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Glorious Autumn Squash
Monday, October 7, 2013

Glorious autumn squashes and pumpkins in a variety of shapes and sizes abound in greenmarkets and grocery stores at this time of year. In the video today, I go over a few ins and outs of cooking with these vegetables as well as demonstrate a delicious and easy recipe that work with many of the varieties available.

Autumn Squash

Here are six of my favorite types of squash among those that you’re likely to see. Two that have sweet dry rich orange flesh include the forest-green kabocha squash and the flaming red kuri pumpkin. These are wonderful for soups, stews, roasting, or mashing. Of course, cutting into one of these tough guys can seem like a dangerous undertaking. Here’s my favorite tip for handling an intimidating squash: turn the oven to between 325˚F and 375˚F (whatever is appropriate for the recipe), and simply toss the whole pumpkin into the oven for 10 to 15 minutes. That little bit of precooking is enough to enable you to be able to cut down the middle of a hard squash with even a thin-bladed knife. You can even peel the skin easily and cube the squash as well. Here’s an alternative method: simply bake the entire pumpkin without cutting into it first at all. If this is what you plan to do, make sure to place your squash on a baking tray, however, or you’re in for a messy oven-cleaning job when the juices start to drip.

Another one of my favorite varieties includes the oblong delicata squash, characterized by its pale yellow skin with green stripes. The thin skin is eatable, so no need to peel these. To prep the squash, cut it lengthwise down the center, scoop out the seeds, and cut it into wedges. Toss the wedges in a little olive oil and salt, and roast for 20 minutes or so at 400˚F on a parchment-covered baking sheet.

The small sweet dumpling squash is a variety that is perfect for stuffing. Give it a preliminary 10-to 20-minute bake before cutting the top off and scoop out the seeds, then stuff the inside and bake until tender.

The football-shaped spaghetti squash is a fun variety with a stringy spaghetti-like texture. Initially, just toss the whole squash in the oven for about an hour. After it sits out of the oven for a few minutes and is soft and cool enough to handle,  slice it down the middle, scoop out the seeds, and then scrape out the stringy flesh with a fork. Treat the strands like pasta and toss them with your favorite spaghetti sauce.

The workhorse of the squash world is the butternut. This variety is softer than some of the other types, so it doesn’t need a head start in the oven before being cut or peeled. Treat it like two separate vegetables when dicing. The oblong part in the middle is dense, and it can be sliced like a potato: the bulbous bottom part contains all of the seeds, so it’s best to cut that part into wedges first. Use a t-shaped peeler, the kind that takes thick skins off, to make peeling the squash efficient. For the oblong part, first cut a thin piece off the bottom to anchor the squash on your cutting board, then cut downward slabs. Cut the slabs into long “batons,”, then cut the batons into dice. When you roast the butternut squash, do so by slicing it down the center first and placing it face down on a parchment-covered baking sheet. It’s so much easier to take out the seeds after the squash is cooked.

The recipe that I demo in the video is sautéed butternut squash with pears and ginger. The pears harmonize beautifully with the squash—they’re both in season at the same time—and the ginger and cayenne add warmth to the dish. I start with some extra virgin olive oil. I warm a couple of tablespoons over medium heat in a large skillet. I then add the cubed squash with one diced pear—comice, Anjou and Barlett are all good—and cook uncovered over medium heat until the pieces are just tender and starting to brown, (about 6 to 8 minutes). I then push the squash to one side of the pan and add a tablespoon or so of butter (you can also use extra virgin olive oil). When the butter melts, I add the ginger and cook it a minute or so until fragrant. I then stir the ginger—along with ½ teaspoon of salt and a pinch of cayenne—into the mix. I finish the dish by stirring in a splash of balsamic vinegar. This dish is fragrant, fast, and flavorful.

What a good time to get creative with all of the delicious varieties of squash that are out right now. They’re not difficult at all to use, so have a wonderful time!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Photo: Tess Steinkolk

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