Seasonal Goodness - Winter Squash
Posted by Gail Blain Peterson at 8:52 AM Thursday, October 15, 2009
I am a very big fan of winter squashes. In fact, I’ve never met one I didn’t like. Winter squashes are perfect for stuffing or in soups, pasta dishes, casseroles, risotto, desserts, etc. And they pair so nicely with other tastes…..apples, pears, curry, citrus, peppers, molasses, nuts, and balsamic vinegar to name a few. I really like to include winter squashes in meatless meals.
Winter squash keep very well. Most store well in a cool, dry space for months. And cooked, they freeze beautifully. I *put up* as much squash (and pumpkin) as I can to use year round.
When choosing squash, look for squash that feels heavy for its size and has a hard, deep-colored skin, free from blemishes. To cook, wash the exterior of the squash just before using. The seeds can be scooped out before or after cooking. Roast, bake, steam, boil, or microwave the squash. Because the hard rind makes most squash difficult to peel, it's easier to cook the unpeeled squash, and then scoop out the cooked flesh. Many recipes do require peeling (and cutting) first. Use a vegetable peeler to remove the skin and when cutting hard winter squashes, use a sharp knife and use extreme caution to slice through and then cut into desired pieces. I've even seen a mallet used to help the knife through. I don't keep a mallet in my kitchen although maybe I should. Some folks recommend piercing the skin and microwaving for a few minutes first. I do not use a microwave so am not sure how well this actually works (although it does make sense).
Some of the varieties of winter squash available:
Acorn Squash - Easily found in supermarkets. As its name suggests, this winter squash is shaped like an acorn. It is easy to slice into halves and fill with all sorts of filling options. A small acorn squash weighs from 1 to 3 pounds, and has sweet, slightly fibrous flesh. Its distinct ribs run the length of its hard, blackish-green or golden-yellow skin. In addition to the dark green acorn, there are now golden and multi-colored varieties.
Butternut Squash - Easily found in supermarkets. Beige colored and shaped like a vase. This is a more watery squash and tastes somewhat similar to sweet potatoes. It has a bulbous end and pale, creamy skin, with a choice, fine-textured, deep-orange flesh with a sweet, nutty flavor. Some people say it is like butterscotch. It weighs from 2 to 5 pounds. The oranger the color, the riper, drier, and sweeter the squash.
Buttercup Squash - Buttercup Squash are part of the Turban squash family (hard shells with turban-like shapes) and are a popular variety of winter squash. It has a sweet and creamy orange flesh. This squash is much sweeter than other winter varieties. Buttercup Squash can be baked, mashed, pureed, steamed, simmered, or stuffed and can replace Sweet Potatoes in most recipes. Perfect for pies.
Delicata Squash - Also called Peanut squash and Bohemian squash. This is one of the tastier winter squashes, with creamy pulp that tastes a bit like corn and sweet potatoes. Size may range from 5 to 10 inches in length. The squash can be baked or steamed The thin skin is also edible. The delicata squash is actually an heirloom variety, a fairly recent reentry into the culinary world. It was originally introduced by the Peter Henderson Company of New York City in 1894, and was popular through the 1920s. Then it fell into obscurity for about seventy-five years, possibly because of its thinner, more tender skin, which isn't suited to transportation over thousands of miles and storage over months.
Hubbard Squash - The extra-hard skins make them one of the best keeping winter squashes. These are very large and irregularly shaped, with a skin that is quite "warted" and irregular. They range from big to enormous, have a blue/gray skin, and taper at the ends. Like all winter squash, they have an inedible skin, large, fully developed seeds that must be scooped out, and a dense flesh. Hubbard squash is often sold in pieces because it can grow to such large sizes. The yellow flesh of these tends to be very moist and longer cooking times in the oven are needed. They are generally peeled and boiled, cut up and roasted, or cut small and steamed or sautéed. It's perfect for pies. Hubbard squash, if in good condition initially, can be successfully stored 6 months at 50 to 55 degree F. with 70% relative humidity. Hubbard squash and other dark-green-skinned squashes should not be stored near apples, as the ethylene from apples may cause the skin to turn orange-yellow.
Sweet Dumpling Squash - This small, mildly sweet-tasting squash resembles a miniature pumpkin with its top pushed in. It has sweet and tender orange flesh and is a great size for stuffing and baking as individual servings. Sweet dumplings are tiny but great for roasting and presenting whole.
Turban Squash - Turban Squash has colors that vary from bright orange, to green or white. It has golden-yellow flesh and its taste is reminiscent to hazelnut. Has a bulblike cap swelling from its blossom end, come in bizarre shapes with extravagant coloration that makes them popular as harvest ornamentals. It is popular for centerpieces, and its top can be sliced off so it can be hollowed and filled with soup. A larger variety of the buttercup squash, the turban has a bright orange-red rind. The turban-like swirl on its blossom end is a fanciful variegated orange, red and white. Its flesh and storage ability are comparable to the buttercup squash.
