Thursday, October 20, 2011
Inspiration always strikes in the most unpredictable ways. At least in my kitchen it does. Sometimes I know exactly what I’m going to make for dinner. Other times I look at the ingredients on hand and think, WTF. (pardon my language. but it’s my kitchen and I’m usually alone.)
This happened the other night. Fall seemed finally to have arrived, and the chill in the air made me want to cook something warm and warming. You know, a bowl of something that sticks to your ribs, is a bit spicy and full of autumn color.
But I’ve been a bad girl over the last year, and have decided that October is to be the month of The Diet. Well, if not diet, then at least cutting back. In my mind this has translated into cutting back on my copious use of fats, alcohol (!) bread, pasta and meat. I’m happy to report the drinking thing hasn’t been as hard as I feared. (Glad to realize, actually, that I’m not a complete lush.)
My addiction to bread, pasta, fats and meats has been a bit harder to kick (and I’m lumping most cheeses in here too). But I’ve stayed the course and am feeling a bit lighter these days.
But what to cook that is warm, warming and good with the mostly vegetal groceries facing me the other night? What I really wanted was spicy chili, but since my go-to recipe involves a lot of meat in various forms that seemed out. Not to be deterred, I channeled my inner Gluten Free Girl, with a bit of inspiration from Good Appetite's most recent column, and decided to chili up what I had on hand.
Luckily I had a whole mess-o-beans that I’d foresightedly soaked and cooked the night before. And a gorgeous butternut squash. After accepting these two ingredients as my driving force, the rest sort of fell into place.
As always, ingredients are key. And key in this particular recipe (besides the squash and beans) are the spices. I know you’ve probably heard this elsewhere, but if you can’t remember when you bought that jar of cumin, through it out. Spices have a shelf life folks, and most don’t stand up for more than a year. Buy spices in small quantities, use them up, and edit them down every six months or so. If you’re using five year old coriander, you might as well be adding a few tablespoons of saw dust.
(If you’re like me, and can’t really remember when you bought that jar of whatever, do what I do and put a label with a date on it the minute it walks through your door. Then you’ll have no excuse.)
Back to my spices. They were really what made this dish sing. I make an effort to keep fresh spices in the house, and had picked up some cumin a few weeks ago at the Piazza Vittorio market. I also had an incredible jar of oregano Sophie brought back to me from Sicily in July. A jar of sweet pimenton from my trip to Barcelona, as well as rich and smoky Turkish Aleppo pepper I'd picked up in Istanbul. My own fresh peperoncini from the terrace added the real kicker.
While I used butternut squash, I’d imagine you can substitute another. I also added a few carrots, which stayed a bit firmer and added texture. I was even tempted to add a turnip I had hanging around. Go into your kitchen, see what’s hanging out on your counter and let me know how inspiration strikes you.
Butternut Squash Chili
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
5 cups cubed butternut squash
2 cups sliced carrot
1 red bell pepper, chopped
4 small tomatoes, chopped
3 cups cooked white beans
2 tablespoons ground cumin
1 tablespoon dried oregano
3 tablespoons sweet Spanish pimenton (paprika)
1 tablespoon aleppo chili flakes
1-2 fresh red chili peppers
1 1/2 tsp salt
Pour olive oil into large pot and set to medium heat. Add onions, red bell pepper and salt and cook till wilted, about 8 minutes. Add all of the spices, (but not oregano) and stir over heat for a a few minutes until well blended and fragrant.
Add the chopped tomatoes and garlic and stir. Cook for about 8 minutes until the tomatoes break down and liquid evaporates.
Add the oregano, and stir. Add carrots, beans and squash, stir to coat. Add enough water to just cover.
Bring to simmer, cover and cook for about an hour. Taste and adjust for seasoning.
While your cooking it, check the level of the water and add a bit more if you think it needs it. The final chili should be...chili like. Not soupy.
You can eat it right away, topped with a drizzle of yogurt or a crumble of feta. It’s even better the next day.