September Cooking Club

I'll admit, I've been sitting on this post for weeks. I've got absolutely no idea why, it's been typed up and done but apparently I felt the need to regale you all with my talk of crushes and Enrique Iglesas instead. Ptttthhh.

When Yumi said she was going to make a butternut squash and prawn pasta dish for cooking club all I could think was "Wha?"

For the life of me I couldn't imagine those two items pairing together seamlessly. But, oh holy jesus, I was wrong. It was delicious, it was creamy, there were perfectly cooked shrimp waiting to be devoured atop the pasta. Sigh. I made this dish at home last weekend and it was still as delicious the second time around as it was the first (see end of post for more photos of it).

I made a starter of cheddar crisps, Yumi's husband Dan declared them "very fancy cheese nips". Which I hope was a compliment, but regardless, I loved them. This was the first of the experiement of attempting to use mostly local ingredients. Local cheddar, local eggs, etc. I'll admit I had to resort to King Arthur Flour because we don't have a mill around here, and my budget can only take so much stretching when it comes to expensive food items. But the local cheddar, which is delicious was resonably priced in my opinion and more delicious than cheddar I might find in Kroger.

Nancy made a lovely veg salad deal, part side dish/part salad. It was so fantastic that I went out and bought all the ingredients the following day and sat down to a big bowl of it for dinner. It was light and simple and not in the least bit heavy, which is a good thing since the weather has turned warm again. (Damnit).

Nancy also brought the lovely Apple and Thyme Martini. Which was perfect, and the beverage of choice for the whole evening. We didn't even bust open the other bottles of wine or lambic.

And then Summer had to go blow us all out of the water with her fantastic chocolate cake. It was layer upon layer of chocolate mouse, chocolate ganche, raspberry sauce and chocolate cake. A chocolate lovers dream really.

Cheese Crisps
Adapted from Gourmet, November 2006

1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¾ lb sharp cheddar cheese, coarsely grated (on the large holes of a box grater or in a food processor fitted with the shredding attachment)
1 large egg yolk
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp dried mustard
¾ tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper, coarsely cracked in a mortar and pestle
1 tsp caraway seeds

Combine the butter, cheese, and yolk in the bowl of a food processor, and blend until smooth. The mixture may seem very thick and lumpy and cement-like at first, but persevere, stopping the machine and scraping down the sides as needed; it will eventually come together into a smooth, thick paste. When it does, add the flour, dried mustard, and salt, and pulse until just combined. Transfer the dough to a sheet of wax paper, and divide it into three portions. [Do not clean the food processor yet.]

Return one portion to the food processor, add the pepper, and pulse until combined well. Or just sprinkle the pepper on top as I did (hi, I'm lazy) Transfer the dough to another sheet of parchment paper. Using the paper as an aid, shape the dough into a log roughly 7 inches in length and 1 ½ inches thick. Roll up the log in the paper, and twist the ends to seal it closed. Clean the processor and dry it well. Make another log on a separate sheet of wax paper in the same manner, using caraway seeds instead of pepper. Place the final, unseasoned portion of dough on another sheet of wax paper, and make it into a log as well. Chill the logs until firm, about 2 hours.

When you're ready to bake the crisps, put an oven rack in the middle position and preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper (or silpat).

Unwrap one log and, using a knife (or a cheese cutter), cut enough thin slices – about 1/8 inch thick – from it to cover the baking sheet, arranging the slices about 1 inch apart. Bake the crisps until their edges are golden, about 10-12 minutes. Transfer them on the parchment to a rack, and cool them slightly, about 15 minutes. Repeat with the remaining dough.

Serve crackers warm or at room temperature.

Note: The dough can be chilled, wrapped in foil or a plastic bag, for a week or frozen for up to two months. The crackers can be baked a few days ahead and cooled completely, then stored in an airtight container at room temperature. If you like, you can reheat them on a baking sheet in a 350-degree oven for about 5 minutes.

Yield: about 100 crackers

Apple and Thyme Martini
Giada DeLaurentiis

10 ounces vodka
6 ounces apple juice
1/4 cup thyme syrup, recipe follows
1 large apple, peeled
4 fresh thyme sprigs
Special equipment: melon baller

Chill the martini glasses.
Fill the shaker with ice. Combine the vodka, apple juice, and thyme syrup in a martini shaker. Shake for about 10 seconds. Divide between the 4 chilled martini glasses.

Use the melon baller to scoop out small balls of apple. Place 3 balls of apple and 1 sprig of thyme in each glass for garnish. Serve immediately.

Thyme Simple Syrup:
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
5 large sprigs fresh thyme

In a saucepan combine sugar, water, and thyme over medium heat. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until the sugar has dissolved, about 5 minutes. Take the pan off the heat and cool the syrup. Any extra cooled syrup can be saved in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Asparagus and Zucchini Crudi
Giada DeLaurentiis

2 zucchini, trimmed
1 bunch asparagus, trimmed
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 ounce shaved Pecorino Romano, for garnish

Using a vegetable peeler, shave the zucchini into long thin strips. Thinly slice the asparagus on a diagonal. Toss the slices together and place the salad in a serving bowl.
In a small bowl, combine the olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Stir to combine and drizzle over the vegetables. Toss to coat. Garnish with the pecorino shavings. Serve.

Rigatoni with Squash and Prawns
Giada DeLaurentiis

3 tablespoons olive oil, plus 3 tablespoons
1 pound butternut squash, trimmed and cut into 1-inch cubes
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon salt, plus 1 teaspoon
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus 1/2 teaspoon
1 cup vegetable stock
1 pound rigatoni
1 pound prawns, peeled and deveined
3/4 to 1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup grated Parmesan

Warm 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add the butternut squash, garlic, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper. Saute until the squash is golden and tender, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the vegetable stock, bring to a simmer, cover and cook until the squash is very soft, another 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer the squash mixture to a blender or food processor and puree.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain pasta.

Meanwhile, warm the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle the prawns with the remaining 1 teaspoon of salt and remaining 1/2 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper. Add the prawns to the pan and cook until just pink, about 3 minutes.

In a large pot over low heat combine the cooked pasta, pureed squash mixture, and 3/4 cup milk. Stir to combine. Add the remaining 1/4 cup milk if the sauce needs to be moistened. Add the cooked prawns, basil, and cheese. Stir until warm and serve.

And of course the recipe for Summer's Triple Chocolate Cake is entirely too long, so I'm only going to provide a link to it.

Triple Chocolate Cake

And because I took more photos of the butternut squash when I cooked it myself last weekend:

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