The Spice Necklace Blog

Ann's Blog

Anywhere, West Indies (Toronto, too):
August 10, 2010
The versatile veg that goes
by several names

Steve and I did our grocery shopping the other day in the T&T near Toronto’s waterfront. The T&T makes for much more interesting food shopping than your run-of-the-mill Toronto supermarket. It’s a small chain (acquired last year by Canadian grocery giant Loblaws) that specializes in Asian foods – though it wanders into other cultures as well. The produce department has dragon fruit, lychees, and rambutan – but it’s also my most reliable close-to-home source for West Indian fruit and veg such as Scotch bonnet peppers, bodi beans (yard beans), pumpkin, and christophene.

On our last trip to T&T, I bought half-a-dozen christophene – the name used in West Indian markets for Sechium edule, a pear-shaped relative of squash. At the T&T, however, they’re called “chayote,” the name used in much of North America – except for Louisiana, where they’re “mirliton,” and in Jamaican neighborhoods, where they’re “cho-cho,” and in Dominican communities, where they’re “tayota.” And that’s just a start.

Stuffed Christophene au Gratin:
A creamy herb-scented filling under a blanket
of melted Cheddar

Whatever you call it, this vegetable (actually, it’s a fruit botanically, but it’s commonly called a vegetable because that’s how it’s used) is a Caribbean cruiser’s best friend. It’s readily available almost everywhere in the islands, usually pretty inexpensive, long-lasting, and not finicky about how it’s stored. You can boil, bake, and stir-fry it; you can stuff it, pickle it, grate it to make a slaw, or simply slice it and eat it raw. (It works well as a dipper or as a base for spreads.) Orlando Satchell, who is executive chef at Dasheene, the restaurant with the jawdropping view at St. Lucia’s Ladera resort, told me that when he was growing up in Jamaica, cho-cho/christophene was mixed with sugar and cinnamon and used to make a pie filling.

Which brings us to the matter of its taste: Some people call it bland. I prefer to think of it as mild, taking on the flavour of the ingredients around it and giving it the versatility that makes it a staple on our boat.

I used some of the christophene we toted home from the T&T to make my version of a gratin we tasted from Chef Orlando’s kitchen. He bakes and serves it in a shallow gratin pan, but I like to use hollowed-out christophene. Here’s my recipe:

Stuffed Christophene Au Gratin

3 christophenes

1/2 cup cilantro, chopped (125 mL)

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1/4 Scotch bonnet or other hot pepper, chopped (or to taste)

1 cup parsley, chopped (250 mL)

1 small onion, chopped

1 green onion, chopped

kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup + 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil (divided) (125 mL + 30 mL)

1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg (1 mL)

1/4 cup heavy cream (60 mL)

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese (60 mL)

2 cups grated aged Cheddar (500 mL)

1. Cut christophenes in half lengthwise. Place in a large pot of water, bring to a boil, and cook for about 20 minutes, until christophene is soft when pierced with the tip of a knife. Drain and allow to cool.

2. In a blender or food processor, combine cilantro, garlic, hot pepper, parsley, onion and green onion with ½ cup (125 mL) of the olive oil, and purée. Season to taste.

3. Scoop flesh and seed from inside the cooled christophene halves, leaving a thin shell. Turn shells upside down and set aside to drain. Finely chop the flesh and seeds removed from the shells.

4. Heat remaining olive oil in large frying pan. Add the chopped christophene, sprinkle with salt, and allow mixture to cook down for about 5 minutes.

5. Stir in ¼ cup (60 mL) of the herb purée and continue to cook for a few minutes longer. (See Tip, below, for ideas on how to use the remaining herb mixture.)

6. Stir in nutmeg, cream, Parmesan, and a scant half of the Cheddar, and remove from the heat.

7. Fill the christophene shells with the mixture, dividing equally among the 6 halves. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese.

8. Bake in preheated 350˚F oven for 10 to 15 minutes, until cheese is melted and christophene is bubbling.

Serves 6 as a side dish.

Tip: The herb purée is excellent for adding “island flavour” to a variety of dishes, and it will keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks. Slather it on fish before grilling. Mix in a couple healthy squeezes of lime and use it as a marinade for skirt or flank steak. Add a tablespoon or two of the purée when you’re sautéing vegetables, or toss it with pasta.

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