Thursday, May 19, 2011

Goodnight Mrs. Calabash...Whatever You Are. A Tale of Ancient Squash



   Last week I went on one of my regular shopping runs to Santa Rosa. I needed to do a "Big Shop," a 50 mile round trip type shop. TP,  paper towels and  dish soap from Costco and a whirl through my favorite Asian markets on Petaluma Hill Road. The Markets in Santa Rosa aren't Indian markets. Not by a long shot. They're Thai and Cambodian. There is only one Indian Market in all of Sonoma County and that's located in Cotati, conveniently next to the girls of Sift, winners of last year's Cupcake Wars.
   I have to watch my step in that neighborhood. Too much temptation all around. Between homemade gulab jamuns at the market and tequila blueberry cupcakes and Whoopie Pies as big as my head at Sift, once I'm in these places I'm a goner. So the Thai and Cambodian markets are on my regular run. They don't have everything I need for Indian cooking but they have most of it, and there are no cupcake joints anywhere near them. So there's that.
  Just as I was about to step out the door, I tweeted that I was going on a bottle gourd, bitter melon run and a couple of seconds later Paula Wolfert tweeted back to ask if I'd  also pick her up a pound of bottle gourd for a tagine dish she was working on. This started me thinking. Ever since I'd started cooking Indian food 20 plus years ago, I'd been cooking vegetables that I'd thought of as strictly Indian. So what was Paula wanting with bottle gourd for Moroccan food? Turns out bottle gourd gets around.
   First of all, it's got a lot of aliases. It's known as Opo, opu, doodhi, jicaro, calabash, long melon, boo thee, cucuzza, lauki, ghiya, lau and quara. Paging Interpol. Secondly, it's got a lot of uses. Everything from soup to bongs. Yes, in Jamaica the calabash gourd is used by Rastafarians for just that. Dude. Thirdly, this thing's been around a looooooong time. In fact some scientists believe that bottle gourd was being cultivated in America about 8000 years ago, and grown for an equally long time all over the world.
   So why isn't it better known on the current American table? It depends on who you ask. As I mentioned above, bottle gourd gets around. It's known in many places and under many names.
 When I made my bottle gourd hand-off to Paula at the bakery this morning, Pina, a local woman who hails from Sicily said, "Oh, That's a cucuzza! Where did you get it?"
   As I said it all depends on who you ask. Right now I have a fridge full of bottle gourd, among other things.
You can too if you visit your local Asian market. If you can't get bottle gourd, something tells me this recipe for squash in a tomatoey sauce with spices and peas would work equally well with zucchini, or chayote squash.


Indian Squash Stew




Here's what to do:
In a small bowl mix together:
 2 Tbs of tomato paste
 1/2 cup of water
 1/2 cup of whipping cream
 Set it aside.
 Peel and chop 1 lb of bottle gourd (or whatever squash you have) into 1/2 inch chunks.
Set the chopped squash aside.
If you are using frozen peas, defrost them and set them aside.
Mix together a spice blend of:
 4 whole cloves
 1/4 tsp of fennel pollen ( or ground fennel)
 1/2 tsp of garam masala
 1 Tbs of ground coriander
 1 tsp of turmeric
 1/2 inch piece of cinnamon
 1/4 tsp of kashmiri chili or 1/8 tsp of cayenne 1/8 tsp of paprika
  6 curry leaves
  3 medium size tomatoes seeded and chopped or 1 can of chopped tomatoes.
1 Tbs of melted unsalted butter
  1 whole green serrano chili
Mix all of these ingredients in a large skillet or kadhai (except the peas) on medium heat.
Put a lid on it, lower the heat and simmer the whole shebang for about 30 to 40 minutes until the squash is tender.
Keep an eye on it. Check it every now and then to make sure nothing is sticking. Add a bit of water if needed.
When the squash is tender, add in the peas.
 Stir them a bit to warm them up.
Take out the cloves and the whole green chili, garnish with a bit of chopped fresh cilantro and mint and serve it up.
   This is squash at its' best, spicy with cinnamon and cloves and a bit of heat. The vegetable is soft and buttery and yet unlike the more common zucchini, it holds it's shape and firmness after cooking. This is what bottle gourd is all about. If you have any way of getting ahold of it, try. You won't regret it.
   Coming up next what happens when that same bottle gourd puts on her heels gets tarted up and goes to town? Just call her Sweetstuff. This isn't your Grandmas' zucchini cupcakes. Follow along on Twitter @kathygori

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