Thursday, December 16, 2010

Squash, squash and more squash

Squash belong to the same family of plants as melons and cucumbers - curcurbitaceae.  The winter-squash group of the category is  very nearly a  perfect food.  Loaded with huge amounts of beta-carotene, vitamins A and C and plenty of fibre,  the low calorie flesh is protected by a hard, waxy rind.  If carefully stored - in a cool, dry environment - winter squash will last almost until the first zucchini - summer squash - matures.  No excuses for not having enough vegetables in the wintertime!
Elegant, pale butterscotch-colored, butternut squash - each one looking as if it were sculpted by Henry Moore - is the first of its group  to show up in the market.  Here, in the northeastern part of the USA, I see the first butternut squash around Labor Day. Acorn squash -both green and orange, and carnival, turban squash, delicata, kabocha, spaghetti squash, and pumpkins quickly follow, filling green market and supermarket bins.

I make roasted butternut squash to mix with grilled sausages and pasta like penne or rigatoni, to garnish a saffron risotto, or mix with other roasted vegetables.  I make mashed butternut squash and mix it with lime juice, hot pepper flakes, extra virgin olive oil, and salt and serve it at room temperature as a condiment with roast meats, baked chicken and grilled fish.  I steam cubes of butternut squash and make a Seychelloise-style chutney (see post) .  Most of all I like to make very, VERY, simple butternut squash soup - in abundance (it freezes perfectly) - then serve it at various times with a variety of "accessories".
 n.b. the squashes' fine-textured, already creamy flesh automatically purees into a smooth soup that seems to be enriched with cream.
Serves 4
2   tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, coarsely chopped
1   1 3/4 - 2 pound butternut squash peeled, seeded , cut into 1-inch chunks
1 quart chicken or vegetable broth
1.  Add the olive oil to  heavy bottomed saucepan over medium heat.  When the oil is warm add the onions and saute until transparent, about 3 minutes.  Lower the heat, add the squash and broth and simmer until the squash is fork tender, about 45 minutes.  Let cool and puree with an immersion blender, or in batches in an upright blender.
Serve hot with:   my latest favorite way is with shredded, sharp cheddar cheese, chopped apples, and Worcestshire sauce.
.   with a poached egg, grated Parmesan cheese, and fried sage leaves
.   with sauteed garlic, crumbled feta cheese, and roasted pistachios
.   with a swirl of plain, whole-milk yogurt, raisins and toasted pine nuts
.   with a blob of ricotta and crumbled amaretti cookies
You get the idea.

I go straight back to my childhood dinner table for an acorn squash recipe.  I fondly remember my mother's baked acorn squash.  It's a deservedly classic recipe.  Why mess with a good thing?  Well, I have, just a tiny bit.
Serves 2 - 4
2 acorn squash, cut in half, stem to stern, seeds removed
8 teaspoons unsalted butter
8 teaspoons dark brown sugar
4 teaspoons maple syrup
apple cider
flaky sea salt
freshly ground red pepper flakes
1.    Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.   Score each squash half  in a criss-cross pattern. Place them in a  baking dish.  Add 2 teaspoons butter, 2 teaspoons brown sugar and 1 teaspoon maple syrup into each squash cavity.  Pour about 1/2-inch apple cider (or water)into the dish to keep the skin from burning and the squash moist.  Bake for 1 to 1 and quarter hours - until the squash is nicely browned and a tester easily goes through the flesh to the skin.  The apple cider will have slightly reduced making it an additional sauce.
2.   Serve with a sprinkle of  salt, and a shower of freshly ground red pepper flakes or a whisper of ground cayenne pepper.

green and orange, and carnival acorn squash

Also known by the name, Turk's turban because that's just what it looks like.   This squash is impossible to  peel - so, it needs to be baked before you can proceed with further preparations. 
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Cut off the top of the squash - it has a natural delineation where the smaller part meets the larger round section - scoop out the seeds and stringy pulp.  Oil -or cover with parchment paper - a baking dish.  Place the squash, cut-side down on the sheet, prick the outside of the squash (to avoid unwanted explosions in your oven) and bake for 1 hour or so - until a tester easily passes through.  Scoop out the flesh from the cavity and proceed with your recipe; soup, mash, gratin, gnocchi, etc.   
I think that turban squash is a perfect, and most interesting-looking receptacle.  It should be used as such.  Bake according to above directions.  Then add ingredients of your choice, such as chunks of toasted cornbread, onions, celery, and chopped apples sauteed in butter, to the mashed squash.  Stir until well-combined.  Add to the cavity of the turban squash.  Cover with the top.   Place extra filling into a separate dish.   Bake until heated through, 20 -30 minutes. Serve hot.
The filling could be flavored with curry powder, chopped roasted peanuts, and mango chutney, or crumbled feta cheese, chopped fresh mint leaves, and chick peas.

SUSANSIMONSAYS:  Winter squash is difficult to cut through.  I place a cleaver on the spot where I want to make the cut and pound it with a rubber mallet.   Butternut squash can be peeled - use a  vegetable peeler for best results - then  it easily cuts in half.   I find that a melon-baller is the best tool for removing seeds and stringy pulp from all kinds of squash.


  1. Fabulous Susan! I can say first hand!!!

  2. The recipe sounds amazing - we'll definitely try it this weekend! Also, I love your Marrakech guidebook - it's next on our list of places to visit!