Not Just a Sandwich

February 23rd, 2011 · 13 Comments · Dinner, Posts by Andy, Sides, Salads, Soup, Vegetarian

Have you seen Black Swan? I haven’t. True Grit? Nope. And, god, wasn’t Colin Firth mind-blowingly good in The King’s Speech? Actually, I wouldn’t know, because I haven’t seen a second of it. Not even a preview. The sad truth is, we haven’t seen a single one of the movies nominated for an Oscar this year. It pains me to admit this, but in the nine years that have hurtled by since Phoebe was born, Jenny and I have been inside of a movie theater fewer than five times — once, in our first month of parenthood, when I went to Jackass and Jenny went to Sweet Home Alabama, and once when we both went to Avatar, which I’m not really counting, since it felt more like an endless video game than a movie to me, and Jenny slept through half of it, and we both came away wondering why we’d wasted a rare and beautiful movie date watching stuff blow up. We never thought we’d be these people, the kind with passports that hadn’t been stamped in a decade and who puttered around in bathrobes and still quoted George Costanza. (Seinfeld! Such a great show!) I remember back in the days before we had kids, when Jenny was pregnant with Phoebe, and other parents would tell us, knowingly — almost gleefully — to enjoy our remaining days of childless independence, since having kids meant The End of Restaurants, Movies, Grooming, Sleep, Privacy, Exercise, Vacations to Anywhere Other Than Orlando, and Sunday Mornings Spent Drinking Coffee and Reading the New York Times. (Hell, even reading Bob Herbert!) They’d tell us to enjoy that 9:45 showing of Gosford Park, because once kids arrived, we’d never ever find a babysitter willing to stay after midnight. They’d tell us to savor every last bite of that pistachio semi-freddo at Gramercy Tavern, because man, they really hated to break it to us, but once we had kids and discovered how brutal it was paying for a fancy restaurant meal and a babysitter, we’d never go out again. (Going rate for babysitting, in 2002: ten bucks an hour!)

We didn’t believe them. That won’t be us, we’d say when we got home. And boy, did we sound righteous when we said it.

Nine years later, here we are. Living the dream. Still thinking Kevin Costner is a movie star. Still getting bullied out of bed before 7 am to watch Beezus and Ramona instead of reading the Sunday paper. Still listening, unironically, to The Verve. Still working our way through last year’s Oscar nominees on DVD.* On one front, though — restaurants — we’ve managed to defy the odds and stay at least somewhat clued in, thanks largely to friends who are kind enough to keep us in the game. Take our friend, Jim. Jim loves to eat, and loves to take us to places we would otherwise not know about, or would never motivate to try. Through Jim, we’ve been lucky enough to eat at Le Bernardin, Degustation, Barbuto, Blue Hill Stone Barns, Babbo, WD50, Hearth, Boqueria, Esca, Cafe Boulud, the John Dory, Momofuku, and on and on. At any given meal, Jim will take a bite of something and say, “How good is this?” To which I will respond, “Really, really good.” To which he will respond, “God, it’s good. Taste that. Isn’t that good?” To which I will respond, “So, so good.” I like this about him.

Just last week, I had lunch with Jim at ABC Kitchen, which is a newish, kind of slick, organicky place owned by Jean Georges Vongerichten, and had something that rocked my very cloistered world. We split an appetizer they call “squash toasts,” which we both agreed was out-of-control tasty, and which I demanded Jim photograph with his iPhone and email to me immediately so I could show Jenny. It was simple genius: Crusty Italian bread, topped with fresh milky ricotta, topped with kabocha squash, topped with some bright green threads of basil and what looked to be a few drops of balsamic vinegar. The squash was sweet and roasty and, when combined with the cheese, made me want to weep tears of joy and gratitude. This weekend, I bought a big old squash and tried to replicate it, at home, for some friends who came over for lunch. Was it as good as Jean-George’s? Ummm, no. It was not. But it was maybe half as good, and it was easy and healthy and fun to make, and here’s the thing: I never would have known about it if Jim hadn’t shown me the way. We all need friends like this. I realize this may be a long way to go to write about a sandwich, but I’m not just writing about a sandwich. It’s less a sandwich than it is proof that I still have one tiny part of my toe in the game. – Andy

