Today is the quintessential fall day in Vermont (of course, after the leaves have fallen). Gaining an hour this morning was a beautiful thing, but the second we stepped outside, we knew this fall day was heralding winter’s call. My weather app said 42 degrees and underneath, it showed “feels like 22”. Seriously?!
If it wasn’t for squash, some of us might be a bit depressed at the start of “stick season”. But, lucky for us, there is squash! And I don’t mean squash – that stuff you eat as the side vegetable on your dinner plate. I mean SQUASH – one of the most versatile of earth’s bounty! From sweet to savory and everything in between, plentiful fall squash offers a plethora of opportunity for a healthy, fun and “foodie” experience.
Squash is from the plant family called Cucurbitaceae, or sometimes called the gourd family. There are over a hundred varieties of cucurbitaceae, squash being a part of the cucurbita along with pumpkin and zucchini. Squash is the fruit of various parts of the cucurbita and falls into two categories: winter and summer squash.
Winter squash is so named for the times when survival completely depended on foods that could last from fall through december and later. However, squash is not just for survival anymore. You can make squash a part of any meal and any dish from salads to desserts. You can pan sear it or grill it, bake it or even smoke it!
So, squash risotto to squash soup
How about squash brulee for dessert!
So, below is a list of the various kinds of winter squash and then how to choose and cook your squash:
- Acorn – no real sweetness, so best combined with other ingredients (like raisins); should not be cured as it reduces storage life; also keep at under 55 degrees
- Butternut – oh, such sweet flesh! Definitely cure
- Spaghetti – looks like pasta, so why not use like pasta; holds up to robust sauces; cure
- Carnival – sweet & dense
- Kabocha – sweet; Japanese pumpkin; delicious
- Hubbard – use the smaller ones for less moisture content; cure
- Pumpkin – go for the smaller “sugar” pumpkins
- Buttercup – like butternut sweetness, but denser; cure
What does it mean to “cure” the squash? Curing removes the excess moisture in the squash. Hence, the sweetness is more concentrated. It also allows for less rot and longer storage. To cure, simply store in a warmer location allowing a lot of air to circulate – usually for about 10-14 days.
Remember the days all houses would have a “root cellar”? Food could be stored there to last longer. Gone are the days of the root cellar, but no worries – some squash will stay good for months in a cool room – others up to a few weeks or longer. You know – that room that never seems to get any heat? Store them there and you can have meals all winter into spring!
Choose squash that doesn’t have any soft spots. If a part of the vine is still attached, it will stay fresh longer.
Here are some awesome tips for preparing and cooking squash.
- Keep squash dry
- Using a longer kitchen knife, slice a side of the peel of the squash down the side (or on the bottom depending on the squash) so that you can lie it flat on a cutting board. It is easier to work with now.
- Peel the squash with a chef’s knife or a great peeler. It will be a lot easier if you find a carbon steel blade vegetable peeler (anywhere on Amazon or eBay). I bet Kerry at Vermont Kitchen Supply has these! Peel a thin layer.
- When cutting the squash in half, which can be harder than it sounds, try using a mallet with the knife – softly!
- When scooping the seeds out, why not keep them, spray with olive oil, sprinkle a little sea salt and roast them!
- Try not to cook squash in water – it will dilute the flavor. Instead, cook squash on high heat in order to “caramelize” the squash and bring out the sweetness and flavors.
To get you started, below is a recipe from Whole Foods for simple, caramelized on the outside and soft on the inside, butternut squash bites.
- 1 medium butternut squash (about 2 pounds)
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- Salt and ground black pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 400°F. Halve the squash lengthwise. Using a spoon, scoop out and discard seeds.
Peel with a vegetable peeler
Cut into 1-inch cubes. Transfer to a large, rimmed baking sheet. Toss with oil, salt and pepper and spread out in a single layer. Roast, tossing occasionally, until just tender and golden brown, about 30 minutes.
Now, go grab a squash and make something fun!