No need to run away, I promise you this is a very flavorful way to cook butternut squash. Simple, fast, and perfect to go with roast chicken or grilled salmon. The black beans provide a salty, sharp flavor that complements well the squash. I have made it with the beans as they come from the package, and a second time I minced them. I prefer them minced, the flavor will be more pronounced in the final dish, but if it is your first time trying this ingredient, use them whole and see how you like it.
1 pound butternut squash, cut in big chunks 2 tablespoons grapeseed oil 1 tablespoon Rose Harissa (or any pepper mix you like) 1 tablespoon fermented black beans, coarsely chopped 1 teaspoon sugar salt to taste 1 cup water drizzle of sesame seed oil cilantro leaves
Heat a wok over high heat and add the oil, swirling to coat the sides. Add the harissa, the fermented beans, and leet them sizzle for a few seconds until fragrant. Add the butternut squash pieces, stir them well to coat with the oil, sprinkle the sugar on top. Pour the water and season with a little salt. Cover, reduce to simmer for about 10 minutes until tender.
If there is still water, you can drain it a bit or reduce by boiling, as long as the squash is not too tender. Add the cilantro and sesame oil right before serving.
Comments: I normally roast or air-fry butternut squash, but it was really easy and fast to braise it. Leftovers were even better, the flavor intensified a bit, and it never got mushy, even after a brief encounter with microwaves. This will go into our rotation for sure. If you don’t have and won’t be getting fermented black beans to play with, maybe a drizzle with sweet soy sauce and a tiny bit of fish sauce will be a nice move.
I adore zucchini and in this preparation it really shines! I strongly advise you to cut it with a mandolin, because paper thin is a must. You won’t have the same beautiful effect of that noodle appearance unless you really slice it super thin. Come to think of it, a veggie peeler might work also!
ZUCCHINI CARPACCIO (from the Bewitching Kitchen)
2 medium zucchini, cut very thin lengthwise juice of ½ lemon 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil roasted peanuts Herbes de Provence drizzle of agave nectar
Sprinkle the ribbons of zucchini with salt, place in a colander for 20 to 30 minutes, then drain and dry on paper towels. Add to a large serving bowl and squeeze lemon juice all over the slices. Place in the fridge for 30 minutes, this will soften the veggie a bit. When it is time to serve, drizzle olive oil, season with Herbes de Provence, and spread peanuts on top. Finally, a drizzle of agave nectar for a little contrast of flavor.
Comments: It is not very hard for me to praise my favorite squash, but I believe most people will appreciate the texture and freshness of this preparation. Other nuts can work too, the most important step is allowing the lemon juice to do its job. Use a nice olive oil with enough flavor and you are all set!
Spring: time to enjoy asparagus in all possible ways! I adapted this recipe from Alexandra’s blog. She always has great recipes, both savory and sweet. I have made it exactly as published, but decided to modify it by briefly running the cut asparagus in the microwave. You can skip that and follow Alexandra’s take if you prefer.
CRISPY ASPARAGUS SALAD WITH TOASTED BREAD CRUMBS (slightly modified from this post)
for the bread crumbs: 1 cup of bread crumbs, preferably from fresh bread 1 tablespoon olive oil 1/4 teaspoon salt
for the salad: 1/2 cup walnuts, slightly toasted 1 lb. asparagus, tough bottoms trimmed 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes salt and black pepper to taste zest from 1 lemon (I used Meyer lemon) 1/4 cup lemon juice 1/4 cup olive oil
Make the toasted crumbs: Heat the oil over medium heat. Add the crumbs and the salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until crumbs are golden brown. Reserve. You will use 1/3 to 1/2 of the crumbs in the salad. It is easier to make a larger amount so it won’t burn easily. Save the rest to use over pasta or in other tasty concoctions.
Make the dressing by whisking the lemon juice and zest, oil, red pepper flakes. Season with salt and pepper. Reserve.
Prepare the asparagus: Using a sharp knife, slice the asparagus thinly on the bias. Place in a microwave safe dish in a single later, cover with a damp paper towel and microwave for 1 minute. Remove the paper towel and allow it to sit at room temperature.