* I could go on and on with examples that illustrate this point. Here’s a small sampling of actual things that have come out of our mouths in the past couple years: “Hey, this Corrections book is really well written!” And, “You should try listening to Eminem when you run. It’s totally catchy!” And, “American Idol is so fun to watch!” And, “Isn’t it amazing how you can be in New York City at 9:30 in the morning, then get on a plane, and be in South Carolina by noon???” And, “I wish The Daily Show was on at 9, so I could stay awake for it.” And, “Uggs are so warm.” And, finally, “How incredible is the internet?”

Squash Toasts (Poor Man’s Version)
If you don’t think your kids will go for this, you can top the ricotta with roasted cherry tomatoes instead of kabocha squash. (Just toss the tomatoes with a little olive oil, salt and pepper, then throw them in the oven in a separate baking dish when you are roasting the squash.)

1 kabocha squash, about 2-3 pounds
2 tablespoons honey
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 loaf good Italian bread
Fresh ricotta
Handful of basil (cut as shown — what the fancy types call a chiffonade)

Preheat oven to 400°F. With a phillips head screwdriver, poke two holes in top of squash, set in baking dish, and roast for 45 minutes to one hour. Take squash out of oven and cut into quarters — but be careful when handling; it’s hot. Remove seeds and scoop out flesh. Put flesh back into baking pan, and drizzle with honey, olive oil, balsamic vinegar and salt and pepper. (You don’t want it to dry out, so make sure you use enough oil.) Toss until coated and then roast for another 15 or 20 minutes, or until soft and slightly darkened. Put into a bowl, smash with a spoon, and set aside. When you’re ready to assemble your toasts, cut the bread into slices and toast lightly. Smear a foundation of fresh ricotta. Then spoon on squash, and sprinkle with basil and salt. Drizzle lightly with olive oil and a few drops of balsamic vinegar.

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13 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Amanda // Feb 23, 2011 at 11:35 am

    I have a friend like this but she helps me in the fashionable clothes department. She actually will buy me pieces that she knows that I’ll love and then I just write her a check for it. She has not been wrong once with her choices. I am so thankful for it, otherwise I’d still be rocking the grunge look from 1995… and by the way, anyone still into Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and the movie Singles? That is the era that I am forever stuck in.

    Love love love Kabocha squash and this is a great way for my kids to love it too. My son is going to love using a screwdriver in his food. Thanks!

  • 2 Melissa // Feb 23, 2011 at 12:03 pm

    I’m just gonna keep hoping and praying that I can get my kids to eat even plain toast. This recipe is as much of a pipe dream as is replacing Erasure on my iPod with, what was that Grammy Best Album winner group name? Oh right, don’t know cuz I couldn’t stay up for the end and even if I had, am pretty certain would still have never heard of them. But I sincerely do appreciate your efforts on my and my kids behalf (behalves? No one has ever told me which is right ). One day I hope to write that hell has indeed frozen over and my children will eat more than their 5 main menu items. Now if you’ll excuse me, The Cure is up next…

  • 3 Stephanie // Feb 23, 2011 at 12:14 pm

    Hahaha, I am cracking up at this post! I *totally* thought I was going to avoid this part of parenthood, and swore I’d still go out with my friends to bars (our parents live nearby! We’ll just have them babysit!) and still go to movies. Yeah, two years into parenthood and we’ve been to a total of three movies.

  • 4 elsewise // Feb 23, 2011 at 1:02 pm

    La la la my not-yet-a-parent brain can’t hear you.

    I just made a completely bastardized version of this for lunch (my apologies for deviating so much), and now I’m even more convinced that I need to try the real version. My attempt involved pureed butternut squash from the freezer (drizzled with honey and balsamic and nuked), dried basil, and some ricotta from the fridge. I never would’ve thought to use squash as a spread, particularly with ricotta, but this was completely fantastic. Now I’m daydreaming about making my leftover spread into little crostini appetizers to have with dinner tonight.

