19 August 2012

Baked beans and spaghetti squash

I'm reading Guy Vanderhaeghe's The Englishman's Boy at the moment, which features a lot of cowboys. Perhaps that was why I thought of baked beans as a meal for today. I'm not fond of commercially-canned baked beans, but home-made ones are a different proposition entirely and they're something we eat fairly regularly in the colder months. I use dry haricot beans (called navy beans here) and soak them overnight. Then you boil them for an hour or so in fresh water.

Usually I add onions, ketchup, molasses, mustard powder, salt and pepper (in unscientific quantities) to the cooked beans  and the water they've been boiling in. Today I had a batch of rather battered tomatoes which I had to do something with in a hurry, so instead of using ketchup I cut out the good parts, whizzed them in the food processor then boiled the tomatoes down into a thick sauce (while the beans were boiling). I added a splash of vinegar to the tomatoes to get roughly the same effect as making ketchup.

Here's how the mixture looked before it went into the oven:

It's quite runny at this stage, which is what you want, as it then bakes for two to three hours at 325°F/160°C and a lot of the water is absorbed or steamed off. You can leave the lid off the pot towards the end of cooking to make sure that the texture of the sauce is the way you want it. I'd recommend stirring the beans every half-hour, too, so that they don't stick to the bottom.

After baking, the beans looked like this:

You can see from the line on the side of the pot how much the liquid level has dropped.

While I had the oven on, I also baked a couple of our Small Wonder spaghetti squash. I've been picking these for two weeks now and on Thursday I harvested the first of the New England Sugar Pie pumpkins, too:

In the past I've always cut spaghetti squash open (usually rather nervously, with a big knife and a conviction that I am about to lose a finger), scooped out the seeds and then baked them in the oven for about an hour. This week I discovered that you can also microwave the fruit, with much more speedy results. I also found out that you can cook them whole and remove the seeds after cooking them, which makes them a lot easier to deal with. The important point to remember if you cook them whole, whether in the microwave or in the oven, is to pierce the skin in several places with a knife. Otherwise you'll have an exploding squash on your hands. And all over your oven...

I tried this new method out today. It was a great improvement: once cooked, the skin was easy to cut through and the seeds came out with no bother at all, leaving the soft yellow flesh to fall away from the outer shells. This is definitely the best way of cooking them: no more near-accidents with big sharp knives and smooth-skinned squashes for me!

Spaghetti squash is a versatile vegetable - you can serve it as a side dish with some butter or oil and pepper, or use the strands in the place of pasta as part of a low-carbohydrate main course. With these ones I'm planning to stir in some parmesan and seasoning and then form them into cakes, coat them in flour and shallow fry them for supper. Rather like rösti or hash browns. Hm, the thought of that's making me hungry already and I've only just eaten the baked beans...

UPDATE: I mixed some crushed garlic, parmesan, salt, pepper and flour into the cooled squash, then coated them in more flour, egg, and breadcrumbs and shallow fried them in a mix of oil and butter:

They tasted great and, for once, everyone agreed with me. This is quite an achievement when you consider that Child#2 has recently taken to supervising me at mealtimes to make sure that I haven't sneakily inserted any zucchini into his food.

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