A challenge for every author is to continually reach new readers who have not yet discovered his or her works. To that end, this week Viking Warrior will be a BookBub featured deal in the historical fiction category on Wednesday, January 13th. In support of the promotion, the e-book version of Viking Warrior will be priced at 99 cents in the U.S. and 0.99 GBP in the U.K., through Friday, January 15th, on Amazon, Nook, Kobo, and ITunes.
During the coming months, I plan to periodically post about book 5, the final installment of The Strongbow Saga. Some of the posts will offer tidbits and glimpses into the story itself. Others, like this one, will explain some of the processes I follow to write the book.
Writing this story does not come easily to me. It is not simply a matter of sitting down at my computer and banging away on the keyboard, churning out X number of hours and words per day. I know writers who do that, and am awed that they can. But for me, writing—writing this story, at least—is a complex and slow process. I first began working on The Strongbow Saga in the late 1990s. Over time, as my years of research into the world of the Vikings revealed new aspects of their history and culture to me, and as characters became more vivid and took on lives of their own, the story has evolved considerably from my earliest concepts, though its core elements have remained the same.
Now, finally, I am writing the last installment of the story. In truth, I am more than a little bit intimidated by the task. Over the years I have been contacted by a great many readers, and I have more than a few times been stunned, though certainly very gratified, by those who have told me how much the story has moved or touched them. Many readers have been waiting a very long time for the conclusion of this story—Viking Warrior, its first installment, was initially published ten years ago, in 2006. For all of the readers who have been waiting for years, for all those who have been touched in some way by Halfdan’s tale, and for all those who have not yet found the story but someday will, I want to get this right. I have to get it right. I do not want to let you down.
The first step of the process is that I must, once again, become Halfdan. Halfdan is not just the hero of the story. He is its voice. It is told through his perceptions, his experiences, his thoughts. To become Halfdan, I must immerse myself in him, in his story. Halfdan is a man of the 9th century, of a distant time and a very different culture. I am a man of the 21st century, but when working on Halfdan’s story I must, as much as possible, shed my own skin, my own perceptions and attitudes, and adopt his. Otherwise, I cannot write true to Halfdan, and to the story.
To do that, I have been rereading each of the four books of The Strongbow Saga, taking detailed notes as I do. I have been refreshing in my mind how Halfdan perceives the world and the events he experiences, I have been reminding myself of the things that have shaped who he is, and how he grows and changes over the course of the story. As the Norns weave the threads of all men’s lives into the fabric and pattern of fate, so I must weave together the numerous threads that have made up each installment of this story in order to give it the culmination it, and its readers, deserve.
What would Halfdan do? I must become him, and let him tell me.
When I was growing up, Gumbo was a traditional post-holiday meal after Thanksgiving, both because my father loved it, and because it’s a great way to use the carcass from the holiday turkey. In recent years, Jeanette and I have revived that tradition in our own home. Here’s how to cook my version of Gumbo–if you’re having a turkey for Christmas dinner, consider saving the carcass once it’s done and giving this a try.
This is not the dish you would get if you order Gumbo in a New Orleans restaurant. A fancy chef’s version of Gumbo is going to be all about the roux, the thick, dark brown base to which a limited amount of vegetables and either shellfish or meat are added, then it’s served over rice. The Gumbo I make is closer to the dish’s roots: a hearty, backwoods, catch-all stew, which originated in southern Louisiana in the 18th century. It takes a bit of time to prepare, and it makes a large amount, but if you’re not feeding a crowd, don’t worry, the leftovers freeze well and make a wonderful already prepared meal to pull out of the freezer at a later date.
The first step is to make the broth.That’s where the leftover turkey carcass comes in. If you don’t have one, you can also use a chicken carcass–you’ll just end up with a smaller batch of soup. For the past two years, we’ve used the spatchcock method of cooking our Thanksgiving turkey, in which you cut out the bird’s backbone, press the bird flat, and soak it in a wet brine for one day and a dry rub for another before roasting it. So we had some raw pieces–the backbone, neck, the wings, and the gizzard, heart, and liver–which we’d tossed in a bag in the freezer at Thanksgiving. We started our broth by putting those pieces in a large stockpot with a coarsely chopped onion, a carrot, and several bay leaves, covering them with water, and simmering for about two hours.