And some of my favorite recipes for winter squashes:
Orange-Glazed Acorn Squash
3 medium acorn squash (about 1 pound each)
3 Tbsps orange marmalade
1 Tbsp brown sugar
1 Tbsp lime juice
2 tsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp vegetable oil
1/4 tsp sea salt
Dash of ground red pepper
Preheat oven to 375°F. Cut squash crosswise into 3/4-inch-thick slices, discarding seeds and stringy pulp. Arrange the squash slices in a single layer on a large baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Bake squash slices at 375° for 15 minutes. Combine orange marmalade and remaining ingredients. Brush half of marmalade mixture over squash slices. Bake at 375° for 10 minutes. Brush with marmalade mixture; bake an additional 10 minutes. Spoon remaining marmalade mixture over squash.
Crispy Parmesan Butternut Squash Chips
1 medium butternut squash
Vegetable oil, for deep-frying
2 sprigs rosemary
2 sprigs sage
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Remove the top cylinder portion of the butternut squash and peel with a vegetable peeler. Discard or use the bulb portion for something else. Using a mandoline, finely slice round chips from the peeled cylinder and hold in ice water for 30 minutes to chill. Preheat 2 to 3 inches of oil in a heavy-based pot to 320° F add the fresh herbs and fry until they stop sizzling. Remove from oil and drain on paper towels. Dry chips between paper towels then fry in small batches for 2 to 3 minutes until golden and crispy. Season with salt and sprinkle with fresh grated Parmesan and crumbled herbs.
Roasted Winter Squash
About 3 pounds squash (about 1 large butternut, buttercup or sweet dumpling squash)
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh sage leaves
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup dark unsulfured molasses
Preheat the oven to 400° F. Peel the squash with a vegetable peeler. Halve lengthwise, discard the seeds, then cut into 1-inch dice. Place in a large bowl and season with salt and pepper. Heat the butter in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. When the butter ceases to foam and has turned a light brown, pull the pan off the heat and immediately add the sage, sugar, vinegar (stand back so as not to get splattered) and molasses. Mix well and let simmer over medium-low heat for 1 to 2 minutes to meld the flavors. Pour the vinegar mixture over the squash and toss well, then transfer to a heavy rimmed baking sheet or baking dish large enough to hold the squash in a single layer. Place in the oven and roast, tossing at least once, until very tender and caramelized, about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Set aside until cool enough to handle but still warm, so the liquids are runny. Working in batches, if necessary, transfer the warm squash and all the cooking liquids to a food processor and process until smooth. Use immediately, refrigerate for up to 5 days, or freeze for up to 2 months. Serving suggestions: Serve the puree on its own as a side dish for roast chicken, turkey, or pork; stir into polenta just before the end of cooking; use as a stuffing for ravioli; make into a soup; or use to flavor pastina. Or omit the sage, season with ground cinnamon and freshly grated nutmeg to taste, and use as a substitute for canned pumpkin in your favorite pumpkin pie recipe. Variation for Smoky Butternut Squash: Cook the prepared squash on a baking sheet in a covered grill with soaked chips to give a slightly smoky taste. Substitute in any of the recipes that call for roasted squash. If cooking kabocha, acorn, or other difficult-to-peel squash, cut in half, scoop out the seeds, and rub the insides and cut edges with the vinegar/molasses mixture. Place on a baking sheet, cut sides up, and roast at 400 degrees F until tender. Scoop out and puree. Yield: about 2 cups puree
Roasted Winter Squash Soup
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup diced onion
1/4 cup diced celery
1/4 cup diced carrot
1 cinnamon stick
Freshly ground black pepper
About 4 cups chicken stock or canned low-salt chicken broth
1 1/2 cups Roasted Winter Squash recipe
1/2 cup half-and-half
Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat until hot. Add the onion, celery, carrot, and cinnamon stick and saute until soft but not brown, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add the chicken stock and the coriander, if using, and bring to a boil. Simmer for several minutes. Stir in the squash until smooth, then simmer gently to let the flavors meld, about 10 minutes. Discard the cinnamon stick. Puree the soup in a blender until smooth. (The soup can be made ahead to this point, cooled, covered, and refrigerated for several days or frozen for about 1 month. It will thicken as it cools and may need thinning with stock or water when reheating.) Return the soup to the pan and reheat gently. Add the half-and-half, if using. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Keep warm until service.
Winter Squash Risotto
5 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth or homemade stock
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 medium shallots, thinly sliced
3 cups chopped peeled butternut, hubbard, buttercup or turban squash (1/2-inch pieces)
2 cups mushroom caps, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/8 teaspoon crumbled saffron threads (optional)
1 cup arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine or dry vermouth
1/2 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Place broth in a medium saucepan; bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat so the broth remains steaming, but is not simmering. Meanwhile, heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add shallots; cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in squash and mushrooms; cook, stirring often, until the mushrooms give off their liquid, about 5 minutes. Add thyme, salt, pepper and saffron (if using); cook for 30 seconds. Add rice; stir until translucent, about 1 minute. Add wine (or vermouth) and cook, stirring, until almost absorbed by the rice, about 1 minute. Stir in 1/2 cup of the hot broth; reduce heat to a gentle simmer and cook, stirring constantly, until the liquid has been absorbed. Continue adding the broth 1/2 cup at a time, stirring after each addition until all the liquid has been absorbed, until the rice is tender and creamy, 30 to 40 minutes total. (You may have some broth left.) Remove from the heat and stir in cheese.
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