Christophene Gratin à la Martinique [BVI Food Recipe]
- March 5th, 2013
- in Lifestyle
Given my passion for seeking out local foods, it’s surprising when certain ingredients miss my local food radar. The Caribbean squash Christophene was one such food. I had sampled many new foods after moving to the BVI and was vaguely aware of christophene, but somehow the versatile and popular Caribbean squash never made its way to my plate—perhaps because it’s a food with a slight identity crisis. Most commonly called chayote, it is known in the Eastern Caribbean as christophene and elsewhere as vegetable pear, cho-cho, mirliton and numerous other names. And while christophene is a vegetable, it looks like an oversized pear. The confusion extends to its preparation, particularly whether it can be eaten raw or must be cooked.
Eventually, I was properly acquainted with christophene during my first visit to the French island of Martinique. Upon my arrival in the capital city of Fort-de-France, I noticed christophene everywhere. Vendors at the main farmer’s market had tables piled high with christophene and abundant advice about its preparation. Supermarkets displayed it prominently and every restaurant menu featured the vegetable, often combined with a cream sauce as a side dish. The French certainly know about great food. So, I decided to take a cue from the Martiniquais and prepare christophene myself. A little trial and error yielded tasty results, particularly in the form of christophene gratin.
Mild-flavoured christophene is the Caribbean equivalent of summer squash and a terrific local substitute for zucchini. While its flavour is a cross between that of its cousins zucchini and cucumber, its texture has some potato-like starchiness. This member of the gourd family is pale green, pear-shaped and usually about 10 to 12 ounces. Choose christophene that are very firm and free from blemishes. The skin may be smooth or have ridges or tiny prickles. Christophene will keep for days at room temperature or weeks in the refrigerator.
To prepare, peel the skin with a vegetable peeler and remove the edible seed, which you can nibble while prepping your meal. One note of caution: peel christophene under water or with oil on your hands, otherwise a sap may cause a mild (though harmless) reaction that gives the impression your skin is peeling off. If your skin is particularly sensitive, consider wearing gloves like I do when peeling christophene.
Once peeled, christophene can be used raw for crudités, salad or slaw. Caribbean chefs know that cooked christophene is ideal for stuffing, as the vegetable holds its shape well and provides a lovely presentation. Christophene is also a common addition to soups and stews and makes a delicious alternative to potatoes in a gratin. This French Caribbean-inspired gratin would pair well with lamb for Easter or with a traditional British Sunday roast. Bon appétit!
Christophene Gratin à la Martinique
5 christophenes, peeled, quartered and seed removed
4 Tbl butter, divided
1/2 c finely minced shallots
1/2 c finely minced red bell pepper
4 Tbl flour
1 1/2 c whole milk
1/2 c shredded gruyere cheese
1/8 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
Salt and white pepper, to taste
4 Tbl breadcrumbs
Christophene: Add the peeled and quartered christophenes to a large pot of boiling water. Cook for 30 minutes or until very tender. Drain in a colander and run cold water over them. Place the christophene in a bowl and mash with a fork, then press against a fine meshed sieve or cheesecloth to remove excess liquid.
Sauce: Melt 3 Tbl butter in pan over medium heat. Add shallots and bell pepper and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle flour over mixture and stir to combine. Slowly add milk, stirring constantly. Continue stirring for about 5 minutes, until thickened. Remove from heat and stir in cheese and seasonings.
Add christophene to sauce and stir well to combine. Place the mixture in an oiled 11 x 7” baking dish. Melt remaining tablespoon of butter and combine with breadcrumbs. Sprinkle breadcrumb mixture evenly over christophene. Bake at 375 degrees for about 25 minutes, until bubbly. Serves 4.