Cooking Adventures : Baked Summer Squash

Farmers Markets just make me want to cook! The delicious smells wafting from the different stalls beautifully complement the fresh fruits and vegetables begging to be eaten. Some of my favorite Saturday mornings are ones spent strolling through the farmers market near the San Diego Bay, wanting to buy everything, but trying to restrain myself by carrying limited cash.

Last week, the market abounded with different types of squash, inviting me to eat it, but more importantly, to cook it. I hadn’t experimented too much with cooking squash, knowing that butternut squash, while having a delightful name, is just too sweet for me, I had been a bit wary of all squashes. How wrong I was! The ones that I bought had lovely flavors, and I am so glad that I cooked them to highlight their natural flavors rather than hide them.

I decided to make a squash bake, a decision loosely based on the fact that I was roped in to buy these breadcrumbs from the Farmers Market since I spent so long tasting everything the stall had to offer. After eating the squash bake, I am SO GLAD I bought this!

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For someone used to Indian cooking, this bake is ridiculously simple. And the best part is that you don’t have to worry about proportions or exact measurements, because it is really tailored to your tastes.

All you do is – chop the different varieties of squash (I also added zucchini and one potato), drizzle some olive oil, add a few seasonings (I added thyme, an Italian seasoning that we bought from Tuscany, salt, and a clove of garlic), sprinkle fresh grated Parmesan cheese and the breadcrumbs you were roped into buying, and stick it in the oven (pre-heated to 350 F) for about 20 minutes.

After 20 minutes, out comes this delicious squash bake, ready to be enjoyed.

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While you wait, you could toss up a lovely salad to go with it. I love walnuts, so I decided to make an apple walnut salad. Toss freshly caramelized walnuts, sliced apples and sliced heirloom tomatoes into your salad leaves of choice (I love the Super Greens salad leaves mix by Organic Girl).

How to caramelize walnuts :

  1. Heat some butter and brown sugar (I always prefer to use too less rather than too much) in a small pan.
  2. Add the desired number of walnuts (this is so easy to do fresh every time, so only caramelize as many walnuts as you need).
  3. Stir frequently, and notice that the sugar and butter mixture gets denser and adheres to the walnuts. Make sure the walnuts do not clump up.
  4. Once the walnuts are coated by a warm brown covering, immediately take off the stove (or they will burn), and line them on parchment paper. Make sure to keep the walnuts separate at this point, or you will get a huge clump that is really tough to separate.

I really want to stress how important the right kitchen tools are, to enjoy cooking. I used to cook with old, blunt knives, and yes, they somehow got the job done, but it took up a lot more of the precious time I could have maybe spent eating instead. We got beautiful new chef knives as one of our wedding presents, and they are just so amazing! Prep time is literally cut in half (unless you accidentally poke your finger, in which case you spend some time stopping bleeding and bandaging, but that’s another story).

And then this lovely garlic peeler and grater – such simple instruments that make your life so much easier!

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The garlic grater plate we bought from the Farmers Market is handmade in Spain, but I also saw a couple of ladies hand-making them right here in San Diego at a pottery class I took over the summer, so I am excited to try to make one myself one of these days!

This is the result of at most 3o minutes of work (including idle oven and clean up time) in the kitchen – a fresh, delicious vegetarian meal packed with lots of nutrients and more importantly lots of flavor!

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Note : This is a food blog post without tons of instructions and measurements – because I just want to stress how easy cooking is – if you treat it as more of an art and less of a science! As long as you know the basics of flavors, just take a bunch of fresh ingredients, and let your imagination fly with you! I promise, that at least 50% of the times, you will really enjoy what you make!

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