Then we added the carcass from the cooked turkey, from which most of the meat had already been removed, and simmered the lot for about another hour. Once the carcass pieces are beginning to separate, using a slotted spoon and tongs, remove all of the bones and meat from the broth. After they cool, pick the chunks of meat from the bones and set aside. If you have a dog, save the gristle, skin, organ pieces and the like in a separate bowl. Our Border Collie Sigrid feasted on those, stirred into her dry food a little bit at a time, for almost a week after Gumbo day.
While waiting for the turkey bones to cool enough to pick, add your vegetables to the broth. Chopped okra is a classic Gumbo ingredient. Don’t worry if you normally don’t care for okra–it blends in with all of the other ingredients. And don’t worry about following our choice of vegetables too closely–make the soup your own by adding what you want in it.
In addition to okra, onions, garlic, celery, and bell peppers are classic Gumbo ingredients. They’ll add more flavor to the soup if you saute them in olive oil before adding them to the broth. Thyme is a classic herb used in Gumbo (thyme and sassafras root are the ingredients in Gumbo file, a powdered seasoning and thickening agent used in some versions of Gumbo), and we typically add oregano and marjoram, also, because we have patches of all of them growing in our greenhouse. Chop the oregano and marjoram and add them to the onions and peppers when you saute them. The easiest way to use fresh thyme, rather than picking all of those tiny leaves off of the stems, is to just tie a bunch of stems together with thread into a bundle and throw the whole thing into the pot. As the soup cooks, the leaves will come off the stems and become disseminated throughout the pot.
As I mentioned above, this is not fancy purist Gumbo–this version is a hardy, catch-all stew–a true peasant food. Since moving to our farm where we have a large garden, Jeanette and I now just pull out packs of vacuum-sealed frozen vegetables when making soups and stews–for this batch of Gumbo we used green beans, fava beans, corn, chopped yellow squash, chopped zucchini, tomatoes, and fire-roasted hot peppers. The frozen tomatoes are easy to use in recipes: while still frozen, dip them for a few seconds in a bowl of hot water, which will cause the skins to split and loosen. Remove the skins, coarsely chop the tomatoes, and throw them into your dish before they thaw and become messy. But before we had a large garden, a quick and easy shortcut we used when making Gumbo was to just add a bag of frozen mixed vegetables (in addition to the okra), and use canned diced tomatoes.
Gumbo is an easy soup to customize by varying the meat you use. In addition to the turkey, we like to add some pieces of spicy sausage–in this case some smoked Polish beef sausage made by Knee Deep Farm, a grass-fed beef ranch near Eugene. If you do use sausage, add it to the broth at the same time you add the vegetables.
At this point, most of the work is done. Simmer the soup for at least an hour to cook all of the vegetables, but it’s a very forgiving dish, so you can easily let it simmer longer–doing so will just give you a thicker soup, and will blend the flavors more. Periodically taste the broth and add sea salt as needed, and adding some white wine will also add flavor to the finished broth. About twenty minutes before you plan to serve your meal, add the pieces of reserved turkey meat back into the soup. If you plan to add rice, a traditional Gumbo ingredient, be sure it’s cooked by now. This version of Gumbo is hearty enough that you don’t really need rice, but we often serve ours over a hearty rice-like grain such as faro or spelt.
We like a Gumbo that includes seafood, so we usually also add a handful of shrimp at this point–when we add the turkey meat–and if we have them, we gently simmer some shucked oysters in a saucepan in white wine and a dash of Worcestershire until their edges just begin to curl.
