November 24, 2013

Kürbisauflauf mit Hackfleisch: Pumpkin Casserole with Ground Meat

So, now that my pots and pans are all unpacked, I can finally get back to cooking. The first few things that I made were pretty much comfort foods for us - pizza, baked chicken, chili (and subsequently, of course, chili mac), which contributed to the normalization process by which our brains slowly become wired to register "oh yes, this is where you live now. I can tell, because of the food." I didn't photograph anything, because you've seen them all before.

So, now that we've made a couple of "old" recipes (and madly buying spices so that I can make whatever I want without suddenly realizing, for example that I don't have bay leaves yet), it's time to explore some German cooking.

Auflauf, which is a German-style casserole, is one of my new favourite words. We learned it at Restaurant Am Gautor, when Palle ordered it for lunch off of their seasonal menu card. We appear to have arrived in the middle of mushroom season (pfifferlingen = chanterelles; steinpilze = porcini) and pumpkin season. Even tiny shops that sell only one or two food items (like the wine vendor down the street from our apartment) boldly advertise "Kürbissuppe", "Kürbiscremesuppe" or "Hokkaido kürbissuppe"on the chalkboard by the door. Seasonal eating is definitely the fashion, here, and some restaurants, like Gautor have a special supplementary menu to reflect the current offerings.

The undisputed champion pumpkin in terms of market shelf-space, restaurant offerings, and recipes that appear in the freebie television guide, is the Hokkaido Kürbis, which I was more familiar with as a Red Kuri Squash, pictured here.

So of course I plunged into a crash-course of reading through online recipes to try to come up with a viable one. Once I had a basic ingredients list and methodology that seemed to represent the dish as we experienced it in the restaurant, I went ahead and changed and streamlined the process to fit my kitchen style. It was a bit of an enterprise, but well worth it. You could do a meatless version with veggie ground, of course, or adding in a layer of brown lentils which have been seasoned in the same manner as the meat (Vegans will want to break out their favourite cheese-sauce analog for the last step).

(n.b. Some of the photos in this post are a little iffy - new kitchen, new lighting, new setting on the camera...will soon get the hang of the new location, though.)

Kürbisauflauf mit Hackfleisch
(Pumpkin Casserole with Ground Meat)

Serves 4

450 grams cooked potatoes, diced (I used leftover roasted potatoes)
450 grams hard winter squash, such as Butternut, or Hokkaido/Red Kuri
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon olive oil
250 grams lean ground beef (or beef/pork mix)
1 medium tomato, fresh, diced medium-small
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
pinch of oregano (dried leaf style)
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
3/4 cup whole milk
3/4 cup vegetable stock or broth
pinch nutmeg
90 - 100 grams grated cheese, such as edam, gouda, butter cheese, or other good melting cheese. I used Gouda.

Lightly oil a 7x11" casserole pan (or any shallow 2 litre pan). You could also use 4 individual serving dishes, which would make for a nice presentation.

The primary recipe that I was consulting suggested that the potatoes and the squash be peeled, cubed, and (separately) boiled until tender. However, it seems unnecessary to dirty up that many pans. I used leftover roasted potatoes, and simply roasted the cubed squash, but you could roast it all together, if you had a big enough pan to do it in (sadly, you'd need a bigger pan than the 7x11 casserole in which the dish is assembled). Roast the potato and squash until just tender - don't overdo it, or the squash may turn to mush. Conversely, you could roast the potatoes, and boil the squash at the same time - your call.

Peeling the squash is a bit of a pain, but the skin is not really all that edible (and certainly undesirable), so make sure you get it all off. A sturdy peeler or a good chef's knife should do the trick. Cut the potato and the squash into roughly the same size pieces - that is to say, ideally about the size of a medium-sized red radish. If you're roasting the squash, it will take about 30 minutes at 350 F (180 C), if boiling, not longer than 5 minutes.

Peel the onion and garlic and dice finely. In a medium/large skillet, heat the olive oil and brown the ground meat thoroughly. Then add the onions and garlic. Once the onion starts turning translucent, add the diced tomato. Season the mixture with salt and pepper to taste, a good pinch of oregano leaves, and the smoked paprika and cayenne. Don't go overboard with the seasonings here, or you risk overwhelming the finished dish. You can use regular paprika if you don't have smoked (also called Pimentón de la Vera), but the smoked variety gives a lovely warming quality to the dish. Allow the mixture to cook for about five minutes over medium heat, and then turn off the heat, cover and keep warm.

At this point, preheat your oven to 400 F (200 C).

In a small to medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat, and then add the flour all at once to make a roux. Allow the roux to cook, but not darken, until it starts to smell pleasantly nutty. Add the milk slowly, whisking constantly to avoid lumps, and then add the broth, switch to a spatula, and continue to stir. When all of the liquid has been added, and the mixture is smooth and thick, remove from the heat and stir in the grated cheese and a pinch of ground nutmeg. It does not need salt, because it gets plenty from the stock/broth and the cheese. If you are using low sodium versions of those, you may want to add a little pinch, but don't overdo it. Stir until smooth. For goodness sake, don't taste it, or you may end up sitting on your kitchen floor eating the whole lot, instead of making your casserole.

Assembly time! Into your oiled (or buttered) casserole dish(es), put all of the potatoes, shaking them to spread them out into a single layer. They should nicely cover the whole bottom of the dish. If there's too much room around them to make a convincing layer, you are using too large a pan - switch to a smaller one before proceeding.

Next, add the seasoned ground meat mixture as a layer on top of the potatoes.

Arrange the roasted squash cubes over the meat mixture. I could have used a bit more squash, I think - this is a pretty sketchy-looking layer.

Finally, pour your delicious cheese sauce over the casserole, getting as even a coverage as you can, leaving nothing exposed. Place, uncovered in the oven, and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until hot, bubbly, and perhaps slightly browned in places on top.

In the interests of full disclosure, I did not have nutmeg, but I am convinced of its value in this context, because it always brings good notes to any white sauce. Next time, I will totally have nutmeg, and it will go in as written above.

Serve up and devour.

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