A Star is Baked

November 13, 2009

I’m a fool for the TV “reality” show Top Chef, even though I know it’s hardly realistic to ask chefs to face challenges like making hors d’oeuvres for 46 vegans in 2 hours using only kudzu. (That event hasn’t come up yet, but I’m guessing Kevin could pull it off.)

Each season of Top Chef seems to have a recurring food preparation theme, but this one has two: ceviche and “deconstructed.” I’m kind of familiar with the first one, though I’d never seen zucchini ceviche before. The second was new to me: deconstructed lasagna? Wow… And, for that matter, why?

Anyway, I’m taking the “deconstructed” idea and applying it (intentionally incorrectly) to the way I think about meals. The other night I stopped at the farmer’s market and picked up, among other fresh, non-genetically modified things, a nice fat yellow spaghetti squash. I remember Mom shredding the insides of this veggie with a fork to free the spaghetti-like strands that make up its flesh, and I’ve been a fan ever since.

Usually, though, spaghetti squash has played a supporting role at lunch and dinner as a side dish to fish, pork chops, or some other big protein star. Except today, at the matinee performance of “Lunch: The Musical,” there was no star. (I haven’t been to the supermarket lately.)

I looked at the co-star in its pale yellow glory and decided it was time for it to take center stage. Why do I need to have a main dish and a side dish at every meal? Can’t a side dish be a main dish?

I heated the oven to 350, coated my little squash star in olive oil, and let it bake in a heavy dish for an hour. When the timer dinged, I cut it in half, spooned out the seeds, and shredded the insides with a fork. I drizzled a little olive oil over the strands, sprinkled on some crumbled feta cheese, seasoned with salt and pepper, and let the squash do its own one-vegetable show.
"No autographs, please."

Rave reviews. The squash was a total star.

I have no idea what the chefestants on Top Chef are talking about when they deconstruct dishes, but I like the idea of messing around with my ideas about what makes a meal a meal. Food, I’m realizing, doesn’t have to fit in neat TV dinner-like compartments.

In other media news, I was a guest on a Richmond, VA radio show called “The Happy Cook” with host Dolores Kostelni. Good thing it wasn’t called “The Good Cook,” or I would’ve had to politely decline. Many thanks, Dolores!


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