Your finished product should be a large pot of rich, hearty stew:
To serve, put a few spoonfuls of your cooked rice or other grains (if you’re using them) in the bottom of each bowl. If you’re adding oysters, put a few in each bowl, then ladle the hot soup on top. A salad on the side, and some bread–preferably fresh baguette–to sop up the dregs of soup once you’ve emptied your bowl, and you’re ready for a delicious, hearty meal. If you enjoy spicy heat in soups and stews, Tabasco Sauce complements this Gumbo very well.
First, a brief commercial: there’s still time to take advantage of the Northman Books 2015 Holiday Sale, and get autographed copies of the Strongbow Saga books at reduced prices in time to give them as gifts for Christmas. And Strongbow Saga t-shirts are also on sale in the Northman Books online store.
Now, on the Haricot Verts, which is French for “green beans.”
I grew up in the south. The green beans I ate as a child were called string beans, or sometimes snap beans, because to prepare them you would break or “snap” them into roughly one inch long pieces, peel off the tough string along the side that was exposed when you did that, them simmer them in salted water for a long time, usually with a ham hock for added flavor, because they were tough and it took a long time to cook them into tenderness. They were delicious, and I still occasionally cook them that way to this day–our nickname for them now is “hammy beans.” But in 2005 Jeanette and I experienced a totally different kind of green bean and way to prepare them.
That year we saved up our pennies and traveled to Paris to do research on what would become books 2 and 3 of the Strongbow Saga. The background setting for those books was an actual Danish military campaign in the year 845 A.D., during which a fleet of 120 Viking ships raided up the Seine River and ultimately captured the city of Paris in a surprise attack on Easter morning. The historical campaign was an amazing story, and made a wonderful backdrop for a portion of Halfdan’s story in The Strongbow Saga. But I had run into a problem: I could not find any information at all about what the city of Paris looked like in the year 845, and I was trying to tell the story with as much historical accuracy and detail as possible. Thus the trip to Paris came about.
But this post is not about the research and what I learned–it’s about beans. When we travel (which is not often), Jeanette and I don’t like fancy hotels and restaurants. We like to stay in B&Bs or small inns, and eat in the small restaurants and cafes where the local people eat. One night in Paris, we ate in a tiny little cafe, run by a father and his adult daughter, and had a very simple meal–a roasted chicken leg and sauteed green beans were the primary components. But though the meal was simple, it was delicious–so much so that we ate there again and had the same meal another night. The chicken had more flavor than I’d ever tasted before in chicken (and I later came to realize that was because of the way most chickens raised for meat by commercial poultry factories in the United States are produced), and the beans were an entirely different vegetable from what I’d grown up eating: they were crisp and delicate, very light and flavorful and crunchy. As we later discovered, they are also very fast and easy to prepare. Here’s how.
You don’t want to buy the standard green beans that are widely available in most U.S. grocery stores. What you’re looking for are beans that were picked when they were still young and delicate, much narrower in size than the standard beans. Fortunately, they’re becoming much more readily available in grocery stores, and are a popular item in many farmers markets, too.
We grow our own now, and for the gardeners out there, the variety we like best are a heritage breed called Spanish Musica. They’re slightly different from traditional French haricot verts varieties, which tend to produce round, slender beans about the diameter of a slim pencil–Spanish Musica beans are flattened in shape. But we prefer them because when picked at a very young and slender size, they’re perfect for haricot verts, but if you let them get larger they still cook up tender and delicious when used in soups and stews. And you can grow a lot of these beans on a very small footprint in your garden which, when we used to live in Texas and only had a tiny garden, was an important consideration. Spanish Musica are pole beans, which means they’re essentially a vine that needs some kind of support to climb on, and these are very vigorous climbers. We use bean towers sold by Gardener’s Supply, and can grow a summer’s worth of beans, and have plenty to put up for the winter, using a single tower, which only takes up about 18 square inches of ground space. And when production starts to fall off, don’t give up on the vines. Water the foliage with a soluble fertilizer such as fish emulsion, and they’ll produce a whole new round of blossoms and beans.
