While we are both adventurous and schooled eaters, there are some things my husband is not a fan of. I do my best to give him more pasta than I would normally cook and avoid the potently aromatic (stinky cheese), briny (capers/olives) and seemingly incongruous pairings (fruit + meat). But sometimes my ideas and cravings are too strong (eat what I want!) and then I simply try to minimize the impact. Today was such a day.
As is often the case, this dish was yet another long journey through the windy paths of my brain. The theme and the thread remained the same, but the end was result was much different and much better than I had initially envisioned. The origin was simply LAMB. To which I added SPAGHETTI SQUASH. The two obvious preparations I pictured were a bolognese which I had made just last week or an African spiced stew of sorts. Now this is where the verboten Fruit + Meat comes in and to some it might be even weirder that a glob of peanut butter gets stirred in. But the idea had already settled down and gotten cozy in the corners of my brain. So I carried it around for a while and went about the rest of my day.
At lunch I went down to assemble something and noticed the remaining won ton wrappers from the Shrimp Batons I had made. Determined not to waste yet another half pack of won tons I realized I would be making some sort of lasagna situation with the spiced lamb and squash. As I put together my lunch I tossed some ideas around. It was hard to consider anything lasagna without some creamy gooey-ness. The lamb itself would be fairly saucy but I figured a bechamel of sorts would be required. And once I thought bechamel I also thought I would need a bit of cheese. I only had parmesan on hand so I walked to the store.
Browsing the cheese section I felt pretty sure what I wanted was goat or sheep cheese. Something with just a hint of complementary funk for the lamb. But now I was adding a second forbidden item. Stinky cheese. So I kept looking trying to imagine any other cheese. But my eye settled on a lovely looking feta from Buena Vista, CO and I threw it in my bag. When I got home I tasted it and it was fresh, salty and had just the slightest bit of barn to it. I thought it would be perfect and a tiny voice in my soul hoped Ryan would just come around to loving barny cheese.
I stabbed the squash all over and threw it in the microwave. I was not quite ready to have the oven on for a while and this is a pretty fool-proof method. I then began making a batch of ras el hanout- a deep, exotic and potent blend of wonderful spices. Finally I sautéed some onion and garlic, cooked the lamb with the spices and added fresh tomatoes from the garden, chicken broth, dried apricots and a spoon of creamy peanut butter. I also heated the squash in a pan with butter and garlic cooking it until the moisture was gone and it began to brown.
All the while I was considering the bechamel. Something was not feeling right about it once I began smelling all the spices and I kept thinking about coconut milk instead. I decided I would try to make a coconut bechamel instead using coconut oil, flour and coconut milk. I began as I normally would by melting the fat and stirring in the flour. It did not thicken at all as I expected but I continued by whisking in some coconut milk. The result was instantaneously thickened paste. So I stirred in some broth and a pinch of salt to restore balance and texture to the slightly odd consistency sauce. It almost seemed like a perfect substitute and tasted great so I went with it.
I layered a won ton, lamb, squash, sauce, won ton, almonds, squash, lamb, sauce and baked until the edges were crispy. I topped it all with chopped cilantro and aleppo pepper. And it was amazing. Everything I had wanted and more. Except….I found myself wondering about that delicious feta. So I sprinkled some on top. And it was even better. I still can’t completely wrap my head around the coconut milk and cheese idea, but it worked. Though I kept it off my husband’s portion and he lapped it right up.
1 small spaghetti squash
5 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 onion, minced
1 lb ground lamb
10 dried apricots, finely chopped
2 t ras el hanout (taken from this site)
8 oz tomato (I used fresh, but a can with sauce would be good too)
1 c chicken broth
1 T peanut butter
1/2 c sliced almonds
1/4 c coconut oil
1 c coconut milk
1/2 c chicken broth
Preheat oven to 375º.
Stab squash all over with a knife or fork and microwave on high for 8 minutes, flipping halfway through. It should be soft to the touch (but touch it with a towel, it will be hot!). Let it rest while you cook the lamb.
Heat 1 T oil in a pan over medium heat and sautée onion with a pinch of salt until beginning to brown. Add 1/2 of garlic and stir until aromatic. Remove to a bowl. Add 1 T oil and cook lamb until cooked through. Add spice mix and hearty pinch of salt and stir to combine. Add onions, tomatoes, apricots and broth, cover and simmer until tomatoes have broken down and liquid starts to thicken (about 5 minutes). Stir in peanut butter until mixture has thickened.
Cut squash in half, remove seeds and gently shred with a fork. Heat a pan and toast almonds until brown. Remove. Melt 1 T butter and cook squash for a few minutes. Add remaining garlic and cook until squash begins to brown and liquid has evaporated. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Heat coconut oil in a pot and stir in flour cooking for a few minutes. Whisk in coconut milk and broth and continue stirring until thickened, but smooth. Salt to taste.
Oil muffin tins. Place a won ton wrapper in each so that the corners go up the sides. Place a spoon of squash, then lamb, then bechamel into each. Place another won ton wrapper on top rotated 90º and push gently in the center. Sprinkle almonds, then squash, lamb, sauce again. Bake in oven 15 minutes or until edges are browned, rotating halfway through.
Sprinkle with cilantro and aleppo pepper and, if you wish, feta.