16 October 2007

Squash, Fig, Fennel, and Chestnut Ragout

Now is the time of year when the bees die right on the flower. I saw one the other day, curled tightly in the petals of a butterfly bush, and I wondered if it died in a final exultation of pollinated pleasure or simply passed away in its sleep. The temperatures are finally dropping, we have several potted plants that don't like below 50F, so I brought them in last night and they crowded by the front door like children waiting for recess. They'll migrate indoors and out for a while before finally coming inside for the winter.

I've been gathering fall ingredients around me: pumpkins for carving and eating, apples from our neighbor's tree, chestnuts that went into a cake you will hear about soon. I got some dried figs too, unlike other dried fruits dried figs have a specific season, usually fall and early winter. Due to their high residual water content, dried figs only last a few months and the best kind are those from Turkey.

As I surveyed our provisions this weekend, I decided to turn those squash, chestnuts, and figs into a simple autumn ragout- it needed something else savory and I chose fennel bulb, with its sweet onion-like taste and hint of spice. I love a good ragout, in the spring with favas, in the summer a ratatouille-esque mixture, and now this one for fall. And though I just threw it together in its simplest form, this ragout is really a winner, I'm already considering it for a place at the Thanksgiving table. I had in mind to post something else today but the ragout just had to be shared, vying for attention like those plants by the front door.

I really love this dish in its five-ingredient simplicity, but it is welcome to interpretations. A splash of Riesling wine at the beginning would be the perfect accent, a few shredded apples a nice touch, use dates or raisins in place of figs, onions in place of fennel, a drizzle of pomegranate molasses, you get the idea. But I like this dish just as written, it reminds me of scarves and jackets and crunchy leaves and mostly, it tastes like fall.

Squash, Fig, Fennel, and Chestnut Ragout
This wonderful autumn ragout is welcome to all sorts of additions and substitutions, but I love it just as written. I use both squash and carrots because the squash will fall apart in the long cooking, while carrots hold their shape.

1 small fennel bulb (or half a very large one), cored and sliced
2 cups diced winter squash (such as pumpkin, butternut, acorn squash)
3 carrots, cut in small dice
6 dried figs, stems removed and quartered
1/3 cup finely chopped cooked chestnuts
optional for serving: pomegranate seeds

1. Heat a glug of olive oil in a skillet or wide pan. Add the fennel and carrots and saute until the fennel is softened. Add the squash, chestnuts and dried figs and add enough water to half-way cover the vegetables. Season with salt, stir everything around to combine, then cover the pan and turn the heat to low. Simmer over low heat, covered, for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve warm, garnished with pomegranate seeds if desired.


Anonymous said...

I really love the way you opened this post. I never wondered about how bees die, but you made me interested and you made me care. That's good writing right there! And a great recipe to complement it :)

Figs, Bay, Wine said...

Just lovely, Mercedes. My favorite flower stand at the market's still buzzing with bees here, but it's in the high 70s. Beautiful writing, and beautiful recipe.

Ian said...

I originally came across this site looking for a fig compote recipe but your obvious love of food and the quality of your writing drew me in. Your recipes are a welcome tonic as winter begins to bite here in Scotland. I tried this one last weekend and it was warmly received, being a perfect accompaniment to venison steaks with a red wine reduction and roast potatoes. I was worried the ragout would be too sweet but it was an ideal counterpoint to the earthiness of the venison.