But I am digressing. This is about how to cook haricots verts, not how to grow them. As I mentioned earlier, you want to use beans that are young, small, and tender. In this photo, the beans on the bottom of the cutting board are the size you want–the ones on the top have gotten large enough to be more suitable for use in soups or stews.
Trim off any pieces of stem, and cut the beans into roughly two inch pieces–for most beans, this will be just cutting them in half. Coarsely chop three to five cloves of garlic. Coat the bottom of a skillet with a good quality olive oil–it’s a major component of this simple dish, so pick a flavorful one–then add the beans and garlic.
Turn the heat on to medium high, and saute the beans, stirring constantly. This won’t take long, because the beans are tender to begin with, and you want the final product to still be crisp and crunchy. When the garlic has turned a light golden brown and the beans have turned a bright green and are just beginning to show a little browning or blistering in spots, remove them from the heat, salt lightly, and serve.
Here at Northman Books (also known as “here on the farm”) we are expecting to receive, early next week, a shipment from the printer of copies of Viking Warrior and Dragons from the Sea with the new covers. To celebrate that, and for the holiday season, for a limited time we’re offering autographed copies of all four books at reduced prices. In stock quantities of the new covers will initially be limited, so if you would like one by Christmas, please order soon. The sale page is here. In the main store on the Northman Books site, the price of Strongbow Saga t-shirts has also been marked down to $5.00. The selection of sizes and colors is limited, and once these shirts are sold out, they will not be restocked.
You need to trust me on this one. I know it sounds strange–it did to me, the first time I saw the recipe. And you may think that you don’t like some of the ingredients, so you wouldn’t like the finished dish. But this recipe is quick and easy, uses only a few inexpensive ingredients, and has a very unique and delicious flavor, unlike any other dish I’ve ever had before. Give it a try.
Jeanette and I found this recipe in an Italian cookbook we happened on years ago in a used bookstore. It’s not the typical spaghetti and lasagna type of Italian cookbook most people are familiar with; instead it focuses on regional, country-style dishes. This particular dish is from the Apulia region of Italy.
Your basic ingredients are a medium size turnip or four to five of the small Japanese salad turnips that have become popular in many farmers markets in recent years, enough fresh turnip greens to fill a medium mixing bowl or colander, a two ounce can of anchovies (I like the King Oscar brand–they’re meatier than many others), four to five large cloves of garlic, some good quality, flavorful olive oil, red pepper flakes, some Parmesan cheese, and a little white wine. You’ll also need the pasta–use one that has a small to medium size, such as penne or rotini, or one of my favorites, caesarica, because you need to be able to toss the cooked pasta in the sauce to thoroughly coat it. Because this dish is so simple, if possible use an imported Italian pasta–many really do have more flavor than inexpensive mass produced pastas.
To begin, wash the turnip greens and tear them into bite sized pieces.
While the water for the pasta is coming to a boil, prepare your other ingredients. Coarsely grate about three to four tablespoons of the Parmesan cheese (DON’T use the pre-grated stuff in a can–it has no flavor!). Chop the turnip into pieces roughly one quarter inch square, slice the garlic cloves into thin slices, and coarsely chop the anchovies. Please don’t rule this dish out if you think you don’t like anchovies (many people dislike them)–when you use them in this recipe, they literally melt in the pan, and add a lot of flavor without making the dish taste like anchovies.
The original recipe calls for dried red pepper flakes to be added while cooking, and those work just fine. I’ve come to prefer using chopped Calabrian peppers in pasta dishes, however–those are what’s on the bottom right corner of the cutting board in the photo above. A friend who worked in a restaurant taught me about them, and I find they add similar heat to a dish as dried pepper flakes, but more flavor. If you can find them (they’re imported, and can be tricky to find), I’d recommend using about four, chopped, in this dish.
Put enough olive oil in a non-stick skillet to cover the bottom, then add the diced turnips and saute them on medium heat until their surface begins to lightly brown. Add the garlic slices, anchovies, and Calabrian peppers or red pepper flakes and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the garlic begins to brown and the anchovies dissolve.
