All hail the winter squash
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 Native Americans, 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:
A). Cucurbita pepo (acorn, delicata, dumpling and spaghetti).
B). Cucurbita moschata (butternut).
C). Cucurbita maxima (kabocha, Hubbard and buttercup).
D). Pumpkins of all kinds.
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
The flavor of winter squash is best brought out by the high heat of roasting or sauteing, but it can be steamed, too. Here are some tips for preparation:
ROAST – Heat the oven to 400 degrees. 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.
SAUTE – 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 saute 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 puree 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.
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, pureed butternut squash
1/2 cup chopped tart green apple
3 cups vegetable or chicken broth
11/2 cups fresh apple cider
11/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
In large stockpot, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and garlic, and saute for 5 minutes.
Add remaining ingredients and stir well. Bring mixture to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes.
Using immersion blender, puree soup in pot. Garnish with chopped fresh thyme leaves, if desired, and serve immediately.
Slow cooker squash
and chicken chili
The squash and Great Northern beans give this chili a creamy quality that is delicious, with a wonderful mouthfeel.
Yields 8 servings.
1 tablespoon olive or coconut oil
3 cups chopped onion
1 pound ground chicken
2 tablespoons chili powder
11/2 pounds winter squash, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 4 cups)
1 jar (16 ounces) organic salsa
1 tablespoon minced garlic (about 2 to 3 cloves)
1 can (14 ounces) Great Northern beans, or equivalent home cooked
1 jar (15 ounces) organic diced tomatoes
2 cups chicken stock
3/4 teaspoon salt
Sour cream and shredded cheese, for garnish, optional
Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and ground chicken, and saute until onions begin to soften.
Add chili powder and squash, and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes.
Pour mixture into slow cooker.
Add salsa, garlic, beans, tomatoes, stock and salt; mix well. Cover and cook on low for 6 to 8 hours, or until squash is tender.
To serve, ladle into serving bowls and garnish with sour cream and cheese, if desired.
‘Spaghetti’ with meat sauce
This is a stand-by comfort food dish when you need to get dinner on the table quickly.
For variation, to make “baked pasta,” roast two spaghetti squashes, shred them, and place in a 13-by-9-inch baking dish.
Dump two jars of pasta sauce over the squash, and top with fresh mozzarella.
Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, or until sauce is bubbling and cheese is melted.
Yields 2 servings
1 spaghetti squash
1 teaspoon plus 1 tablespoon olive oil, divided
1 small onion, chopped
1 pound ground meat (beef, pork, chicken or turkey)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 jar organic spaghetti sauce (seasoned with herbs or garlic)
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Heat oven to 400 degrees.
Cut open spaghetti squash, from stem to end. Scrape out seeds. Place halves cut side down on baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Brush 1 teaspoon olive oil over skins.
Bake squash for about 40 minutes, or until it begins to sizzle. Remove from oven, turn squash halves cut side up, and allow to cool for about 5 to 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat remaining olive oil in skillet. Add chopped onion and saute for 1 to 2 minutes.
Add ground meat, and break up meat until very fine, mixing with onions. Add garlic and continue cooking until meat is completely cooked through and browned.
Add spaghetti sauce and increase heat to high.
Bring just to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about 5 minutes.
Using fork, scrape flesh from squash and separate “spaghetti” strands.
Divide squash into two bowls.
Top with sauce and meat mixture, dividing evenly, and garnish with Parmesan cheese.
Pumpkin ice cream recipe
Cinnamon extract and coconut palm sugar combine with milk for this homemade pumpkin ice cream.
1 1/2 cups whole milk or goat milk
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon extract
4 egg yolks
1 teaspoon cornstarch
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup heavy cream
2/3 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 cup chopped pecans
Place milk and cinnamon extract in heavy saucepan and heat to simmer (bubbles will form around outside of pan, but do not boil).
Immediately remove pan from heat and set aside.
In large bowl, whisk together egg yolks, cornstarch and sugar until pale and smooth. Slowly whisk in cinnamon-milk mixture until completely incorporated.
Return all to saucepan, and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until mixture coats back of spoon. (Don’t get distracted. Watch the mixture carefully and remove from heat as soon as it coats the spoon. You can determine this when you dip a spoon into the custard and it forms a solid layer on the spoon. Run your finger across the custard, and if it makes a clear line, without running, it’s done.)
Place pan of custard into large bowl filled with ice water to cool. Whisk in cream and pumpkin. Chill custard in refrigerator for 2 to 3 hours.
Meanwhile, pulse pecans in food processor until finely chopped. Toast in dry skillet just until you smell a nutty aroma. Set aside to cool.
Once custard is chilled, stir in toasted nuts. Pour mixture into electric ice cream maker and churn for 25 minutes, or according to manufacturer’s instructions.
Transfer ice cream to airtight container and freeze for a few hours. Allow ice cream to sit at room temperature for 5 to 10 minutes to soften before scooping and serving.
You can also use sweet winter squash in this pumpkin muffin recipe.
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 1/2 cups pureed pumpkin or sweet winter squash
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup whole milk
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, melted
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Pinch of lemon zest
Heat oven to 350 degrees.
Line muffin pan with foil muffin cups; set aside.
In medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger. Whisk to combine.
In separate bowl, beat pumpkin, sugars, sour cream, milk and butter at low speed until mixed. Add dry ingredients, and beat at low speed until combined. Add eggs and beat for 2 minutes.
Divide batter evenly among muffin cups, and bake until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean – about 25 minutes for regular muffins and 35 minutes for jumbo muffins.
Cool on wire rack for 5 minutes, then turn out to cool completely.
Meanwhile, combine all glaze ingredients and whisk to combine, adding more lemon juice or water to thin to drizzling consistency, if needed. Using spoon, drizzle over cooled muffins.
Excerpted from GRIT, Celebrating Rural America Since 1882. To read more articles from GRIT, visit www.Grit.com. Copyright 2014 by Ogden Publications Inc.
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