Assemble the salad: combine the toasted walnuts, asparagus, toasted crumbs, Parmigiano cheese in a large bowl, drizzle the dressing all over, mix gently to combine. Shave more Parmigiano on top right before serving.
Comments: This is a wonderful mixture of tasty ingredients, I think the key is the toasted bread crumbs, quite unusual and perfect to add a little twist. Warming up the asparagus in the microwave killed the sharpness that it has when totally raw, and I think it made the dressing permeate better. But the salad is delicious with the raw asparagus also. Leftovers were great next day, I just removed from the fridge for 30 minutes before digging in.
Note added after publication: I now tried the air-frying with whole corn cobs, and it worked great also! So if you are afraid to cut the cobs (I don’t blame you), go ahead and try it this way. I rubbed the cobs with the seasoned oil, placed at 390F for 16 minutes, turning them around every once in a while. Perfect! Not as cute as the ribs, but definitely safer.
Apparently this recipe went viral on TikTok. I can understand why – it is unusual, cute, and dangerously addictive. However, in my humble opinion, the videos showing how they prep the corn are misleading. It is a dangerous maneuver, and not at all easy to do. I modified the technique by microwaving the corn before cutting it into “ribs”. It did not harm the final product and made a very tricky step a little more user-friendly.
AIR-FRYER CORN RIBS (adapted from several online sources)
3 ears of corn 1/4 cup olive oil 1 tsp Southwest spices 1/4 tsp smoked paprika salt to taste squirt of lemon juice grated Parmigiano to serve
Wrap the corn cobs in plastic wrap and microwave for 5 minutes. Allow it to cool until you can handle.
Cut the corn cob lengthwise in ribs – you will still need a large knife and maybe use something to bang on the top of it to make it slice through. I have a lower-quality knife with a large blade that can take that abuse.
Whisk the oil, spices and lemon juice in a small bowl, then drizzle all over the ribs of corn in a large bowl. Make sure to rub the mixture well. Place in the air-fryer and set at 400F (or as high as your machine will go) for 10 minutes, moving them around half-way through frying time. Season with more salt if you like, and sprinkle cheese on top.
Comments: This is a real keeper of a recipe! The corn gets a perfect texture, and you can vary the spice mix to take it in any direction you like. Many versions will serve it with a sauce, often mayo-based, but we liked it plain. I don’t think you can pull the exact same quality without the air-fryer, but maybe if you roast it at 450F it might get close. Super delicious. Trust me. Prepping the corn is not fun but once you bite into these little morsels you will feel it was all worth it.
I cannot express how much I love them! I ate four, and went back for two more, which was pretty much half the amount prepared. We had no leftovers. I don’t think I ever consumed as much corn in a single sitting. Plus, I smiled and oohed and aaahed all the way through it.
Have I totally lost my mind? No, not answering that. It turns out that I’ve always wanted to try making phyllo from scratch. When I was preparing for the Great American Baking Show, I had this annoying suspicion that it could be a technical challenge, but once you get accepted there is absolutely NO WAY to try to bake anything apart from the required, known bakes (signature and showstopper for every single episode). So I put it on the back burner ever since. But my friend Caro sent me the perfect rolling pin for the job, and it was the little nudge I needed. I tell you one thing, making phyllo is not for sissies. But I managed to have quite a bit of fun that weekend…
353 grams all purpose flour (3 cups) 1 teaspoon kosher salt 1 teaspoon baking powder 1 tablespoon olive oil 2 teaspoons white distilled vinegar 3/4 cup – 15 tablespoons warm water corn starch – to roll out and dust the dough
Make the dough by adding all ingredients and HALF the amount of water to a KitchenAid type mixer fitted with the dough hook.
Knead for a few minutes, then start adding the other half volume of the water, tablespoon by tablespoon until the dough starts to clean the sides of the bowl. Once a smooth dough forms, remove it from the machine, knead it by hand for a couple of minutes, form a smooth ball and place in a large oiled bowl for one hour.
