I wasn’t ready for it but now that its here I’ve adjusted to the new season. Suddenly I want to eat foods that represent Fall like apples, pears, ginger cookies, hermits, any thing with caramel, squash, pumpkin —–oh my, so many foods, so little time to get my fill before the farmer’s markets close for another year.
I think I’ve had just about enough zucchini and yellow squash. I’m craving the bright color and flavors of winter squash. It’s called winter squash but that’s not true, really. It was planted in the spring like all the other vegetables, it’s being picked now, we just eat it mostly in the winter. There are quite a few squash that are put into this category such as the butternut, acorns, Hubbards, spaghetti, and delicatas. Winter squashes are fully grown–picked in September and October—with thick skins that keep them fresh and edible well into winter months.
The long time they spend on the vine does more than give them a hard shell; it also gives the flesh time to develop the sugars and deep warm color that is its signature. Winter squash are packed with so many vitamins and nutrients that it isn’t just delicious and comforting—it’s so good for you. Extremely versatile, we can cook it into soups, add it into pastas, include it in a salad, or simply roast it with a bit of oil, salt and herbs. The only real challenge is removing that thick skin, a task made easier by a sharp peeler or paring knife. Some squash can be baked in their shells and the flesh scooped out, thereby sidestepping the peeling part.
I expect I’ll be sharing a variety of recipes with you that make use of squash, since we really like it and eat it frequently. By way of introduction, I thought I would describe for you some of the many winter squash, that are now available in the farmer’s markets and grocery stores. Perhaps you will be adventurous and try one that you have not had before.
ACORN: Found in most supermarkets, acorn squash is one of the most popular squash varieties. It is small, acorn-shaped, and can range in color from dark green to yellow and white. Its surface is ribbed, making it difficult to peel, so the best way to prepare it is to cut in half or quarters and top with butter, brown sugar or maple syrup, and bake. Its flesh turns sweet, tender and nutty and can be easily scooped from the shell. I like to fill the indentation with sliced apples or raisins, then top with brown sugar and butter and roast until tender.
BUTTERCUP: At a quick look you might mistake this squash for an acorn because of its deep green color, but instead of ribs it has white striped markings. It is more round with a top that looks like a little hat. It makes me think of a turban. It too, has a very hard outer shell and is best cut in half or wedges, seeded, then roasted. Its flesh is bright orange, much like an acorn squash, and can be prepared in the same way.
BUTTERNUT: This squash is readily available in the supermarket from early fall through winter. It is easily identified by its tan, smooth skin, and elongated bell shape. The true name for this squash is the Waltham Butternut, named for the Massachusetts city where it was first grown. It is perhaps the best known and most widely used squash because it an be prepared in a variety of ways. The flesh is smooth, fine and sweet, making it excellent for purees, though it is also good cubed and steamed or roasted. Butternut squash is a good substitute for pumpkin in pie-making, and one of my favorite ways to use it is in Butternut Bisque, a delicious autumn soup.
DELICATA: True to its name this petite, pale yellow squash has a delicate thin skin that becomes very tender when cooked. The flesh is creamy, with a sweet, corn-like flavor. It can be roasted and used in pastas or salads, or sautee slices in butter or olive oil until brown and caramelized.
HUBBARD: These are big, blue-gray, and bumpy. They are the giants of the squash world, growing to be hugh with very thick skins. Because of their size, they are hard to handle and manage. If stored at cool temperatures, this is a squash that can be kept for up to six months. You may see them in the supermarket already cut into smaller pieces and packaged to be sold by weight. Home cooks who break one down, or purchase one pre-cut, will find the flesh sweet and tender when cooked. Cut it into small pieces and boil, roast or steam it. It’s sweet taste makes it perfect for soups and pies.
SPAGHETTI: Large and golden in color, the spaghetti squash is best known for its stringy, texture, which, when cooked presents a unique surprise. After cooking the flesh separates and the strands resemble spaghetti pasta. It can be prepared in a variety of ways including boiling, baking or microwaving. Once the flesh is tender, use a fork to “rake” out the strands all the way to the skin and serve it in the same way as pasta with seasonings, sauces, meats, or other vegetables. When selecting one for flavor and ripeness, look for a large spaghetti squash with deep yellow color.