  • 5 Chris // Feb 23, 2011 at 2:27 pm

    So sad, but so true.

    For me, it’s music (thanks to my Husband) that I’m at least a little up to date on. To commenter “Melissa”, you really should take a listen to Arcade Fire. Totally do-able even for this 34 year old Mom of 2.

    Restaurants on the other hand, well, I’ve lived in Chicago now for almost four years and have yet to visit a Rick Bayless restaurant. Sniff, sniff.

  • 6 Jennifer // Feb 23, 2011 at 2:40 pm

    We make something similar to this but take piza dough, spread it with mashed roasted squash and roasted garlic, top it with caramelized onions and ricotta and once baked, sprinkle fried fresh sage leaves over top – yummy! You can “gild the lily” by adding sausage but this is my go to easy winter vegetarian dish.

    Loved the comments about parenting as I am having one of those days…

  • 7 Jen // Feb 23, 2011 at 3:32 pm

    I second the recommendation for Arcade Fire. And if you like them, Airborne Toxic Event. I have also managed to keep up with music quite well, even making it to several concerts per year, and in a very small way, restaurants. But movies? Forget it. Staying up past 11? I don’t think so. I do like squash, ricotta cheese, and sandwiches though, so this recipe sounds awesome!

  • 8 654Carroll // Feb 23, 2011 at 3:47 pm

    aha! so that’s how you make it. But Andy: My ghettoy local grocer sells kobucha halves, not holes. (typing that, it makes me wonder: do you think they just cut the rotten parts off whole ones?) you think i could just spritz it with water (or oil?) to keep it from drying out? and then continuing on with the second, shorter roast?

  • 9 Maryea {Happy Healthy Mama} // Feb 23, 2011 at 4:25 pm

    Ah, the joys of parenthood. Your recipe looks fabulous! I need to hurry and eat more squash before winter is over. It’s one of the only things I like about the cold months.

  • 10 Rebecca // Feb 23, 2011 at 9:43 pm

    THANK YOU! I was just about to huff a bowl of cold cereal while standing over the kitchen sink, when I read this post. I realized that I had leftover roasted sweet potato wedges in the fridge. I also happened to have ricotta (weird, I know), and a baguette. No basil though, but in the back of the crisper I uncovered some sage which I fried in olive oil and used as the finishing drizzle. Yum! Also, my husband just said this to me not 2 days ago, “I can’t believe I am married to someone who says, ‘My Stars!” It is one of my more colorful exclamations – got it from George and Martha – the last book I read. I guess I won’t be getting around to reading “Freedom” for a while…

  • 11 Audrey // Feb 23, 2011 at 11:35 pm

    Thanks so much for this! Looks amazing, and I think my kids will… well, they probably won’t eat it. No reason to jinx things now.

    There is another version of the recipe posted by the chef at the Today Show web site (http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/41035791#slice-3), but I prefer your recipe. No one with two little ones running around is going to peel a raw squash if they can help it! Hard squash rolling around my cutting board while I, armed with a large, sharp knife, try to explain why they shouldn’t both push their chairs right up under my elbows… (Also I had to google that a “spanish onion” is texan for yellow onion. Who needs to spend time translating?)

  • 12 Holly // Feb 24, 2011 at 11:22 am

    Nine months into this parenting gig and my husband and are beginning to accept our similar fate. Defining moment: The first time we finally managed to get a babysitter, mechanize everything for her to keep the baby alive in our absence, and get out to dinner (@Zahav, a stellar Israeli restaurant here in Philly), we were totally psyched. Unfortunately, our reservation was for 8:15, and we were practically asleep by the end of our first course. D’oh! We have high hopes to reanimate our lives as freewheelin’ fine-dining foodies come 2028 or so.

  • 13 Tammy // Apr 16, 2011 at 7:24 pm

    I thought I had all the ingredients for this… but I mistakenly bought mascarpone instead of ricotta. I mixed bleu cheese crumbles with the mascarpone, roasted pre-cubed squash, and did the rest according to your instructions. The entire house (- 1 picky eater) loves these. Thank you, as always, for the inspiration. I will definately be serving these the next time I have guests over.

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