Vail Daily food: Cooking for one
WASHINGTON – My father used to tell me something every time we stood in line at Luby’s Cafeteria in my West Texas hometown: Your eyes, he would warn, are bigger than your stomach.That has only gotten truer over the years. I don’t eat at cafeterias too often anymore, but another buffet of options still tempts me, especially at this time of year. At the farmers market every week, it’s just too easy to go overboard, buying whatever looks good – which some weeks is just about everything. And for the most part, these are not petite ingredients. Have you seen the size of some of those squashes, melons and cabbages? At three or four pounds apiece, any one of them is enough to feed me for a week. Though leftovers can be nice, I’d sure like a little more dinnertime variety than that.Some farmers have been helping, by cultivating smaller varieties of fruits and vegetables (or harvesting them earlier) so that single cooks and others interested in less of a cruciferous commitment can get their fix. It’s a bit of customer-service savvy that makes perfect sense at urban markets, where the proportion of singles is high.I’ve long bought fingerling potatoes at the market because of the ability to microwave or roast just two or three for an appropriately sized side dish, and I always keep shallots around to do the job of onions when all I need is a pinch for a downsized recipe. In the spring, when baby vegetables abound, I can’t keep my hands off tiny yellow squashes and zucchini, which I roast whole. And while I love to roast a big eggplant or two for “caviar” or hummus, those small ones are life-savers when all I want is a quick accompaniment to that night’s pasta.It wasn’t until I met Jim Dunlap of SnowBear Farm in Loudoun County, Va., that I thought I’d ever see a butternut squash the size of a hand weight (and only about 10 ounces). “I hear it from single people all the time,” he says. “They say, ‘I’d like to buy this, but it’s just too big.'”As he put it, “Many customers want the flavor but not the size.”Those tiny squashes make the most perfect side dish, cut in half and roasted until sweet and tender. But they also provide just enough flesh for a single-serving pasta topping, a quick soup or a curried risotto spiked with pistachios and coconut flakes.From McCleaf’s Orchards in Biglersville, Pa., I’ve been buying up Little Lopes like mad. I eat these softball-size cantaloupes like grapefruits: cutting them in half, scooping out the seeds and spooning the fragrant, ripe flesh right from the shells. (On more ambitious occasions, I spoon Greek-style yogurt into the seed cavity, drizzle with honey or jam and sprinkle with nuts.) The flesh from small cantaloupes can take its turn in recipes, forming a beautiful sauce for just a cup of bow-tie pasta tossed with crisped prosciutto.Naturally, I realize I could be roasting three-pound squashes, and, after making my first night’s dinner, I could set aside the extra flesh for another day (or two or three). And I know I could peel and cut up a huge cantaloupe, eat a cup or so, then freeze the remaining chunks for use in smoothies throughout the week. I do that sometimes.Judith Jones, renowned cookbook editor and author of “The Pleasures of Cooking for One,” calls such pre-prepped ingredients “treasures,” not leftovers. “You open the refrigerator door, and there’s always something that you can make if you have those treasures,” she said in a phone interview.Indeed, Jones’ new book helpfully devotes its core to the strategy of, say, braising lamb shanks Moroccan-style for one meal, then shredding some of the leftover meat and cooking it with onions and raisins and serving it over couscous for another. Her Stuffed Eggplant takes twin “treasures” – leftover meat and leftover rice – and combines them with pine nuts, tomatoes and spices for a separate Mediterranean-inspired meal.The base of that meal, though, is a small eggplant, just five inches long and perfectly sized for one.
