Squashed Resolve

Roasted Acorn Squash with Chile-Lime Vinaigrette

Well, here we are again. Another year has come and gone so fast I barely had time to get used to it being 2008 and now there’s a whole new number to contend with. If you ask me time is moving entirely too fast these days – weeks, months, years are flying by so quickly I don’t even have time to remember how old I am let alone what date to write on my checks. And does it disturb you as much as it does me that we are one year away from the end of the decade, yet we still have no consensus on what to call it? I mean, Manuel and I crack ourselves up by calling it the ‘uh-ohs’, and in Britain people chuckle over the vaguely-naughty ‘noughties’, but I honestly have no idea what respectable newscasters in ten or twenty years’ time will be saying. “Back in the double-zeros…”? “Shortly after the turn of the millennium…”? “In the early two-thousands…”? Do they all sound as ludicrous to you as they do to me?

And then, of course, there’s the whole January-means-resolutions thing to contend with. Normally I’m quite happy to start the year with a bit of a self-improvement regimen, resolving to do things like eat less and exercise more (particularly since however hard I try to show restraint during the holidays I always end up inhaling everything in sight), but this year things are different. I still need all the self-improvement I can get, for sure, but what with all the doom and gloom and economic misery lurking around every corner, I’m not sure my psyche can handle it. And from the look of things on the pages of the nation’s food magazines, who are all playing up comfort foods at the expense of the traditional get-healthy fare this month, it seems I’m not alone.

Rather than forego resolutions entirely this year, though, I’ve decided to approach them in a different way. Instead of setting vague, lofty, and let’s face it, unattainable self-improvement goals like I usually do – drop a dress size or six, uncover my inner marathon runner, etc. – I’ve come up with a list of things that are specific, do-able, and don’t involve any self-torture, yet if upheld will still greatly improve my quality of life. Things like: 1) keep my knives sharp, which, now that I actually have sharp knives* for the first time in, oh, half a decade, makes chopping onions the highlight of every evening, and 2) finally learn how to parallel park, which, I swear to you, I haven’t even done once since I somehow passed that portion of my driver’s test fifteen years ago. And then there’s my favorite, 3) eat more vegetables, which I added to the list in the middle of Christmas dinner, about three seconds after I put a bite of the following recipe in my mouth, and about thirty seconds before various members of my family, in a show of very un-Christmas-like behavior, began fighting over the remaining pieces of it (leaving, I might add, the whole cracked Dungeness crab and cheese-flecked corn pudding practically forgotten).

I can’t blame them, though – this sweet-sour-spicy squash is that good, but apart from making my tastebuds jump for joy during Christmas dinner, it reminded me once again of just how under-utilized and under-appreciated vegetables are. I mean, even in our house, where food is afforded more respect than in many, vegetables are too often the afterthought, the answer to ‘what can I add to make this meal healthier?’ Luckily, though, every once in a while a vegetable dish comes along that kicks me squarely in the pants for yet again forgetting that health and pleasure are not mutually exclusive, and which convinces me that what I should be asking at mealtimes is ‘how can something this delicious be good for me?’

So there you go. Sharpen knives, learn to park, and eat my vegetables. If I can manage these, 2009 should be quite the year.

*Hooray for free knife sharpening at Central Market!

Roasted Acorn Squash with Chile-Lime Vinaigrette

I found this incredible squash dish when I was trolling the web for something to complement our Christmas crab and corn pudding meal, and I’m not exaggerating when I say it stole the show. There were fewer leftovers of this than of anything else we ate that night, including the triple-chocolate-raspberry-marsala trifle, and the next day, when I handed my 21-year-old brother his bag of leftovers before his drive home to Olympia, the only thing he verified was whether I had given him any squash. I hadn’t, actually, since I was hoping to eat it all myself!

Source: adapted from Gourmet, October 2006

2 large (1 1/2-1 3/4-lb/650-800g) acorn squash
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons (90ml) olive oil
1 garlic clove, peeled and minced
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice, or to taste
1 tablespoon honey
1-2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh hot red chile, including seeds
small handful chopped fresh cilantro

Preheat the oven to 400F/200C. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Halve each squash lengthwise, then cut off and discard stem ends. Scrape out the seeds and cut the squash lengthwise into 3/4-inch-wide wedges. Toss the squash with black pepper, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and 2 tablespoons (30ml) oil in a bowl, then arrange, cut sides down, on the baking sheets. Roast the squash, switching the position of pans halfway through roasting, until squash is tender and undersides of wedges are golden brown, 30-40 minutes.

While the squash roasts, mash the garlic finely with remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt in a mortar. Transfer the paste to a small bowl and whisk in lime juice, honey, chile (to taste), cilantro, and remaining oil until combined. Taste for seasoning and add more salt or lime juice as needed. Transfer squash, browned sides up, to a platter and drizzle with vinaigrette.

Serve hot or at room temperature.