Monday, July 23, 2018

Stuffed Mirlitons


It's one of those words, much like "maringouin" and "Tchoupitoulas", that if you cannot pronounce correctly, will announce your Yankee-ness to all your southern brethren and sisters (sistren?).

Now, if you live outside The South, you probably know this lil' guy as something entirely different:
Chayote, or, pear squash.  The latter coming from it's both visual and textural similarities to a pear. It's popular in Latin cuisine, where they originate from. In the mid-1700s, when the Spanish took over New Orleans from France after the 7 Years War, trade began to flow between the Caribbean and New Orleans, including the "vegetable pear".  In the late 1700's, there was a massive influx of immigrants to the area from Haiti, where the squash was known as a "mirliton".  And so, the name stuck.

Up until more recent history, they were a common backyard vegetable--the plants climb very well and so homeowners would use their chain-link fences as a trellis.  However, since wooden privacy fences have become more popular for curb appeal, this trend has declined considerably.

So, how are they used?  Well, raw they're crunchy and great in salads.  Cooked, they're very mild and take on the flavor of whatever they're cooked with.  The Creole-Acadians loved to put them in gumbos, or stuff them with a meat/seafood and breadcrumb mixture.  So that's what we went with here.

Now--let's be honest for a moment.  Stuffing a gourd is purely for aesthetics.  You can easily achieve the exact same flavor profile by making a delicious casserole or dressing. But it's just not as attractive.  (I've been food blogging for almost a decade and I can't figure out how to make casseroles photogenic. Please share any tips in the comments section.)

Ingredients: (makes 4 servings)
2 large mirlitons, salt & bay leaf
5 Tbsp unsalted butter or margarine, divided (2 for filling, 3 for topping)
1 4-ounce link Andouille sausage, diced
1/2 yellow onion, finely diced
1 rib celery, finely diced
1 small bell pepper, finely diced
2 tsp Cajun seasoning
2 Tbsp minced garlic (about 6 cloves)
1/2 lb raw shrimp, diced
1.5 cups of bread crumbs, divided (1 cup for filling, 1/2 cup for topping)
2-3 green onions, thinly sliced
salt & pepper to taste
1/8 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese

First, cut the mirlitons in half and remove the seeds.  Bring a pot of water to boil; once boiling, add about 1 Tsp of salt and a bay leaf.  Then add the mirlitons, drop the temp and simmer for about 45 minutes or until tender. Remove from the water and allow to cool. 

(Tip:  Because cooking the mirliton takes a while, if you're wanting a quick after-work meal, cook these the night before, then make the filling the day you're wanting to eat, then bake and BOOM, you're done!)

Once they've cooled, scrape out most of the pulp, leaving about 1/2 inch in the shell.  Dry the pulp and then chop.

Then, pre-heat your oven to 350F.

While the mirlitons are cooling, in a large cast iron pan, heat the 2 Tbsp of butter until melted over medium heat.  Add the onion, celery, bell pepper, and Cajun seasoning, and saute for 5 minutes, then add the diced andouille. Cook for 5 more minutes, then add the mirliton pulp that you scooped out, garlic, shrimp, and green onions, cooking until the shrimp turn pink.  Add 1/2 cup of water (or seafood stock if you have it) and 1 cup of breadcrumbs.  Stir until it all comes together--it should be moist, but somewhat thick and clump when you smoosh it together (so it doesn't get crumbly when you cook it later). Season to taste with additional salt, pepper, or hot sauce (if you like).

Place the 4 shells in a oven-safe pan (depending on the size of your mirlitons, a loaf pan or 8x8 square pan should work best), and then divide the stuffing mixture between them.  Then in a small bowl, combine the other 1/2 cup of breadcrumbs, 3 Tbsp of butter (melted), Parmesan cheese, and salt to taste (if your breadcrumbs are seasoned, you may not need this).  Sprinkle over the top of the shells, and then bake until hot and the topping is golden (I turned my broiler on at the very end just for a couple minutes).

Serve with a vegetable side (I did garlic-sauteed kale, but a salad would also be great) and enjoy!

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