Sunday, October 3, 2010

A Butternut Squash & Bulgur Pilaf for the Kaw Valley Farm Tour

I mentioned in my last post that this had been a busy week. One of the highlights of my week was participating in the Kaw Valley Farm Tour. The Kaw Valley is the river valley of the Kansas (or Kaw) River running from Junction City, Kansas east to Kaw Point in Kansas City. Every year for a weekend in October a group of growers situated in the Kaw River Valley get together and open their growing and producing operations to the public. It is a fabulous opportunity for people in the area to see what is growing and thriving in their own back yards.

Yesterday and today were picture perfect early October days with sunny blue skies, puffy clouds and the cool feel of fall in the air. Everything is still green after our unusually wet summer and there is just a tinge of color beginning to show in the leaves. Even if you weren't interested in the stops along the way, the drive through the Kaw Valley on such a day would be a worthwhile way to spend some time. Being outside in such a beautiful place when the weather is so lovely is amazingly restorative. I wish that I were a landscape photographer so that I could share the beauty with you.

My part in the weekend's activities was a short cooking demonstration and tasting yesterday at a the Blue Jacket Crossing vineyard and winery. I have to confess that I wasn't sure how my part of the day was going to go. I had not visited beforehand and it is not uncommon for a chef to go into a situation where they simply have to make the best of it. But this was not the case at Blue Jacket. The delightful couple who own and operate the winery graciously welcomed me and had a special place set up for me to do my demonstration. Despite the rather stiff Kansas wind, I truly had a wonderful time (I hope I get to go back).

Demonstration mis en place ready to go

Prior to the event they had sent me six of their wines to try so I could match my food to some of them. Not surprisingly they sell out of their dry wines almost immediately after they are released; so at this point in the year, I was tasting, and would be preparing something to go with, their sweeter wines. Since the farm tour is a celebration of locally grown foods, I decided I would make the bulgur pilaf (Kansas is wheat country, after all) that I posted about in the spring and change it up a bit for the fall.

The spinach that appears in the original pilaf could easily have been changed to Swiss Chard and would have been a fine addition to an Autumn pilaf.  Swiss Chard makes an appearance at the Farmers' Market in both the spring and the fall. But the butternut squash has been looking particularly nice this year, so I thought I would use that instead. Also, I thought its sweetness would be great with the wines. Initially I thought about also incorporating some eggplant because I think eggplant and butternut squash are good partners during the short season when they come into the market together. The pilaf that I made with both butternut squash and eggplant was really good, but the presence of the eggplant seemed to require the addition of a generous squeeze of lemon juice.  This would have made it a poor match for the wines.

I eventually settled on a pilaf with just roasted butternut squash, pistachios, golden raisins, loads of mint and the optional addition of chickpeas for when it is to be served as an entrée. Without the chickpeas it is a wonderful side dish for Autumn.  I think it would make a nice addition to the Thanksgiving table.  And judging from the reaction of those who tasted it yesterday, it would be very well-received...even by people who think they don't like "whole grains".
The pilaf paired very well with Blue Jacket's award winning Seyval Reserve (a lovely white, which I had not tasted before I arrived) and their Nouveau Beaujolais-style Wolf Red. So in addition to having the pleasure of watching people taste and enjoy the pilaf, I got to see their eyes light up as they tasted the pilaf and the wine together.

The tasting room at the winery is open year round, so if you are in the area, check out their website and drop in to see them and taste their wines while you enjoy the spectacular view of their Kaw Valley Vineyard. (While you're at it, make a batch of this pilaf to take with you. With the addition of a little yogurt, some fruit and a bottle of wine, it would make a great picnic lunch.)

 Bulgur Pilaf with Butternut Squash,
Pistachios & Golden Raisins

2 to 2 1/2 lb. butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut in a scant 3/4-inch dice (about 5 c. diced)
3 to 4 T. olive oil, divided
1 small onion (about 6 oz.), diced (you will have about 1 c. diced onion)
1 fat clove garlic, minced
kosher salt
1 t. ground cumin
pinch cayenne
1 c. (6 oz.) medium bulgur, rinsed and drained
1 1/4 c. water
1/2 c. golden raisins
1/4 c. mint chiffonade
2 T. minced flat leaf parsley
1/2 c. toasted pistachios, coarsely chopped

Toss the squash with 1 to 2 T. olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake in a 425°F oven until tender and caramelized—20 to 30 minutes (stirring once so it will brown evenly).

Warm 2 T. olive oil in a medium saucepan with a tight fitting lid over moderate heat. Add the onions along with a pinch of salt and sweat until tender and translucent. Add the garlic, cumin and cayenne and cook until fragrant—about a minute. Increase the heat to medium high and add the drained bulgur along with a generous pinch of salt. Continue to cook for a minute. Add the water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and cook, covered until the bulgur is tender—12 to 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and scatter the raisins over the surface of the bulgur. Cover and let stand for 5 minutes.

Transfer the bulgur to a large bowl. Add the herbs, roasted squash and pistachios and toss until everything is well combined. Serve warm or room temperature. Serves 4 to 5 as side dish.

- To make a more substantial pilaf to be served as an entrée, add a 1 to 1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas (if using canned, drain and rinse before adding). Add the chickpeas with the roasted squash and pistachios.

- For a late summer variation, top and tail a medium eggplant (about 12 oz.). Cut into a 3/4-inch dice and toss with salt, pepper and olive oil to coat and spread on a baking sheet. Transfer to a 425° oven and roast until tender and caramelized—about 20 minutes. Add to the pilaf with the butternut squash. Substitute walnuts for the pistachios and add 2 to 4 tablespoons of lemon juice to the final pilaf.

- Add 10 oz. of stemmed spinach that has been wilted, squeezed dry and roughly chopped.


Katrina said...

That looks and sounds really good. I have everything on hand except the mint. Would you substitute it with anything, maybe just use more parsley or is it really a key flavor? I've loved that things you've made in classes that had mint (and hadn't really had it, especially in savory dishes before that.)

Missin' that area, especially knowing the leaves are about to change. We've got some great changin' leaves mountains over here, but I loved seeing that whole Lawrence area change color.

Paige said...

I think the mint adds a lot, but that doesn't mean you couldn't use something else. You could definitely add more parsley. You also might try cilantro or basil.

Jennifer said...

This looks so delicious! I will have to give it a try--and I LOVE whole grains.

CindyD said...

My vegetarian daughter says this sounds fantastic, but doesn't know where to get bulgar where she is (Brunswick, GA). Would brown rice or couscous work??

Paige said...

Yes, brown rice or cous cous will work--just use the amount of liquid you normally would for brown rice or cous cous and cook for the usual amount of time for each. Quinoa would also be good.

As far as finding bulgur goes, any store with a bulk section or a natural foods store should have bulgur. If there is a Middle Eastern Market in her area, she could find bulgur there. Bulgur comes in fine, medium and coarse. I used medium, which is the most widely available--but coarse would work too.