Divide the dough into 20 equal pieces (mine were 28g each). Place each little ball over a parchment covered baking sheet. Leave for one hour at room temperature.
Start working the dough, first one little ball at a time, following her instructions on the video. My main change was to work with FOUR sheets at a time instead of TEN. I had too much trouble keeping them easier to separate, and decided ten was just too much for a first time. Four sheets at a time worked very nicely. That required 5 full cycles of rolling out to work on all 20 balls of dough. Another change I did was to separate each two sheets of phyllo fully rolled out with parchment paper, because I was afraid keeping them all together would result in severe sticking. I kept them in the fridge for a couple of hours before proceeding with the spanakopita and the crackers.
SPANAKOPITA (adapted from several sources)
8 sheets of phyllo dough (if using commercial you probably get by with 6) 500 g spinach (preferably not baby spinach) 1 tablespoon olive oil 2 ribs of celery, finely diced 1 shallot, finely diced salt and pepper to taste nutmeg to taste 200 g full-fat ricotta cheese 100 g feta cheese, crumbled in large pieces 1 egg, beaten olive oil spray
Boil water in a very large pan, add the spinach and press it down with a wooden spoon until the leaves wilt, 30 seconds or less. Drain into a large colander and place under running cold water to cool quickly. Drain well – squeeze out any excess water by pressing the spinach down with the wooden spoon, then squeezing with your hands. Using kitchen paper, pat the spinach dry into a compact shape, lay it on a board and roughly chop, then set aside.
Heat the olive oil in a large non-stick frying pan. Add the shallot, celery, and fry over a high-ish heat for 3-4 mins, stirring often, until softened and just starting to brown. Lower the heat, add the chopped spinach and stir for a few minutes to finish drying. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg, and leave to cool.
Heat oven to 375F and put a baking sheet in to heat up. In a bowl, stir the ricotta into the beaten egg and season with pepper and a pinch of salt.
Lightly oil an 8 inch square baking pan. Lay one or two filo pastry sheets over the pan, spray with olive oil, and att two more, leaving a nice overhang on all sides. The pan should be completely covered, with a pastry overhang all round. Repeat the criss-cross layering with 2 more oiled filo sheets.
Stir the ricotta mixture into the spinach, then crumble in the feta. Lightly stir it in so you leave a few chunky pieces. Spoon this filling into the pan and level it. Bring the pastry sides up and over the filling, then brush a little oil over them. Add one or two more sheets sprayed with olive oil to top the spanakopita.
Bake for 30 to 35 mins until the pastry is crisp and golden. Leave to cool for 10-15 mins. Carefully remove from the pan, slice and serve.
Comments: The most “traditional” way to roll out phyllo is going for a very large and thin sheet, patiently rolling and stretching the dough over a lightly floured cloth. I watched videos, read articles, and decided to go for a ‘beginner’s friendly” method, in which you divide the dough in small pieces and roll them thin, but to a smaller final size. The other change is that the sheets are stacked as you roll. The video advised to stack 10 sheets but I could not make it work. I went for 4 sheets at a time, and rolled them to 9 x 13 inches. Don’t expect to get phyllo as thin as the one you can buy at the store, particularly not on your first time. But I was pretty happy with the overall outcome. Very rewarding!
I also made crackers, using 4 of my precious sheets of home-made phyllo… Super simple. Stack the four sheets with a good spray of olive oil over each one. When you place the last sheet on top, brush some beaten egg white and add the toppings of your choice, so they will glue to the phyllo. I used black sesame seeds and Southwest spice from Penzey’s. Cut with a pizza roller and bake.
The crackers were absolutely delicious, and hubby thought I was a genius, crackers worth it of a Paul Hollywood handshake (allow me to dream, as I totally missed my chance, will you?)
I cannot lie to you, making phyllo from scratch is quite involved. I’ve found cornstarch in amazing places over the next couple of days. Things got wild, my friends… But how else can you have spanakopita made TOTALLY from scratch?
Caro, thanks so much for the thoughtful gift! I intend to make phyllo again, might even try the traditional approach and get a table cleared for the next adventure…