By now you should also have added your pasta to the boiling water–most pastas this size take somewhere around ten minutes to cook. Add the turnip greens a handful at a time, stirring constantly as they wilt. Periodically add a splash or two of white wine, as needed, and cook until the greens are tender, which should only require a few minutes. Here’s what the dish should look like at this point:
Turn the heat off under the skillet. When the pasta is done, drain it and add it to the skillet, stirring and tossing it to thoroughly coat the pasta with the sauce, then sprinkle the Parmesan on top.
If you eat meatless meals, this could certainly serve as a main course. We usually have it as a side with a grilled lamb chop, although on this occasion, we served it with trout we’d caught in the McKenzie River, that flows behind our farm. Jeanette made a quick, simple pesto out of olive oil, garlic, salt, and some extra turnip greens, and we stuffed the trout’s body cavities with the pesto, wrapped them with thread to hold it in, and I cooked the trout in a wood smoker grill.
Over the past week, I’ve been working with Lou Harper, of Harper By Design, to get a new, more powerful cover for Viking Warrior. She also made some significant improvements to the cover for Dragons from the Sea. Here are the new covers for the print editions. The e-book covers are on display on my author page on Facebook–if you haven’t found it, please visit me there, too.
Classic pasta primavera is a dish that celebrates spring, topping pasta with sauteed fresh vegetables, usually including asparagus. Although there are versions of the recipe that use a cream sauce (sacrilege!), usually it’s a very light, fresh dish that is tasty, healthy, and fairly quick to prepare. In the version I make, the only sauce is the olive oil the vegetables are sauteed in, plus a few spoonfuls of basil pesto. On this occasion, I also added some salmon chunks, because we currently have a goodly amount of salmon vacuum-wrapped in our freezer after a recent successful fishing trip. Besides salmon, any firm-fleshed fish should work (sometimes we use fresh albacore), and shrimp and scallops work nicely, too.
Because the actual cooking time is very short, you’ll need to prepare all of the ingredients in advance.
Skin the salmon–only a small piece is needed–remove any pin-bones in the meat, cut into cubes roughly one inch square, and place in a bowl. I like to toss the cubes in a spoonful or two of garlic hoisin sauce for extra flavor.
Slice a handful of cherry tomatoes in half, and mince a large sprig of fresh Italian parsley and fresh rosemary. Put the tomatoes and herbs in a bowl, added some minced or crushed garlic,and toss with just enough balsamic vinegar to coat.
Next you’ll need to prepare your vegetables by cutting them into small pieces. Pasta primavera is a wonderfully flexible dish–you can use whatever fresh vegetables you have available. On this occasion, we used the dish to say goodbye to some plants in our garden that had reached the end of their season. Because of the cooling autumn nighttime temperatures, our yellow squash and zucchini plants had a number of baby squash on them that had set but had essentially stopped growing, so we harvested those then pulled the plants out of the garden. We also harvested some small broccoli shoots that had grown on a plant the main head had previously been harvested from, plus some purple cauliflower, and I cut about three cloves of garlic, also from the garden, into thin slices.
We also cut up some red sweet pepper, a small sweet onion, some chanterelle mushrooms, a few black olives, and–just because we had them–some squash blossoms. But again, almost any combination of vegetables, as long as they’re fresh, will work in this dish.
Now it’s time to actually begin cooking. Bring a saucepan of water to boil for the pasta and begin cooking it. On this occasion we used a penne pasta, but any similar size, such as casarecca or gemelli (aka rotini) will work–you want a pasta that’s close in size to the vegetable and salmon pieces. Incidentally, I used to think there wasn’t much difference in pastas, but a few years ago I was enlightened. Some pastas really do have much more flavor than others. Some of our favorite brands now are rustichella d’abruzzo, from Italy, and Sfoglini, which is made in New York City, athough both are little pricey. A very good brand which has tested high on blind tastings, but is considerably less expensive if you have the ability to shop at a Costco store, is Garofalo, another imported Italian variety.
