One of the greatest unsung pleasures of working at UN headquarters is the marvelous greenmarket that springs up on 47th Street east of Second Avenue every Wednesday year round.
Over the years the market, known officially as the Dag Hammarskjöld Plaza Greenmarket (http://www.grownyc.org/daghammarskjoldgreenmarket), has gotten better and better, stretching closer and closer to First Avenue after picking up an excellent fishmonger, a cheese stand and several vendors of baked goods along the way.
The yogurt from Ronnybrook Farm Dairy is reason enough to pass by. Although there is no butcher or poultry purveyor yet, there is great depth in vegetable and fruit choices, with numerous farms offering a wide range of produce at an equally wide range of prices.
Autumn is the traditional harvest season for farmers, making the market especially attractive this time of year. While the days of local luscious peaches, raspberries and sweet corn are over for 2011, other treasures have arrived at their peak, including apples and pears, root vegetables and a gorgeous lineup of squash varieties.
One of my favorites for fall consumption is the kabocha squash, which can form the basis for rich autumn and winter dishes, from soup to pie to stuffing for pasta.
The kabocha is a dark green winter squash, often streaked with orange highlights, of Japanese origin. Despite the occasional wart or three on its tough exterior, it is viewed by some cultures as an aphrodisiac, believed to be capable of stimulating desire as well as increasing sperm count (http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=56770).
It even has its own Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Kabocha/112043752140316)!
Several farm stands at the 47th Street greenmarket sell kabochas these days. They run around three to five pounds each and cost 95 cents to $1.25 a pound. Don’t worry about ending up with too much of it: there is a fair amount of waste in a four-pound squash. There’s also a crunchy byproduct: salty roasted seeds that you can snack on.
Irwin’s Asian-Kabocha Squash Soup
1. Carefully cut a kabocha squash in half, making sure not to cut yourself, and scoop out the seeds and pulp.
[2. Separate out the seeds with your fingers and discard the pulp. Spread the seeds on a baking pan or cast-iron frying pan, salt them well and put them in an oven preheated to 375 degrees. Stir the seeds with a wooden spoon after 15 minutes, 10 minutes later and then five-minute intervals until the seeds are crunchy. Be careful not to forget them or they will burn to a crisp. Let cool and serve as a wholesome snack.]
3. Rub or brush the inside and outside of the squash halves with vegetable oil, put them open-side down on a baking dish or cast-iron frying pan and roast in the oven at 375 degrees. (You can line the pan with a piece of foil to make it easier to wash later on.) It should take about an hour. Check the squash after 45 minutes, and at 15-minute intervals thereafter, for doneness. The squash is ready when its dome feels soft to the touch.
4) Let the squash halves cool; then, using a sharp-edged soup spoon or other scraping device, scoop the bright orange flesh away from the tough green skin. Discard the skin.
5) Skin and dice a medium onion and a garlic clove or two and slowly brown the onion and garlic in a tablespoon of vegetable oil in a four-quart saucepan for about 10 minutes.
6) Throw in a teaspoon of curry powder, a teaspoon of cumin, a teaspoon of turmeric, a tablespoon of soy sauce and a quarter teaspoon of salt. Stir and cook at low heat for another minute.
7) Throw in the squash, along with a 14-ounce can of coconut milk and two cups of stock or water. Simmer the soup, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes. Add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.
8) If you like a finely pureed soup, you can run it through a blender, immersion blender, food processor, hand-cranked food mill or chinoise. If you like chunkier soup, break it down in the pan to the desired texture with a potato masher. Simmer five minutes and serve. Optional: garnish each bowl with a sprig of leafy green coriander.
(Serves six to eight)
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Irwin Arieff is a veteran writer and editor with extensive experience writing about international diplomacy and food, cooking and restaurants. Before leaving daily journalism in 2007, he was a Reuters correspondent for 23 years, serving in senior posts in Washington, Paris and New York as well as at the United Nations (where he covered five of the 10 years that Sergey Lavrov spent in New York as Russia’s senior UN ambassador). Arieff also wrote restaurant reviews for The Washington Post and Washington City Paper in the 1980s and 1990s with his wife, Deborah Baldwin.