--which were gigantic--and a gorgeous ivory variety, as well as some smaller ones that were marbled white and purple. I finally decided to try my hand at eggplant parmesan, and on our regular Sunday trip to Stop&Shop picked up breadcrumbs, tomato sauce and mozzarella. Thursday afternoon, I biked over to the market. Beautiful day, maybe the most perfect moment of fall, the farmer's market as crowded and busy as ever, but--to my horror: No. More. Eggplants.
After laying everything out, it suddenly seemed almost too easy.
What was I to do? I'd already bought all the ingredients, and I was cooking dinner that night! In a panic, I called my mom.
"They don't have any more eggplant! Help!"
"I'm a little busy, but...Eggplant? For what?"
A brief and anxious explanation ensued. "Well, what do they have?" A cursory description of the produce within eyesight.
"Acorn squash," she decided on my behalf. "You can get it and experiment with what you have." A sigh of relief--parent to the rescue, problem solved; although as I biked back to our house after a class on dragon-slaying, the bag of squash swinging heavily from my handlebars, I realized I was going to have to make it up.
I stood in our kitchen and thought.
What about baking them and then stuffing them? After scrounging around in the cupboards and fridge, I came up with some frozen corn, an onion, rice left over from another meal, and the ends from an assortment of cheeses--and, of course, the breadcrumbs I'd bought in preparation for the eggplant parmesan.
After laying everything out, it suddenly seemed almost too easy. I pre-heated the oven, then cut the squash in half (and also cut a small piece off of the bottoms and tops, so I could stand them upright later). A little butter and olive oil, and into the oven they went, cut side down. There wasn't a lot left to think about--I diced up the onion along with some garlic, sautéed them until tender in a large skillet with a little butter, and then added the de-frosted corn kernels and cooked rice, mixing everything together to integrate it and heat it through.
After 35 to 45 minutes the squash seemed soft enough to scoop without falling apart. I let it cool for a minute, and then scraped out all the flesh, putting it into a large bowl along with the onion/corn/rice mixture. I stirred everything together, adding salt and pepper to taste. Back into the scooped out shells the mixture went, and at the last minute I decided to mix together the bread crumbs (panko, actually, in this case), some grated extra sharp cheddar, and a little pecorino to sprinkle on top, the way my mom does when she makes macaroni and cheese at home. On the baking sheet and back in the oven for a little longer, until the cheese had melted and the top was beginning to brown.
Putting the filling back in the halved squash shells makes a very pretty presentation--the finished product got a chorus of "cute"s and "how pretty"s from my housemates--and I served a salad on the side. For something I was expecting to turn out bland and mushy, the crispy top melded well with the gooey, savory-sweet interior. All-in-all, a warming and filling meal--a wonderful, autumnal comfort-food sort of recipe, ready to be made with whatever might be lying around your kitchen.