Add olive oil to a saute pan or large skillet. Use a good oil that has flavor, because it will be a significant element of the vegetable topping and overall taste of the dish. Over medium heat, begin sauteing the vegetables, adding them sequentially according to how delicate they are and how long they’ll need to cook. With the vegetables we were using, I began with the onions, garlic, and red pepper, then after sauteing them for a minute or two, stirring constantly, added the mushrooms and olives. After a minute or two more I added the squash–if they’d been just diced squash, rather than these delicate baby squash, they’d have gone in earlier–and after another minute the broccoli, cauliflower, and cubes of salmon. As soon as the broccoli turns a bright green, turn off the heat. I added the squash blossoms at that point, then about three heaping tablespoons of pesto and a few pinches of sea salt, and stirred the vegetables to coat them. We always make and freeze a number of batches of pesto during the summer months when fresh basil is plentiful to be sure we have some on hand, but if you don’t make your own a good quality store-bought pesto is fine.
It’s done! For each serving put pasta in a bowl, top with some of the vegetable and salmon mixture, then add a spoonful or two of the the tomato and herb mix over top. Total cooking time should be fifteen minutes or less, plus maybe another twenty to thirty minutes of preparation time in advance.
I love peasant food–and I should explain what I mean by that term. In traditional societies and cultures, peasants are the people who form the foundation of society. They are the people who produce the food that everyone eats: the farmers who grow the fruits and vegetables, who raise the livestock that provide milk, cheese, and meat, and the fishermen who catch the fish and other bounty from the sea. Because they generally are not wealthy folk, their cooking emphasizes inexpensive but hearty meals such as soups and stews that use whatever ingredients are readily available, and because peasants cannot afford waste, often use items that the wealthy might throw away–such as a fish carcass.
This soup recipe uses the carcass of a salmon. Jeanette and I usually buy a whole salmon several times a year from our favorite seafood market: the Fisherman’s Market in Eugene, Oregon. By buying a whole fish, the price per pound is much lower than buying just a fillet, plus we want the carcass. If you don’t want to purchase a whole fish but do have access to a good seafood market that gets wild salmon, you can probably get them to give you a salmon carcass for free or close to it. Last week, however, a friend took us salmon fishing on the Siuslaw River and we caught three beautiful fish, which–after cutting them up, vacuum-sealing the fillets in meal-sized portions and freezing them–left us with three carcasses, so we knew a big batch of soup was on our agenda.
The night before you plan to make the soup, soak about a half pound of cannellini beans in water. Although you can use canned beans, you’ll end up with a much heartier, richer tasting soup if you use dried beans and cook them in the soup broth. Just be sure to soak them overnight so they won’t take too long to cook.
The next day, after you assemble your other ingredients–more on them in a moment–the first step is to simmer the carcass. Using a large stockpot, add the carcass, including the head and any fins trimmed off while filleting the fish, plus a wedge or two of onion, a few chunks of carrot, and four or five bay leaves. Fill the pot about two-thirds full with water, bring it to a low boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook the carcass for an hour or two, until the meat left on it is cooked and the bones are on the verge of separating. Using a slotted spoon and/or tongs, remove the head and pieces of carcass from the pot to a large bowl, and once they cool, pick the meat off of them. You should end up with a nice bowl of small pieces of salmon meat.
Set it aside in the refrigerator for now, and discard the head and bones. Pour the broth in the stockpot through a colander or wire mesh strainer to remove any debris and solids (you can either discard the onion and carrot used to make the broth or add them back into the soup, but be sure to add the bay leaves back in), then return it to the stockpot.
Drain the beans, add them to the broth in the stockpot, and return the liquid to a low boil. Now it’s time to add the vegetables. These can vary depending on what you have available–that’s the peasant style of cooking–but basic ones to use include a coarsely chopped onion, several cloves of garlic coarsely chopped, and a few carrots, sliced into chunks about a half inch thick. I usually add a leek and some cabbage, but on this occasion we had some collards in our garden that needed using, so we substituted them for the cabbage.
