August 15, 2006
Lessons Learned

What do you think of that beautiful photo of patty pan (or petite pan) squash with mustard greens and kale and baby eggplant sauteed in garlic oil with worcestershire, mustard powder, and red wine vinegar, all in a small amount of vegetable broth? Isn't it lovely? No, that photo right there. The one with this post. Ohhh, you don't see it either?

Well there's a reason for that. I put together the above described dish and dutifully took photos of the meal. It looked interesting and somewhat attractive for those herbivores among us. The dish smelled great. But when the fork hit the bowl... not so tasty.

One of the hazards cooking and of writing a food blog is that you get a little cocky and think you can improvise a dish from a few great ingredients. Sometimes you get away with it. I've had many a post here that originated in my head the night before dinner as I peered deep into the refrigerator.

But sometimes it just doesn't work out so well.

I had hoped to highlight the delicious patty pan/petite pan squash. They look like tiny little UFO's or like tiny round bread loaves (petite pain - I'm guessing that's the origin of the name). They taste a little bit like zucchini and other summer squash, but have a little more flavor and a little less bitterness, especially if you get them really young. If you see these a the farmer's market, pick them up and try them out. Throw some garlic and oil into a pan, sautee, and toss in the squash. Sautee until fork tender and season with salt and pepper to taste.

As it was, in a crowded skillet, the squash weren't done until the eggplant and kale were too tender. I might have liked them even more tender, but that would have disintegrated the eggplant and made the kale far too soft. Bad choice to have them all together - lesson learned.

The addition of the baby eggplants was not a bad choice, but my order of sautee was. I tossed in the firm eggplant ahead of the squash and the greens. Big mistake. Cut small, eggplant cooks very quickly. That's one lesson I won't forget. The eggplant were very tasty, but as I said, too squishy for my taste.

The greens also taught me a lesson. I used a mix of collards and kale, cutting the stems and tough veins from each leaf before cooking. The kale was tender and delicious, while the mustard greens still were a bit tough. They both soaked up far too much of the small amount of vinegar I'd used in the cooking. Another lessons learned - use a sparing amount of vinegar with greens because the greens drink it up like it was whisky and the greens were that branch of my family we don't talk much about.

The biggest lesson was that this should not have been a one-skillet dish. I should have sauteed the squash separately from the greens. That way the two major ingredients each would have had the appropriate time to cook, and I might have rescued the greens from the excess vinegar (how? More veg broth and mabe more oil or mabe even more greens of some sort. The Redhead always says "The solution to pollution is dilution." And she's right.)

So no recipe today, I'm sorry to say. Make sure that when you screw up a dish (and we all do), you figure out what went wrong and take those lessons with you to the next dish you attempt. Tonight - I try to fry okra for the first time ever. There will be lots of authentic Southern expertise consulted for that one, to avoid a repeat of last night's dinner disaster.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at August 15, 2006 8:01 AM Print-friendly version

Barrett, that is so funny - I also made a patty pan squash a couple of months ago and decided not to post because the end product was kind of bland and uninteresting. Maybe it's not us but the squash? ; )

I got cool photos of the squash before cutting though. Maybe some day I'll find a use for them!

Posted by Meg in St. Charles on August 15, 2006 at 9:37 AM

Oh, I loved the squash. They liked the vinegar and the worcestershire and garlic a lot. The amounts necessary to flavor them, however, nuked the greens and overwhelmed their flavor.

I'll definitely be buying more of the little flying saucer guys.

Posted by barrett on August 15, 2006 at 10:17 AM

Stuffed pattypans are really good, too, Barrette. Make a rice and veggie based stuffing that utilizes the innards of the squash you have scooped out and it is fantastic. You can steam the hollowed out squash shells a bit first, or do what I do and stuff the little buggers, and set them in a glass baking dish, and pour water that comes 1/3=1/2 the way up the shells and bake them until they are tender.

Very tasty.

As for the greens--collards and kale are better partners that will cook in roughly the same amount of time. Turnip greens take less time to cook in a saute and mustard greens take longer, along with chard. All of them take a deft hand with the vinegar--and yes, you can add a bit more veg broth to make up the moisture.

You know what is really good, though? Soaking some dried mushrooms in warm sherry for a bit, squeezing them out, then mincing them and adding them to your onions and garlic you saute for your greens. Then, use the mushroomy sherry broth in with the greens. Very nice.

Posted by Barbara on August 15, 2006 at 6:56 PM

Barrett, thanks for reminding us that food is something to be enjoyed, experimented with, and occasionally laughed at! I think those of us who write about food for a living tend to take it all too seriously. It is about fun, about friends, about family, and -- occasionally -- about failure.

By the way, I love those little patty pans, which are abundant at my farmers' market this month. I usually slice them in half vertically (I know, they are somewhat less beautiful that way), and toss them with some s&p, olive oil, and throw them on the grill.

Posted by lydia on August 17, 2006 at 6:49 AM
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