Cooking Winter Squash

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Try a bowl of spicy squash soup.
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Cooking winter squash can serve every meal need from main course to dessert. MOTHER EARTH NEWS staffer Sunny Edmunds takes control of a pumpkin/squash muffin.
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Have a hankering for fresh food in winter? When properly cured and stored, buttery, nutritious winter squash will stow marvelously into the long, chilly months, and this lineup of mouthwatering recipes — including savory Butternut Squash Lasagna — is set to keep your cravings satisfied.

With a burst of fall color and frost on the pumpkins, the
Vassal household buttons down for fall. Charlie Brown will
once again await the arrival of the “Great Pumpkin,” and
children will be carving their large orange prey and
roasting the seeds. I’ll be taking the annual bus ride with
young students to a rural pumpkin patch to discover that,
yep, pumpkins really do grow on large vines. And anyone
with a garden filled with squash under those vines will be
looking for creative ways to get rid of them other than
carving them for Halloween.

Fortunately, stews, soups, breads, muffins,
pancakes and — of course — pies are all viable options for the homesteader or homemaker intent on cooking winter squash. Most squash
will keep in a cool place for months, so there’s no hurry to
bake those pies yet. Cooked, puréed and poured into
plastic containers, the squash will store well in the freezer.
The nutritious squash contains the cancer-preventing
beta-carotene (which converts into vitamin A), potassium,
fiber and no fat. So don’t let that 5-pound pumpkin
intimidate you. Go ahead and bake it, but don’t forget to
save those pumpkin seeds for nutritious nibbling.

Selecting and Storing Squash
 

Look for firm, heavy squash without moldy spots or cracks.
The rind should be dull; shininess means it’s immature.
Check to see that the stem isn’t collapsed, moist or
blackened. Most squash can be stored in a cool place such
as a garage or root cellar where the temperature is between
45 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit for three to four months. Pumpkin and
spaghetti squash will keep for one to two months. If the
temperature is below 45 degrees (such as in a refrigerator)
or above 60 degrees, it will cause the squash to deteriorate
more rapidly. A cut squash can be wrapped in plastic wrap
and refrigerated for about a week.

Squash
Varieties
 

Pumpkin: Large jack-o’-lantern varieties
are usually too stringy to eat. A smaller, sweeter variety,
such as sugar pumpkins, are better for pies and baking.
Most people use canned pumpkin for pies, which is
convenient but not as flavorful or nutritious.

Acorn: A small squash with dark green,
ribbed skin, it gets its name from its acorn shape. The
flesh is yellow to light orange with a mild flavor.

Buttercup: A turban-like shape at the
blossom end and faint stripes on its dark green surface
identify this squash. The orange flesh is drier and more
flavorful than other squash, which makes it my favorite for
baking and eating.

Butternut: Not to be confused with
buttercup, it has a tan exterior with a bulb-like base. The
flesh is orange, moist and milder-tasting than the
buttercup. Both of these varieties can be used instead of
pumpkin for pumpkin pies.

Spaghetti squash: This yellow squash (which
is really a gourd) is oval shaped and, when cooked, has
spaghetti-like strands. It has a mild taste and a crisp
texture.

Kabocha: Similar in appearance to the
buttercup squash, it has a rich, sweet flesh.

Turban: A larger, drum-shaped squash with a
green and orange skin, it gets its name from its
turban-shaped end. It makes a great table decoration but lacks flavor.

Squash
Preparation
 


Baking:
This is my favorite method, because baking brings
out the sweetness by caramelizing some of its sugars and
best preserves the beta-carotene. Cut the squash lengthwise
and scrape out the seeds with a spoon, brush the cut side
with oil or butter, and place cut-side-down on a foil-lined
cookie sheet. For a moister squash, omit the oil and pour an
inch of water in the pan. The squash halves can also be
baked wrapped in foil. Bake in a 350-to-375-degree Fahrenheit oven
for about an hour or until the squash can be pierced easily
with a knife.


