The sign of a true friend is someone who feels comfortable enough to invite themselves over to my house – it makes me really happy. We’ve been in this house for nearly six years, our house is often full, and it is because more friends have invited themselves here than we have invited. Last week was no exception. Our friend Tom called early in the week and the conversation went something like this:
Tom: Hey, you guys around this weekend?
Me: We have plans Saturday night, but other than that we are around, what’s going on?
Tom: Want to get together on Friday night?
Me: Sure, what do you have in mind?
Tom: Us coming to your house and you cooking something delicious!!
We ended up a dinner party of seven, which thrilled me because I love any occasion to bake/cook. I planned a menu of stuffed squash, a big salad and a dark chocolate torte with spiked blackberry coulis. The menu we ended up with was the aforementioned PLUS tomato pie, eggplant parm, ziti with chicken in a creamy tomato sauce, and our friend John (Johnboy’s Farm) brought six mammoth chops from his herd of Berkshire pigs. Way too much food (blame it on the Italian!), but everything was amazingly delicious and it was another perfect night in the country.
Baked Stuffed Buttercup Squash
inspired by a Dorie Greenspan recipe heard on NPR
5, 3-lb. Buttercup Squash
Salt and Pepper
1, 1-lb. Loaf of Crusty Bread, cut into 1/2 inch chunks (cut 2 days ahead of time and allow to get stale)
1 lb. Mixed Cheeses (I used Emmenthal, Cheddar & Muenster), shredded
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb. bacon (I used thick cut pepper bacon), cooked until crisp, drained and chopped
2 onions, sliced and caramelized
1 cup chopped scallions
2+ Tbs. dried thyme
1 pint heavy cream
Preheat oven to 325° F and make sure rack is centered in the oven. Line a large baking sheet with foil.
Prepare the stuffing: In a very large bowl toss together the bread, cheeses, garlic, bacon, caramelized onions, scallions and thyme.
Prepare the squash: Buttercup squash is oddly shaped, so I broke off the stems, turned upside down and CAREFULLY cut off the bulbous “caps” (like you would do for a jack ‘o’ lantern) and save. Scrape out the seeds (save the seeds, clean off the strings and toast them with olive oil, salt and paprika for a great snack). Season the inside of each squash with salt and pepper.
Arrange the squash on the baking sheet. Stuff each squash with the stuffing and pour approx. 1/3 cup heavy cream over the stuffing and into each squash. Replace the caps. Bake for 2 to 2 1/2 hours until the flesh of the squash is nice and tender.
I brought the whole tray to the table, quartered each squash and served. For one vegetarian version, I simply skipped the bacon, added extra caramelized onions and walnuts.
You first want to make the Blackberry Coulis because you will use it to flavor the glaze for this dark chocolate, flourless cake. I made it the night before.
Spiked Blackberry Coulis
1 1-lb. bag frozen, unsweetened blackberries, thawed (I used frozen black raspberries that I picked this summer)
1 cup plus 2 Tbs. semi-dry white wine
6 Tbs. sugar, divided
3 whole cloves
2 small bay leaves
1/4 tsp. ground allspice
1 Tbs. brandy (I used tawny port)
Place berries, wine and 4 Tbs. sugar in blender and puree. Pour into a medium saucepan. Add cloves, bay leaves and allspice. Bring to simmer, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat, cover and simmer 8 minutes.
Pour puree into a fine-mesh strainer over a medium bowl and press the liquid through. Discard solids. Whisk in brandy; add 2 Tbs. sugar if desired (I only added 1 Tbs.). Cover and chill. Rewhisk before using.
1 2/3 cups semisweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) salted butter
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp. instant espresso powder or instant coffee powder
5 large eggs
1 cup sugar
Preheat oven to 350° F. Brush 9-inch springform pan with butter, line bottom with parchment paper. Stir chocolate chips and butter in medium saucepan over low heat until smooth. Whisk in cocoa and espresso. Cool 10 minutes.
Using electric mixer, beat eggs and sugar in large bowl on high speed until thick, about 6 minutes. Fold in chocolate mixture. Pour batter into prepared pan.
Bake torte until dry and cracked on top and tester inserted into center comes out with some moist batter attached, about 42 minutes. Cool in pan on rack 1 hour (center will fall). Using spatula, press raised edges so top of cake is level. Cut around pan sides and release springform. Place a plate atop torte and invert onto plate. Remove pan bottom, peel off paper and cool torte completely.
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) salted butter
2 Tbs. blackberry coulis
Make the glaze while the torte finishes cooling. Stir chocolate chips and butter in small saucepan over low heat just until melted (do not overheat). Whisk in 2 Tbs. blackberry coulis. Cool glaze 15 minutes. Pour glaze onto center of torte and smooth top with a metal spatula, allowing some of the glaze to drip down the sides. Refrigerate uncovered until glaze is set, about 1 hour.
Garnish & Serve
To serve, spoon a few tablespoons of coulis on the plate, place a wedge of torte on top and garnish with fresh blackberries and a mint sprig (if desired).