One long-standing piece of advice for busy cooks – I've suggested it to readers many times myself – is to get in the habit of cooking batches of building-block ingredients on the weekends so you can more easily make quick dinners on weeknights.
A pillar of that strategy in my household involves roasting pans. Every weekend I spend a few hours filling them with various seasonal vegetables, drizzling with olive oil, salt and maybe a spice blend I'm into at the moment and roasting the produce until tender. Between that and the pots of grains and beans, braised or blanched greens, various raw and/or preserved or fermented products in my refrigerator, and my pantry full of pastas, more grains, nuts, oils and vinegars, I can assemble countless dishes.
There are chopped salads, grain bowls, pastas, soups, hashes, frittati, sandwiches, tacos - you name it.
But I can always use another idea. I got one in Patricia Tanumihardja's new book, “Farm to Table Asian Secrets” (Tuttle, 2016). She employs roasted winter squash, which I always have around this time of year, plus potato and defrosted frozen peas (check and check) to make croquettes, the crunchy bites so common in Spanish tapas restaurants, among other places. You don't have to start with already-cooked vegetables, but it'll go a lot more quickly if you do.
Croquettes traditionally are fried, but I don't always want to break out that setup (and create the unavoidable mess) on a weeknight, so I took Patricia up on her alternative method of baking. For extra protein and crunch, I swapped in ground pumpkin seeds for some of the coating of panko bread crumbs. And I employed cooking oil spray before baking, a good way to get the croquettes closer (if not all the way) to that just-fried texture.
If you want to actually fry them, I won't object. In fact, I'll be doing that myself soon enough. Probably this weekend, after a lot of roasting.
Winter Squash Croquettes
Adapted from “Farm to Table Asian Secrets,” by Patricia Tanumihardja (Tuttle, 2017).
12 ounces winter squash (acorn, kabocha, butternut, delicata or kuri)
12 ounces floury potatoes, such as russet
1/4 cup finely chopped shallot (from 1 large shallot lobe; may substitute red onion)
1/4 cup frozen/defrosted green peas
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt, or more as needed
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or more as needed
3 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons milk (may substitute nondairy milk of your choice)
1 large egg (optional)
1/2 cup raw, hulled pumpkin seeds, coarsely ground (pepitas)
1/4 cup panko (Japanese) bread crumbs
1/2 cup ketchup, preferably low-sodium
2 tablespoons chili sauce, such as harissa, Sriracha or sambal oelek
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Cut the squash in half, remove the seeds, and cut into 4 to 6 wedges. Cut the potatoes in half lengthwise. Lay the squash and potatoes, cut sides up, on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast until tender, 40 to 45 minutes. Let cool, but leave the oven on if you are roasting the croquettes immediately after assembling them.
Scoop out the vegetable flesh into a small bowl and discard the skins. Mash coarsely with a potato masher or fork. You should have about 1 1/2 cups. Fold in the shallot, peas, salt and pepper. Taste, and add more salt and pepper as needed.
Place 2 tablespoons of the cornstarch in a small rimmed dish. Place the milk in a small bowl; whisk in the egg, if using. Stir together the ground pumpkin seeds and panko in a separate small rimmed dish. Set out another plate to hold the assembled croquettes.
Divide the mashed vegetable mixture into 8 to 10 equal portions (golf ball size). Dust your hands with the remaining tablespoon of cornstarch. Roll each portion into a ball, then coat each one in cornstarch, shaking to remove excess coating. Dip a ball into the milk or egg-milk mixture, then coat it with the panko mixture, using a fork to help you lift and turn it and pressing as needed for complete coverage. Repeat to coat all the croquettes.
Use cooking oil spray to lightly grease the same baking sheet you used for roasting the vegetables. Spray the croquettes with cooking oil spray and arrange them on the baking sheet, spaced well apart; bake for 10 minutes, until browned on the bottom. Roll them to another side (so they won't be flattened in just one place) and bake for 4 minutes, until another side is browned. Continue turning and baking two or three more times, each time for 4 minutes, until crisped and golden all over.
Stir together the ketchup and chili sauce in a bowl to create a dipping sauce. Serve the croquettes warm or at room temperature, with the sauce.
Per serving (based on 4): 280 calories, 8 g protein, 45 g carbohydrates, 9 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 380 mg sodium, 3 g dietary fiber, 10 g sugar
Yield: 2 to 4 servings.