They have arrived! In all colors shapes and sizes. Ladies and gentlemen, may I present – The Winter Squash! There are so many things I love about this time of year. The brisk mornings, the beautiful changing of the leaves, and most of all the hearty rich flavors of the season, particularly squash.
Winter squash (as opposed to your summer squash, such as zucchini) have thick tough outsides with sweet, rich flesh on the inside. The outer skin should be undamaged, and dull in color, which means it was picked when fully mature. When selecting a squash it should feel heavy and solid. Also, make sure the stem is still attached, as a detached stem means it has been on the shelf for too long. Do not refrigerate unless they’ve been cut. The smaller squash should be used within two or three weeks of purchase while the larger varieties can go for as long as six or seven months if kept in a cool, dry place out of the sun.
People joke about needing a small chain saw to hack into these guys, but a good kitchen knife and some muscle should do it. I’ve even heard of microwaving for a few minutes to soften them up. Or start them baking in the oven, remove, cut, then continue cooking. Either way, be VERY careful.
Another delight when working with squash is that they are pretty versatile in how they can be prepared. The most popular techniques are baking, roasting, pureeing and stuffing. My two favorites happen to be roasting and stuffing. Roasting requires cutting the squash into bite-sized pieces, seasoning with some olive oil (and maybe some thyme and garlic), then placing in a 350°- 400° oven until a nice golden color appears with crisp edges. Stuffing requires a little more preparation but makes for a beautiful and creative presentation.
Acorn Squash – best for baking and stuffing
Green – yellow flesh, moderately sweet
White – pale yellow flesh, smooth with a delicate sweet flavor, high in calcium
Golden – looks like a little pumpkin, bright golden flesh, sweet
Acorn squash + ginger + maple syrup
Acorn squash + sage + brown butter
Butternut Squash – best for baking and pureeing
Hardest to cut into, but very popular in soups due to its sweet nutty flavor
Butternut squash + bay leaf + nutmeg
Butternut squash + ricotta cheese + rosemary
Butternut squash + bacon + maple syrup + sage
Pumpkin – mostly decorative but can be baked, roasted or pureed. It provides more beta-carotene per serving than any other fruit or vegetable. The smaller sugar pumpkins are very popular in baking. Also the beloved seeds can be roasted with a little olive oil and salt. The seeds are also popular in Mexican cuisine with cumin, coriander and jalapenos.
Pumpkin + apple + curry
Pumpkin + olive oil + rosemary
Pumpkin + honey + balsamic vinegar
Spaghetti Squash – best for baking or steam then sauté
The yellow- to cream-colored flesh comes out in strands when cooked, giving the squash its name.
Spaghetti Squash + pancetta + mushrooms
Spaghetti Squash + tomatoes + basil