Steaming:
Place the seeded squash halves cut-side-down in a
vegetable steamer over 1 inch of water, or use peeled and
cut cubes of squash. Cover and simmer for about 20 to 25
minutes, with less time needed for the cubes. Because this
method produces a moister squash, use less liquid than is
called for in recipes for baked goods.


Microwaving:
Never microwave a whole squash, because, despite
what you may have heard, I assure you that they
can explode. Arrange seeded squash halves cut side
down in a microwave-safe dish (glass pie pan) with 1/4-inch
water. Pierce the skin in a few places with a knife.
Microwave on high for 5 minutes, then move or rotate the
squash. Microwave for at least 5 more minutes until soft in
the center. Let sit for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.

Spicy Squash Soup

Even if you’ve never cared for squash soup, try this one.
It’s so delicious that it’s worth the trouble.

Roasted vegetables:

1 tsp olive oil
2 large carrots (1 cup), cut into 1/2-inch circles
1 large onion, peeled and quartered
2 large cloves garlic, peeled
2 medium-sized yellow squashes (I use buttercup), cut into eighths, seeds removed. You should have about 4 cups of squash.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. In a soup pot, toss the carrots,
onion and garlic together with the oil. Put the vegetable
and squash slices on a large cookie sheet covered with
foil. Bake about 30 minutes, until soft and lightly browned.
Scrape squash from its shell.

Soup broth:

1 tsp toasted whole cumin seeds *
2 cups unsalted chicken broth
1/2 tsp salt
Freshly ground pepper
1/8 to 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tbsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 cups water
1/4 cup cream
3/4 cup low-fat milk
Optional topping: toasted, husked pumpkin seeds

In a blender or food processor, purée the vegetables and all of the soup ingredients in two batches until smooth. Pour into
the soup pot and simmer until hot. Add more cayenne or salt
if needed. If too thick, add more water. Sauté the
pumpkin seeds in a little butter or oil. Serve the soup
with a few seeds on top.

* In a dry skillet, heat the seeds on medium-high heat,
jiggling the pan for a minute or so until fragrant.

Baked Acorn Squash

2 large acorn squashes, sliced across into
1/2-to-3/4-inch slices
1 tbsp butter
1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp allspice
Dash cayenne pepper
2 tbsp apple cider
2 tbsp real maple syrup

 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a large cookie sheet with
foil. Lay out the squash rings so they’re not overlapping.
In a glass measuring cup (or saucepan on the stove) melt
the butter with the rest of the ingredients in the
microwave just until it starts to bubble (about 60 to 90
seconds). Brush or pour mixture onto the squash. Bake for
30 minutes, remove, and turn the rings over. Bake another
20 to 25 minutes until done.

Harvest Salad

Because I’m not crazy about cold squash, I serve this salad
at room temperature. It needs to be stored in the
refrigerator, so I warm any leftover salad in the microwave
for about 30 seconds before serving.

2 baked acorn squashes (see above recipe), skin
removed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 cups cooked wild rice or Wehani rice *
1/2 poblano pepper or red bell pepper, seeded and
cut into thin strips
1/2 cup parsley or cilantro, minced

 

Dressing:
 

1 teaspoon balsamic or red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 cup orange juice — freshly squeezed or store
bought
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
freshly ground pepper

 

Bake the squash and prepare the rice. Whisk together the
vinegar, oil, orange juice, sugar, salt, and pepper. Pour
over the salad and toss. Serve immediately.

*Made by Lundberg Farms and less expensive than wild rice.
To prepare wild rice: Put on 1 1/2 cups water to boil.
Rinse 1 cup rice and add to boiling water. Simmer covered
for 35–40 minutes until done. (I like it a little
chewy.)

