Thursday, November 08, 2012

Italian butternut stuffed onions, oh, YUM!

      Our church has small groups to encourage folks to connect with others with similar interests. All sorts of topics are included and I lead a culinary group.  Each month I try to demonstrate dishes that are interesting sounding, but easy enough to do for those who may not be inclined to spend a lot of time in the kitchen.
                This past week, we featured a great fall vegetable, butternut squash. One of the dishes was an Italian first course. It would make a perfect side dish for your holiday dinners. But larger onions would make a lovely main dish for a brunch or luncheon with just a salad on the side.
                The original Italian version would include mostarda, an Italian concoction of fruit preserved in mustard oil syrup.  It is very difficult to find in the US.  Italian cookbook author Marcella Hazan recommends a combination of quince preserves and mustard to replace it. That’s what I do. If you have a tough time finding quince jam or preserves, I'm pretty sure orange marmalade would be equally delicious.
                The Italian versions don’t normally use a sauce, but a couple of weeks before at our monthly wine dinner group, Joel and Mary Smith served a sausage stuffed onion. They made a lemon sauce that I knew would be perfect with this. And it was.  With the cream and butter it’s a bit of an indulgence but it only takes a couple of spoonfuls to complement the onion. You won’t be sorry!
Butternut Squash Stuffed Onions
1 small butternut squash 
¼ cup quince jam 
1 tbsp. Dijon mustard 
10 amaretti cookies, finely crushed 
½ cup freshly grated pecorino romano, plus more for garnish 
small onions, trimmed and peeled
                Preheat the oven to 375o.  Cut the squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds and pith.  Place cut-side down on an oiled baking sheet and bake until tender, 1 to 1 ½ hours.  Cool.
Cut off about 1/2” from top and bottom of onions.  With a melon baller or sharp knife, scoop out the centers, being careful not to cut through the bottom.  Discard the centers or reserve for another use. Place the onions in an oiled baking dish, brush with olive oil, cover and bake for about 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, scoop out the pulp of the squash and place in a mixing bowl. Mash with the back of a spoon.  Add the quince jam, Dijon mustard, amaretti crumbs and pecorino romano.  Mix well. 
Fill the onions with the squash mixture.  Butter a baking dish just large enough to hold the onions in one layer.  Bake until the onions are tender and golden, 20-30 minutes.  Ladle a couple of spoonfuls of lemon sauce on each serving plate and top with an onion. Grate a bit more pecorino on top and serve immediately.
Lemon Butter Sauce
 1 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. chopped shallot 
½ cup dry vermouth or dry white wine 
Juice and finely grated zest of one lemon 
1 cup heavy cream 
4 oz. butter, at room temperature
                In a saucepan, simmer the oil, shallot, vermouth and lemon zest and juice until reduced by about half.  Add the cream and bring back to a simmer.  Simmer, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Reduce to heat to as low as it will go and whisk in the butter a little at a time.  Spoon a couple of tablespoons onto a serving plate, then set the hot stuffed onions on top.
NOTE: Amaretti are small crisp cookies, available at Fresh Market and some supermarkets.
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