Our current Cook the Books Club selection is the novel The Secret, Book and Scone Society by Ellery Adams1, a mystery that revolves mainly around a bookstore (libreria).
The bookstore's owner, Nora, having once been healed by books, has chosen to do the same with other people. Besides Nora, the society of the title includes three other women, quite different from each other, each with a secret, a story she will at some point share. One of them is a baker with a special gift of baking 'personalized' scones, which evoke intense memories (ricordi) in those who eat them.
The novel strikes a balance between the murder plot and the background stories of the four women, particularly of Nora. She emerges as a courageous person and steadying force in the group.
It would have been fitting to develop a recipe for scones, a pastry of which I have been a great fan ever since tasting it for the first time in London, many years ago. This blog includes eight recipes for scones2 using ingredients like carrots, persimmons, strawberries, red beets (see the complete list at the bottom of this post). But as the story focuses on the slow opening up of each woman to the others, I thought I would prepare a dish that could be shared during one of their meetings.
Then life happened: in early November, I fell on the sidewalk, broke my left little finger and have had my left hand in a half cast and bandage ever since. Everyday things, like washing my face, chopping foods, picking up a pan, typing, became difficult and tiresome. I still clung to my original idea and the recipe below reflects the season with its availability of countless varieties of winter squash. No matter how many new ones I try each fall, the following year I find some new ones.
The honeynut squash looks like a mini butternut squash: it has the same elongated shape, solid neck, bulbous end, but it is smaller, darker in color and sweeter in flavor. When I see a new-to-me type of winter squash, I always think that I had not been looking in the right place. But honeynut squash is indeed a relatively new variety, as a 2017 article in Bon Appétit explains3. A recipe for blue cheese and butternut squash crostini on an advertisement page in the current edition of Edible East Bay4 and honeynut squash in my squash stash contributed to the creation of this appetizer (in particular, the idea of toasting walnuts in rosemary-flavored oil).
I am not giving set quantities but general directives. Assume 4 bites per person as an appetizer and estimate 1 honeynut squash will serve 3-4 people, depending on size.
Do not worry about preparing extra squash slices and/or topping components: they can be stored for a couple of days or used in other dishes.
- Honeynut squash
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- Walnuts, possibly freshly shelled
- Needles from a fresh rosemary sprig (rametto di rosmarino), chopped
- Shallot or red onion, chopped finely
- Fine sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Blue cheese of good quality
- A small amount of milk, dairy or not
Heat the oven to 375 F / 190 C. Prepare a baking sheet lined with a silicone baking mat.
Using a sturdy swivel vegetable peeler, peel the squash. Slice off top and bottom. Cut the squash into 1/4-inch thick slices. When you get to the seed cavity, cut the squash in half lengthwise and remove seeds and strings (a grapefruit spoon is my favorite tool to do this). Cut the squash into 1-inch sections to form small boats.
Distribute the squash pieces on the baking mat and bake them for 15 minutes: they should be tender. If not, flip and bake a few minutes longer. Transfer the squash onto a plate.
In the meantime, warm up a small frying pan and oil it lightly. Add the rosemary needles and stir. After 30 seconds, add the walnuts and toast them until fragrant, stirring often. Remove the walnuts and rosemary from the pan and transfer onto a paper towel to absorb excess oil. Let the walnuts cool slightly then chop finely. Set aside.
Again warm up the frying pan, add some olive oil and cook the shallot or onion until crisp/tender, stirring often and paying attention not to burn it. Sprinkle some sea salt and black pepper, stir again and set aside.
In a ramekin, crumble the blue cheese and add enough milk to turn into a thick cream, using a small fork to mix.
Assemble the bites: take a piece of squash, deposit a bit of the shallot or onion, top with a bit of the cheese and sprinkle some walnuts on top. Repeat until you have as many bites as needed. Avoid piling up too much topping: you want to be able to use your hands to pick up a bite and to taste all the flavors without one being overwhelming.
Put the baking sheet in the oven at 300 F / 150 C for a few minutes to just warm up the bites.
Transfer to a plate and serve immediately.
1 The novel's page on the author's website
2 Scone recipes from the blog: strawberry, persimmon, pear & coconut, baby zucchini & walnut, roasted carrot, red beet, apple & pistachio, curried pumpkin & ginger, ricotta & poppy seed
3 Bon Appétit article on honeynut squash
4 Edible East Bay
5 I purchased the board and coaster from BHV Woodworks
Click on the button to hear me pronounce the Italian words mentioned in the post:
or launch the bocconcini di zucca, formaggio erborinato e noci audio file [mp3].
[Depending on your set-up, the audio file will be played within the browser or by your mp3 player application. Please, contact me if you encounter any problems.]
FTC disclosure: I have received the table linens free of charge from the manufacturer (la FABBRICA del LINO). I have not and will not receive any monetary compensation for presenting it on my blog. The experience shared and the opinions expressed in this post are entirely my own.