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Archive for Wednesday, September 10, 1997

SQUASH IS ONROLL

September 10, 1997

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It's really only been since I began gardening and developed an appreciation for the superiority of fresh, home-grown vegetables that I also became a fan of squash.

Squash used to be an expendable food for me. While I found nothing there to dislike, most varieties of squash never gave me a reason to go out of my way to include them in a meal. As a result, I used to eat squash only when some zealous gardener implored me to claim a share of an overwhelming crop.

For return on investment, squash is among the gardener's surest bets. This leads me to believe that the prolific nature of squash is a well-guarded secret because gardeners routinely plant more than they need to feed their own households -- and then some.

Gradually, over time and with experimentation, I have found myself developing a genuine affection for several varieties of squash. The fact that I now grow my own undoubtedly has something to do with this newly developed appreciation.

(Just as our own children seem more charming to us than they do to others, what I plant and harvest always tastes better to me. If I accidentally planted beets some spring, I'd even eat those too.)

What I've discovered about squash is that the lighter-colored varieties tend to be subtle in taste and even the denser, darker squashes don't seem to have the depth of flavor to let them stand on their own.

Squash is a complementary food, whose real flavor is evoked by spices and other ingredients that provide contrasts. I've also found that squash absorbs a considerable amount of seasoning and easily holds its own against, say, a liberal sprinkle of salt.

The most pleasant surprise has been how well most squash works with hot spices, garlic and the sweet flavors of onion and bell pepper. This has held true in casseroles and stir fries to which I've added summer squash.

Heading into the fall, I have a whole new assortment of late-season squash to work with. Mild-flavored butternut and spaghetti squash also are good backdrops for spicy ingredients, while sweeter acorn squash just needs a little salt, brown sugar and butter to come into its own.

Following are two recipes for winter squash. The soup gives adventurous cooks plenty of room to experiment with seasoning. The first is from Pierre Franey's ``60-Minute Gourmet'' and the second is adapted from Mollie Katzen's ``Still Life with Menu Cookbook.''

Baked Acorn Squash

2 acorn squash

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons brown sugar

salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Split the squash in half. Using a spoon, scrape out and discard the seeds and fibers from the cavity. Cut off and discard a thin slice from the bottom of each squash half, so the squash will rest flat, open side up, during baking.

Rub the cavity of each squash half with one-fourth of the butter, and sprinkle the cavities with equal amounts of brown sugar. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place on a baking dish and bake 40 to 45 minutes or until flesh is tender. Makes four servings.

Puree of Winter Squash Soup

1 pound acorn or butternut squash

2 cups chopped onion

2 medium cloves garlic, minced

1 to 2 tablespoons butter or olive oil

uash. The soup gives adventurous cooks plenty of room to experiment with seasoning. The first is from Pierre Franey's ``60-Minute Gourmet'' and the second is adapted from Mollie Katzen's ``Still Life with Menu Cookbook.''

Baked Acorn Squash

2 acorn squash

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons brown sugar

salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Split the squash in half. Using a spoon, scrape out and discard the seeds and fibers from the cavity. Cut off and discard a thin slice from the bottom of each squash half, so the squash will rest flat, open side up, during baking.

Rub the cavity of each squash half with one-fourth of the butter,15 minutes. (For a more subtle wine flavor, simmer longer and stir occasionally to prevent sticking.) Remove from heat and allow the soup to cool until it's cool enough to puree.

Puree the soup with the milk in a food processor or blender, and return it to a soup pot. Adjust the seasonings. Add black pepper to taste.

Heat gently just before serving. Makes four to six servings.

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