1 servingPasta with cantaloupe sounds odd, but it is actually a classic dish. New varieties of individually sized cantaloupes make it perfect for one, but if you can find only larger cantaloupes, use 1 cup of the flesh. Prosciutto, which pairs so well with melon, is an obvious and welcome addition. But vegetarians can leave it out.Loosely based on recipes from http://www.rachaelraymag.com (Every Day With Rachael Ray magazine) and “Giuliano Hazan’s Thirty-Minute Pasta” (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2009).Ingredients3 ounces dried farfalle (bowtie) pasta2 teaspoons olive oil1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes1 slice ( 1/2 ounce) prosciutto, cut crosswise into very thin slices1 (about 10 ounces) Little Lope or other baby cantaloupe, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes1/2 teaspoon tomato paste1 tablespoon nonfat Greek-style yogurtKosher saltFreshly ground black pepper1 tablespoon freshly grated Parmesan cheeseDirectionsBring a 2-quart pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Cook the pasta according to the package directions, until it is just al dente. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking water.Meanwhile, line a plate with a few layers of paper towels.Heat the oil in a small nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the crushed red pepper flakes and prosciutto; cook for about 5 minutes, until the prosciutto is browned and crisp. Drain the prosciutto on the paper-towel-lined plate.Add the cantaloupe to the skillet and cook for 3 or 4 minutes to form a chunky sauce. Add the tomato paste and cook for 1 minute, then remove from the heat and add the yogurt, stirring to incorporate.Add the cooked pasta and toss to combine, adding some of the reserved pasta cooking water as needed. Add salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle with the Parmesan and reserved prosciutto; eat while the pasta is hot or at room temperature.
1 servingThis is like a savory rice pudding, creamy and comforting as the nights get cooler. If you can’t find a squash this small, of course, feel free to roast a larger one and use 1/2 cup of the flesh.MAKE AHEAD: The squash can be roasted several days in advance and refrigerated in an airtight container.From Food editor Joe Yonan.Ingredients1 small (8 ounce) butternut squash, cut in half, seeds removedKosher or sea saltFreshly ground black pepper2 teaspoons olive oilAbout 2 cups low-sodium or homemade vegetable broth1/2 teaspoon curry powder1 small shallot, coarsely chopped1 medium clove garlic, coarsely chopped1/3 cup arborio or other risotto rice1 teaspoon unsalted butter2 tablespoons shelled unsalted pistachios, toasted (see NOTES)2 tablespoons unsweetened coconut flakes, toasted (see NOTES)DirectionsPreheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a small roasting pan with aluminum foil.Season the squash halves lightly with salt and pepper, then place them cut side up in the roasting pan. Drizzle with 1 teaspoon of the oil. Roast for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the squash is tender enough to be easily pierced with a fork. (Alternatively, microwave it on HIGH, uncovered, for 4 to 6 minutes or until tender.) Let it cool, then scoop out the flesh; the yield should be about 1/2 cup.Meanwhile, bring the broth to a boil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to low and cover.Heat the remaining teaspoon of oil in a heavy-bottomed small saucepan over medium heat. Add the curry powder and cook for about 1 minute, stirring to dissolve. Add the shallot and garlic; cook for 3 or 4 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they have slightly softened. Add the rice and cook for 1 or 2 minutes, stirring until the grains are evenly coated.Add 1/4 cup of the hot broth; cook the rice, stirring frequently, until the liquid is absorbed. Be sure to scrape the bottom of the pan frequently to keep the rice from sticking. Repeat with 1/4 cup amounts, allowing the broth to be absorbed before the next addition; this will take about 20 minutes. You should end up using about 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 cups of broth. The rice should be tender but al dente: still slightly firm to the bite inside the rice grain.Add the roasted butternut squash. Cook for few minutes, until the rice is tender but not mushy, adding some of the remaining broth to keep the risotto moist but not soupy.When the rice is done to your liking, add the butter, stir to combine, taste and add salt as necessary. Sprinkle with the pistachios and coconut; eat while the risotto is hot.NOTES: Toast pine nuts for 3 to 4 minutes, stirring constantly, in a dry, nonstick skillet over medium heat, until the nuts have browned evenly. Toast the coconut in a small skillet over medium-low heat until it is light brown and fragrant, stirring often to prevent burning.