Friday, September 18, 2009

Polenta-Squash Casserole

The calendar says fall doesn't start for another few days, but for eternal students such as myself summer ends on Labour Day. Even though I'm no longer a student in the traditional classroom sense, something in the air changes between Labour Day Monday and the following Tuesday.

I love fall. Not just because it's beautiful here in southern Ontario, but amidst all the chaos of back-to-school, Thanksgiving, Halloween and our beloved Oktoberfest, I garner a sense of calm out of the season because every year is kind of the same. Chaotic, yes...but a nostalgic chaos as we (finally) give in, pull on our knit sweaters, turn on the heat and prepare for all of these events.

It is also the time of year where I am reminded of how awesome squash is (only to become irritated by it in mid-winter when all I can think about are fresh tomatoes and green beans). Squash may wear out its welcome here in the great white north (I know that it is illogical to think that winter is somehow longer than all the other seasons combined...but why does it always feel that way?!) but at this time of year I embrace it in all its quirky varieties.

Throughout the summer I've been emailing myself squash recipes found around the web for fall dinner experiments. Just think of me as a cute lil squirrel hording nuts for the winter. This one here actually found me (I'm on the Vegetarian Times mailing list) so I gave it first dibs on squash-based dinners at our place. Here is the recipe.

It calls for a kabocha squash, which I couldn't find. Our local market had GIANT standard issue organic pepper squashes - I'm talking the size of pumpkins - so I went with that. As an aside, are acorn squash and pepper squash the same thing? Some websites say they are, some don't...anyway, it's not relevant, I'm pretty sure you could use any kind of cube-able squash you want in this.

The filling is made up of diced tomatoes, chilis, corn, bell pepper, pinto beans, spices and of course the squash. This filling is sandwiched between two layers of polenta.

The recipe gets fancy with the polenta, which I was far too lazy for. They wanted 40 minutes for it to cook in a double boiler...they wanted it smooth and thick. I've been eating polenta since I was in diapers and I've come to learn that it pretty much tastes the same no matter how you do it. I know having lumps in it isn't the right way to do it and may not be the most aesthetically pleasing, but I cannot see myself fussing with it in a double boiler for 40 minutes. 5 minutes on the stove in water (or broth) and it's done and tastes exactly the same. Maybe it's just because I was raised on this less fancy style of polenta, but I honestly like it better with the lumps..speaking of nostalgia, it tastes like my childhood!

I should admit that if you make the polenta the way I did it won't make for nice perfectly square pieces of the casserole, so if you are trying to impress someone I'd suggest following the recipe's demands. I tried to cut squares out to take a nice picture (and failed), annoying Paul to the point of grabbing a soup ladle and shoveling it into a bowl for himself.

I know people taste with their eyes before tasting with their mouths, but life gets busy and it's okay to cut corners sometimes. As you can notice, however, I did NOT include a picture of how messy it got during this 'shovel the casserole into bowls' step but trust me it tastes the same (or even better if you like a little texture). In the words of Randy Quaid via Christmas Vacation, it was "goooo-ooood".

Aside from the fussiness (which I avoided entirely), this recipe gets two wins from our neck of the woods. It is hearty and filling and the ingredients are relatively cheap and disposable in the fall and winter months.


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