WHB: Winter Squash - The How-to of it all
Squash, my favorite! I squeal with delight when it appears in the grocery stores in large precarious piles. I hoard them - they get stashed in every room as "decoration" and there's still a pile in the pantry. One of my readers requested some squash ideas, so for the 4 weeks leading up to Thanksgiving I will be sharing many yummy recipes straight from my faves. To start with we will get down to a simple explanation of squash and the basics of cooking them. Look for more in the weeks to come.
As Americans, Squash has been with us since the Pilgrims. For American Indians, it has been part of the diet long before that. The first Thanksgiving dinner probably didn't include a pumpkin pie but likely had some sort of baked pumpkin. The pumpkin was topped and deseeded, filled with milk, honey, and spices and baked until tender. This sounds like a delicious idea to try soon! I love winter squash in every shape and form except pumpkin pie. Don't ask cause I have no clue why this is the case. My husband, on the other hand, loves pumpkin pie and only slightly tolerates other squash dishes.
Squash are native to North America and unlike a similar veggie found in the Americas, they gained their popularity here at home. Corn, beans and squash were the "three sisters" that the North American Indians grew regularly. Squash is the Indian phrase "to eat raw." I don't know many people who would do that now-a-days. It just tastes so much better cooked with delicious spices. Like most things adopted and promoted by Native Americans, almost everything on the plant can be eaten. The seeds are a regular favorite - raw, toasted, pureed or made into oil. The blossoms, shoots, leaves and tendrils all can be eaten. I guess that I should grab my spade, dig up my plant, and make good use of it. Oh wait! It is still trying to make new squash, I'll just leave it till the weather kills it.
As we approach the day of the dead - Halloween, we could pay homage to the history of pumpkins and "bury" our yard decorations with squash to send them off with food for their journey. Just in case there are any other frightful veggies, check out Weekend Herb Blogging over at Kayln's Kitchen.
Storage: Keeps up to 6 months in a cool dry place. If you didn't get your squash from the farmers market or your own garden it might not last as long. Those from the store may last between 2 weeks and 3 months. Keep the squash in a single layer not touching to ensure no rot spread. Only refrigerate after cutting open or cooking, they only keep for a few days. To freeze, cook and puree the squash and place into a container with 1/2 inch of headspace to freeze. Winter Squash can be canned but specific direction to pressure can the jars is necessary to insure proper processing.
Uses: Roasted in salads or by itself, french "fries" (my fave seasonal thing), Baked in spices - sweet or savory, soup, stuffed, mashed, pureed into lasagna, casserole, stews, baked goods or desserts.
Flavor Enhancers: Ginger, orange juice, sage, parmesan, brown sugar, salt, maple syrup, cider, shallots, rosemary, garlic, vinegar, basil, cloves, goat cheese, pepper, allspice, fennel, mustard seed, cinnamon, cayenne pepper and nutmeg. As you can tell it works with many different kinds of flavoring - this is a result of its plain flavor.
Health Notes: High levels of Beta Carotene, Vitamin C & E create a strong link between eating these exceptional veggies and lowered risk of cancer, heart disease, stroke and cataracts. For the protective benefits, eat squash every other day. Also has high levels of Fiber.
Safety Notes: Squash are one of the top twelve foods to contain pesticides - a good candidate for organic purchase.
- Butternut squash: Beige colored and shaped like a vase and tastes somewhat similar to sweet potatoes. This one peels very easily and is the best for roasting and in soups.
- Acorn squash: If the squash is shiny and a very dark green that means it's not quite ripe yet. Wait till it starts to get a little dull with some orange coloring on the skin. You'll know you have a good squash if you cut it open and it's a dark orange, light yellow means it won't be as sweet. Peel (which can be difficult), bake whole or split in half to cook this up.
- Sweet Dumpling squash: A yellow and green striped squash that is the sweetest tasting. Creates beautiful stuffed boats for a small dinner party.
