Paella-Stuffed Squash; Five-Spice Red Cabbage SaladOh, the winter squashes. If you’re lucky (like me) there are many colorful, bulging varieties to choose from right now. The “Paella-Stuffed Squash,” from the October 2015 issue of Every Day with Rachael Ray, does all the right things with acorn squash: they’re roasted and stuffed so that the squash becomes soft, scoopable, and oh-s0-pleasing.

First, there’s the hands-off, easy roasting (50 minutes in the oven). Meanwhile, you assemble the “paella,” which is rice plus a team of warm and smoky chorizo, paprika, and roasted red pepper. This quantity of stuffing will fill your four halves of squash perfectly.

Broiling the filled squashes for a few minutes does indeed add to the smoky flavor.

To share the plate with my squash, I also made the “Five-Spice Red Cabbage Salad,” from the October/November 2015 issue of Fine Cooking, because it’s a raw salad that benefits from just sitting and waiting to be eaten. It’s easy and it’s pretty. The five-spice powder adds such a distinct perfume. The mirin lends flavor beyond mere vinegar. And that creamy avocado … you know what that does.

Acorn Squash (2) = $5.07
Onion (1) = .53¢
Red Cabbage (1 small) = $1.86
Avocado (1) = $1.74

PREP TIMES: squash needs 90 minutes of assembly and cooking; cabbage marinates for two hours
sweet roasted squash is filled with smokiness; cabbage dresses itself like a superlative slaw

Next time, I will tackle a big stunt: the “Five-Spiced Tofu with Steamed Eggplant and Cardamom Passata,” from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Nopi (recipe below). Come back to my site next week, to see what happens when so much attention is paid to eggplant.

Five-Spiced Tofu with Steamed Eggplant and Cardamom Passata
Nopi, Yotam Ottlenghi and Ramael Scully
Serves 4

Steamed Eggplant:
2 large eggplants (2 1/4 lbs.), cut in half lengthwise, then widthwise, then each section cut into 1 1/4-inch wedges
1 1/2 tsp. sunflower oil
1 Tbsp. sesame oil
2-inch piece of ginger (1 1/2 oz.), peeled and finely grated
5 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
7 Tbsp. light soy sauce
1/4 cup Shaoxing rice wine
1/3 cup rice vinegar
3 1/2 Tbsp. mirin
1 tsp. superfine sugar
coarse sea salt

Tomato Cardamom Passata:
1 Tbsp. sunflower oil
3 shallots (1 1/4 oz.), finely diced
4 cloves garlic
1 1/2-inch piece of finger (1 oz.), peeled and finely grated
2 stalks lemongrass, tough outer leaves and stalks removed and discarded; finely chopped
2 red chiles, seeded and finely chopped
2 tsp. ground cardamom
1 Tbsp. tomato paste
2 1/2 cups tomato passata
1 Tbsp. superfine sugar

7 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
7 Tbsp. cornstarch
1 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
1 1/2 tsp. ground white pepper
1 Tbsp. Chinese five-spice powder
14 oz. firm tofu, cut into 1-inch squares
sunflower oil, for frying

To Serve:
2 Tbsp. black sesame seeds or toasted white sesame seeds (optional)
2 small scallions, green and white parts thinly sliced

Place the eggplant in a colander with 1 tsp. of salt. Mix well and leave to drain in a sink or bowl for an hour. Shake well, pat dry, then transfer to a steaming pan and steam for 10 to 15 minutes, or until cooked through. Remove from the heat. Place a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, with the sunflower oil and the sesame oil. Add the ginger and garlic and sauté for 1 to 2 minutes, until fragrant. Add the soy sauce, Shaoxing rice wine, rice vinegar, mirin, sugar, and about 7 Tbsp. of water. Increase the heat, bring to a boil, then reduce to medium-low again to simmer gently for 10 to 12 minutes, until the liquid has reduced by half. Stir in the eggplant, along with 1/4 tsp. of salt, and continue to simmer for another 8 to 10 minutes, until the sauce is shiny and the eggplant is glazed and starting to break down. Set aside somewhere warm until ready to use.

Place the sunflower oil for the passata in a medium saucepan for which you have a lid, and place over medium-low heat. Add the shallots, garlic, and ginger and sauté for 2 to 3 minutes, until soft and fragrant. Add the lemongrass and chile and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the cardamom and tomato paste and cook for another 2 minutes. Pour in the passata, stir well, and  bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, for about 12 minutes, until the sauce is thick. Add the sugar along with 1 1/2 tsp. of salt, and cook for a final 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside somewhere warm, until ready to serve.

For the tofu, grind 1 Tbsp. of salt with a mortar and pestle until smooth. Transfer to a large bowl with the flour, cornstarch, black and white peppers, and the five-spice and mix well. Just before serving, toss the tofu in the flour mixture until all sides are coated. Pour enough oil into a medium sauté pan so that it rises 3/4 inch up the sides. Place over high heat and, when hot, add the tofu in batches. Fry for 2 to 3 minutes, until golden brown. Use a slotted spoon to remove the tofu to a paper towel-line colander, sprinkle lightly with salt, and continue with the remaining tofu.

To serve, spoon the eggplant into shallow bowls or plates. Place the tofu on top, followed by the passata. Sprinkle over the sesame seeds and scallions and serve at once.