Spaghetti Squash with Ancho Sauce

1 large spaghetti squash — cut in half crosswise,
seeds scraped out with a spoon
2 tablespoons packaged pumpkin seeds — toasted
1 teaspoon mild oil
2 large cloves garlic — peeled and smashed
1/4 cup yellow onion — coarsely chopped
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 dried ancho chile — stem and core removed and cut
with scissors into 3 pieces*
1 cup canned tomatoes in a little juice — coarsely
chopped
1/2 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon brown sugar
pinch cinnamon
pinch allspice
fresh cilantro or parsley — chopped
Mexican crumbling cheese or Muenster

 

Squash: Preheat the oven to 375°F.
Place the squash halves cut side down on a foil-lined
cookie sheet. Stab the squash in a few places with a knife.
Bake about 1 hour until the strands are tender and pull
away easily. To save time, microwave both squash halves cut
side down for 10-15 minutes, rotating every 5 minutes. When
it’s done, let it sit for a few minutes, then gently pull
the strands loose with a fork. Fluff up the squash on a
plate.

Sauce: In a large skillet toast the
pumpkin seeds on medium-high heat for about 2 minutes,
shaking the pan constantly. Pour into a bowl and set aside.
Put the oil in the hot pan, add the garlic and onions.
Sauté on medium-high heat until lightly browned,
stirring occasionally. Stir in the cumin for a few seconds,
then add the broth, ancho chiles, tomatoes, and spices.
Reduce heat and simmer uncovered for 20 minutes. Pour into
a blender with the toasted seeds and blend well. Add salt
and freshly ground pepper to taste. The sauce should be the
consistency of marinara sauce. If it’s too thick, add
additional chicken broth. Crumble the Mexican cheese by
hand, or put chilled cubes of Muenster cheese in a food
processor until it becomes crumbs. Spoon the sauce over the
squash and sprinkle with cheese and cilantro.

*Can be purchased at Mexican or South American groceries.

Pumpkin/Squash Muffins

Use a strong-tasting squash for these low-fat muffins. Make
a double batch because they freeze well.

1 egg
1/2 cup low fat milk
1 cup cooked, pureed fresh pumpkin or squash (I use
buttercup squash)
2 tablespoons canola (or any mild) oil
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1 cup oat bran
1 cup sifted whole wheat pastry flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup currants or mini chocolate or carob chips (for a
dessert muffin)

 

Preheat oven to 375°F. Line a muffin pan with 12 paper
liners. Using an electric mixer beat together the egg,
squash, and oil. Add the sugar, maple syrup, spices, and
oat bran. Beat well. Briefly mix in the flour and baking
powder until just mixed. Stir in the currants or mini
chips. Bake for 20 minutes, just until lightly browned on
top (or inserted toothpick comes out clean). Cool on a
rack.

Pesto Spread

A non-squash recipe but a recent favorite of mine: While
basil is plentiful in the garden, whip up this low-fat
spread to put on a vegetable sandwich or bagel. You need to
prepare the yogurt the night before.

1 1/2 cups nonfat/low-fat plain yogurt
2 large cloves garlic
1 tablespoon pine nuts or walnuts — toasted
1 cup basil leaves — packed
1/4 teaspoon salt
dash cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon freshly grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan
cheese
3 ounces low fat cream cheese

 

The night before: pour the yogurt into a non-terry cloth
dish towel and place in a colander. Put the colander in the
sink and let drain until morning. It should be thick and
not watery. Chill until ready to use.

Toast the nuts in a dry skillet for a minute or so. In a
food processor (or by hand) chop the garlic, nuts, and
basil leaves. Add the salt, pepper, olive oil, and lemon
juice. Pulse a few times, then add the Romano and cream
cheese. Blend. Pulse in the yogurt cheese briefly (don’t
over mix). Chill in a plastic container a few hours before
serving so it will thicken.

More Winter Squash Recipes

Butternut Squash Lasagna Recipe
Butternut Squash Gratin Recipe
Butternut Bisque Soup Recipe
Smoky Bacon and Butternut Squash Pasta Recipe
Caramelized Kabocha Squash Recipe
Wild Rice and Squash Pilaf Recipe
Butternut Squash and Chive Cakes Recipe
Maple-Baked Acorn Squash Recipe