- Hubbard squash: Huge squash with great flavor. Always good to know ahead of time what you are going to do with the whole squash. It is also a great replacement for a pumpkin on the porch, since it is not orange.
- Kabocha squash: Usually very, very dry and flaky but delicious. A dry squash like this one will freeze the best too. Similar to the Hubbard Squash.
- Spaghetti squash: These are yellow with stringy flesh. This squash really has a shell instead of skin. Usually not as sweet as the other squashes, but occasionally you may luck out and get some unbelievably sweet and delicious ones. Look for ones with a smooth, dark yellow shell. This is typically used as a low carb option for pasta. The squash can be cooked in the microwave to easily get the stringy interior out.
- Buttercup squash: Rich flavor, tastes very much like peanut butter.
- Pumpkin: These are all around us right now. The carving pumpkins are typically not good for eating. Look for sugar pumpkins that are specifically bred for flavor and cooking use. Carving pumpkins are bred for size only.
- 1/3 to 1/2 pound raw unpeeled squash = 1 serving
- 1 pound peeled squash = 1 cup cooked, mashed
- 1 pound whole squash = 2 cups pureed
- 1 pound trimmed squash = 2 cups cooked pieces
- 1 pound squash = 2 to 3 servings
- 12 ounces frozen squash = 1-1/2 cups
Tips: (photo tips on how to prep squash)
- If you like squash and you prefer not to curse your way through the prep time, make sure you have a good strong sturdy knife to cut through the hard shell.
- It is easier to cut a squash after it has been cooked in a microwave for 2 minutes.
- Cut the squash from stem to tip instead of across the middle.
- Remove the seeds and fibers from the center before steaming, boiling or baking.
- Boiling acorn squash ruins the flavor and texture.
- To quickly microwave squash, cut two whole squash in half, cover and cook for 13 minutes on high. Do not add water.
- If the squash is excessively stringy, place in a blender or food processor and pulse till smooth.
Three Basic recipes: (Roasted, Baked, Pureed)
Roasting is quite simple. Chop up the squash into equal size chunks. Some people like different cuttings for the aesthetic. You can either chop it up into 3/4 inch squares with or without skin, wedges with skin on, or slices 1 inch thick of half the squash. Place on rimmed baking sheet with oil and your choice of flavor enhancers. Toss together. Spread in a single layer. Roast at 450 F for 35-40 minutes, tossing halfway through, or until brown and fork tender.
Baked is even simpler. This is my preferred method. Chop Squash in half and pierce outside with a sharp knife or fork. Lay cut side up on a baking sheet or baking dish. If the squash is a little rickety, slice a small segment off the bottom so it is level. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook in oven at 400 F for 45 minutes.
Sweet - always the best (tasted like ice cream to me as a kid) - per squash half place into the cavity. 1/2 tablespoon of butter, a dribble of maple syrup, a sprinkling of a Tablespoon of brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg and for a little extra moisture apple cider poured into the middle till filled to the brim. These can always be changed to your preferred sweet spice mixtures.
Savory 1- per squash half place into the cavity. 1/2 Tablespoon of butter. At the last 15 minutes of cook time, sprinkle 1 Tablespoon of bread crumbles. You may mix savory spices or herbs into the bread crumbs.
Savory 2 - per squash half place into the cavity. A drizzle of olive oil and savory herbs and spices of your choice. During the last 15 minutes of cook time, sprinkle or grate a fine dusting of cheese over the squash. Pick your favorite, but I would recommend parmesan or gruyere.
Puree is by far the more tedious method but the most versatile and it keeps you away from the slightly strange mixture of frozen squash in the freezer of the grocery store. Prep the squash as for baking. Cook at 400 F for 1 hour. Turn occasionally. When the squash is cool enough to handle, scoop out the insides and transfer to a food processor. Process till smooth. Package up for use in other dishes or flavor with butter, salt, and a small amount of ground nutmeg and serve as a side dish.