Crave: A game of squash
photo by: Karen K. Will/Mother Earth News
To the uninitiated, the various winter squashes can cause a person to scratch her head and wonder “What in the world do you do with that?” Those odd-shaped, odd-colored, hard-as-a-rock orbs found in the produce aisle at this time of year are actually culinary gems and garden superstars.
Winter squash is amazingly versatile in the kitchen, and its sheer abundance in the garden invites endless experimentation for the adventurous cook. From soups and side dishes to cakes and breads, squash lends itself to all of them, so there’s never a reason for squash of any kind to go to waste.
Like corn, early squash was quite different than the kind we consume today. Cultivated by some Native American tribes, squash was prized for its seeds since it didn’t have much flesh–the little flesh it did have was bitter and unpalatable. As it continued to be cultivated and introduced throughout the New World, varieties were developed to have sweet-tasting flesh–and an abundance of it. Christopher Columbus brought squash back to Europe, and it continued to make its way into the world via Spanish and Portuguese explorers.
Winter squash includes, but is not limited to, Cucurbita pepo (acorn, delicata, dumpling and spaghetti); Cucurbita moschata (butternut); Cucurbita maxima (kabocha, Hubbard and buttercup); and pumpkins of all kinds are included, too. Loaded with carotenoids and other antioxidants, winter squash truly is a superfood. Winter squash can be incorporated into endless dishes to add bulk, flavor and moistening properties; it’s so versatile that it can be considered a year-round staple.
Guidelines for Cooking
The flavor of winter squash is best brought out by the high heat of roasting or sautéing, but it can be steamed, too. Here are some tips for preparation:
Roast: Heat the oven to 400 F. Cut the squash in half and scoop out the seeds. Place the squash cut side down on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, and brush the skin with a thin layer of olive oil. Begin checking for doneness after 30 minutes. Bake up to 1 hour.
Sauté: More labor intensive than roasting, slice the squash into manageable pieces, then peel it by cutting away large sections of rind with a sharp knife.
Cut the flesh into 1-inch cubes, toss with olive oil or melted butter, and sauté over medium-high heat for 20 minutes, or until fork-tender.
Steam: Cut the squash in half and scoop out the seeds. Put 1⁄2 inch of water in a large saucepan or stockpot, and add the squash, cut side up.
Cover and heat on medium-high until tender, replenishing water if needed.
Once the squash has been cooked tender, scoop the flesh from the shell (if baked or steamed) and purée in a blender or food processor until smooth.
Putting it up
Winter squash has the added benefit of being able to store for up to six months, depending on the variety and storage conditions. Pick winter squash and pumpkins when they are fully ripe, with hard rinds and vibrant color. Leave at least 2 inches of stem on the squash; otherwise it may rot in storage. Store winter squash in a dark place where it will not be exposed to extreme heat or extreme cold; the ideal storage temperature is 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit (about 10 to 15 Celsius). To freeze winter squash, peel, and cut into cubes; blanch for 3 minutes, and store in zip-top freezer bags.
For the best flavor, use fresh-pressed cider from your trip to the orchard. Yields 6 servings.
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups cooked, puréed butternut squash
1⁄2 cup chopped tart green apple
3 cups vegetable or chicken broth
1 1⁄2 cups fresh apple cider
1 1⁄2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme
1⁄2 teaspoon black pepper
1. In large stockpot, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and garlic, and sauté for 5 minutes.
2. Add remaining ingredients and stir well. Bring mixture to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes.
3. Using an immersion blender, puree soup in pot. Garnish with chopped fresh thyme leaves, if desired, and serve immediately.
Sweet and Spicy Squash Slices
These delicious little snacks are as good as candy. For variation, simply roast the squash as directed, tossed only in the coconut oil; make a vinaigrette out of 4 tablespoons olive oil, juice of 1 lemon, 1 minced garlic clove, 1⁄2 teaspoon crushed red chile pepper flakes and a little sea salt. When squash is done, drizzle vinaigrette over all, and serve. Yields 4 servings.
1 whole acorn, kabocha or dumpling squash
2 tablespoons coconut or olive oil
1 tablespoon pure maple syrup
1⁄2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Sea salt and pepper, to taste
1. Heat oven to 400 F. Line baking sheet with foil or parchment paper; set aside.
2. Slice squash in half and scoop out seeds; peel if desired. Cut squash into 1-inch slices and place in large bowl.
3. Toss squash slices with oil, maple syrup and pepper flakes, and season with salt and pepper. Transfer to prepared baking sheet.
4. Roast for 15 minutes, flip and roast for an additional 15 minutes, or until lightly browned and fork-tender.
Winter Squash, Corn & Chèvre Pudding
This is a delicious custard thickened by pureeing part of the squash and corn in a food processor. This is a versatile pudding, which could also be made using other cooked vegetables, cheeses, dried herbs or even shrimp or lobster. Yields 10 servings.
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
5 cups diced winter squash (1⁄2-inch size), divided
2 cups fresh corn kernels, divided
1 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups whole milk
3⁄4 teaspoon sea salt
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
4 ounces chèvre (goat cheese), optional
1. Heat oven to 350 F. Grease 13-by-9-inch baking dish; set aside.
2. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add half the squash to skillet, and cook for 5 minutes; remove to bowl. Add remaining oil to skillet, and sauté remaining squash pieces.
3. In bowl of food processor, pulse 1 cup cooked squash with 1 cup corn until chopped. Scrape into large bowl.
4. Stir in remaining cooked squash, remaining corn, basil and flour. Whisk in milk and eggs. Stir in salt. Season with pepper.
5. Transfer to prepared baking dish. Bake until set, about 20 minutes. Sprinkle with goat cheese, if desired, and bake for an additional 30 minutes. Let stand for at least 15 minutes before serving. Serve hot, cold or at room temperature.
— Excerpted from Mother Earth News. To find more recipes and food articles from Mother Earth News, please visit www.motherearthnews.com or call 800-234-3368 to subscribe. Copyright 2020 by Ogden Publications Inc.