Whether you use cabbage or collards, you’ll want about four or five large leaves. Slice them into strips roughly an inch wide, then cut the strips into pieces about an inch square, and add them to the pot. Cut the root off of the leek, and slice the stalk into pieces about half an inch thick. Above the stalk, discard the outer leaves that are tough or dried out, but save some of the center leaves that are tender–they’ll probably have a bit of dirt in them, so be sure and rinse them as you separate them. Slice the saved leaves into strips about a half inch wide, cut the strips into half inch square pieces, and add the leek to the pot. Season the stock with two to three teaspoons of sea salt and pepper to taste. A type of pepper I like to use in soups and stews is long pepper, sometimes sold as Balinese Long Pepper. They impart flavor, but not heat–just throw four or five into a dish this size while cooking.
The beans and collards–or cabbage–will probably need to simmer at least two hours, possibly longer, to become tender. After an hour, periodically pull a few beans out with a slotted spoon and test them. Also after the first hour, add a large handful of sliced shiitake mushrooms–an optional ingredient, but they impart a nice flavor–to the pot.
Once the beans and collards/cabbage are tender, taste the broth for salt and add more if needed. Stir the reserved salmon meat into the soup, let it warm for about fifteen minutes, and you’re done. We like to serve it with a salad and a big chunk of baguette, to sop up the broth. Don’t worry if you have a lot left over (and you probably will, unless you’re serving a crowd). This soup freezes very well, and makes a wonderful prepared meal to pull out of the freezer at a later time.
One of life’s simple pleasures for me is cooking with my wife Jeanette. I’d like to use this space from time to time to share some of our recipes. This one, a squash frittata, can be used for either a breakfast or a simple dinner. The amount of ingredients described are for a small frittata, cooked in an 8 inch cast iron skillet.
Yellow crookneck squash is very versatile vegetable. Its taste is so bland, it can be added as an extra vegetable ingredient to numerous dishes without changing them, because it tends to blend into the flavor of the dish. But this dish highlights the squash itself, rather than using it as a background ingredient. The basic ingredients are squash, eggs, and a piece of thinly sliced prosciutto, but the dish can easily be varied. For example, in this instance, we had some padron peppers I’d roasted the night before on hand, so I added them, and if you want a vegetarian dish, the prosciutto can be omitted.
In our garden we try to pick crooknecks fairly small both because they’re more tender at that size, and because it helps keep the amount of squash you have to deal with from getting totally out of control, given that squash plants tend to be such prolific producers. Slice the squash into slabs roughly one half inch thick, then cut the slabs into pieces roughly a half inch square. Cook the squash at medium-high heat in olive oil in a non-stick pan, turning regularly with a spatula, until the exterior of the pieces begins to blister and brown–that’s key to the final outcome. You’ll need enough squash to fill the cast iron skillet about three quarters full.
Tear the slice of prosciutto into pieces and saute until they become crisp. Preheat the oven to 375. Brush the bottom and sides of the cast iron skillet liberally with olive oil. Add the browned squash, then crumble the crisped prosciutto over the top. In this version, we chopped the roasted peppers and added them, also. Beat four to five eggs together, pour over the contents of the skillet, add a few pinches of salt, and stir gently to mix. At this point as an option you can also sprinkle some grated Parmesan cheese over the top, but it’s good without it, too. Remember–this is a dish than can be varied easily, depending on ingredients you have on hand.
You’ll begin cooking the frittata on the stove top, at a low to medium temperature. You want the eggs to cook, but not to burn on the bottom.When the edges of the frittata are set at least an inch out into the pan on all sides but the middle is still wet, finish cooking in the oven, for as long as it takes for the middle to set and the top to brown lightly.
I think you’ll be surprised by the delicate texture and flavor of this dish. The browned squash pieces almost melt into the overall final product, giving it a slightly sweet taste and a light, fluffy feel in the mouth almost like a souffle. Eat as is, or topped with salsa. Any questions, please feel free to post and ask them.