Food — Lest We Forget The Humble Squash
Lest We Forget The Humble Squash

By Amy Diaz

Oddly shaped fruit not just a dish for the holidays

Squash are the new potatoes.

Sure, when it comes to mashed or French-fried, potatoes still have the market cornered. But for adding a heartiness and a richness to a variety of soups and side dishes, squash is one of the yummiest trends to hit food since cheese went artisan. 

As with wool and silk, squash has its summer and its winter versions. Winter squash comes in a variety of flavors and colors with a natural sweetness that gives a pick-me-up to any number of stick-to-your-ribs recipes. While not the blank slate of a potato, squash lends itself well to a pairing with sugary or spicy and as a side for heavy meats or for light fish and salad meals.

Know your squash

As with many a winter accessory, squash start to hit the shelves during the late fall and come in many variations.

Perhaps the most well known (and my personal favorite) is the pumpkin. And while, sure, cooking a pumpkin can seem a daunting task, it’s good to keep in mind that, in a pinch, the same canned pumpkin that goes into pie filling can be used as a tasty, savory side dish.

Others in the winter squash family:

Acorn squash: A dark-greenish color with patches of orange or sometimes a tannish color.

Buttercup squash: Greenish skin with yellowy-orange-ish flesh, these squash have a roasted-nut flavor when baked.

Butternut squash: Orange in color and shaped like an elongated pear, butternut squash are creamy when cooked.

Spaghetti squash: Yellow and oval-shaped, spaghetti squash is a bit milder than other squash.

Canned, diced or au natural

Squash are very preparation-friendly.

Most winter squash can go directly into the oven with little more than a few air holes. Roasting before slicing can make removing the tough skin easier, although seeds are often easier to remove before baking. Squash roasted in a 350-degree oven are often fairly idiot-proof; longer roasting seldom hurts the end product.

Their versatility also allows for baking, roasting, pan-searing, pureeing and grilling — a versatility that makes cheating on recipes much easier. In addition to the pop-it-in-the-oven-and-forget-it method of roasting squash, many supermarkets sell fairly fresh pre-diced squash which can go right into a roasting pan. Frozen pureed squash also works just as well as a hand-prepared mash. Add a little chicken stock or a dash of white wine, soy sauce and a clove or so of minced garlic to fake the simmered-all-day taste.

Squash also goes good with just about all of your major spices and herbs. In addition to garlic, try paprika, thyme, rosemary, savory, onion or red pepper seeds. Or, give the squash a desserty taste with cinnamon, nutmeg, brown sugar or maple syrup.

Garlic spaghetti squash

Spaghetti squash is probably one of the most user-friendly of all winter vegetables. It takes time to roast but most of the hard work is done without you. While squash does lend itself to a variety of flavors and spices, this simple recipe is a nice standby.

1 spaghetti squash

8 garlic cloves, minced

1/3 cup olive oil

1/2 cup grated asiago cheese

Place a spaghetti squash in a large oven-safe dish. With a knife, poke four holes in the squash, making sure that the knife goes to the middle of the vegetable.

Let the squash roast in a 350-degree oven for at least an hour, until rind peels off easily.

Remove squash from the dish and cut in half. Gently, scoop out the seeds and discard.

With forks or with a pasta spoon, scoop out the flesh of the squash. It will appear stringy, like spaghetti. Toss the squash with olive oil and minced garlic. Spread the seasoned squash on a cookie sheet and sprinkle with salt and pepper and grated asiago or parmesan cheese.

Bake for another 20 minutes, serve.

Curried Butternut Squash Soup with mint oil

From The Fearless Chef, by Andy Husbands and Joe Yonan, Adams Media, 2004.

Husbands made this soup when he visited Cotton in Manchester in November 2004. The soup is warm, hearty and filling with an inner spiciness from the curry and ginger. The mint adds a surprising fresh and clean quality to the soup.

2 tablespoons butter, cut into four pieces

1 small yellow onion, peeled and roughly chopped

2 teaspoons peeled and chopped ginger

2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped

2 tablespoons curry

salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 small butternut squash (about 1 1/2 pounds) peeled, cored and roughly chopped

2 cups water or vegetable stock

1/2 cup apple cider

1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 cup roughly chopped mint leaves

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 Granny Smith apple, peeled and cored

Juice of 1 lime (about 2 tablespoons)

In a 6 to 8 quart stockpot over low heat, melt the butter. Add the onion, ginger, garlic, curry and a large pinch of salt; cook, stirring occasionally until the onions are soft, 20 to 35 minutes.

Add the squash, apples, water and apple cider bring to a boil. Adjust heat to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until the squash is very tender, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat.

While the vegetables are cooking, make the mint oil by combining the olive oil, mint, kosher salt and red pepper flakes in a small, heavy-bottomed sauté pan over high heat. Let cook for two minutes and immediately remove from heat. Puree in a blender and strain through a fine-mesh sieve. Set aside.

When the squash is tender, puree the soup with an immersion blender or in batches in a food processor or blender (returning the puree to a clean saucepan). Season with salt and pepper and keep hot.

To serve, coarsely grate the Granny Smith apple into a small bowl. Toss with the lime juice. Ladle the soup into wide, shallow soup bowls, place a small mound of apple in center of each serving and drizzle the soup with the mint oil.

Roasted Acorn Squash

From Cooking New American, by the Editors of Fine Cooking magazine, The Taunton Press, 2004, 234 pages.

Cooking New American features recipes of both surprising flavor and surprising simplicity. The book includes easy-to-follow step-by-step instructions along with tips on how to pick the right vegetables, how to master a variety of kitchen techniques and possible substitutions.

This recipe is for an impressive-looking side dish that takes a surprisingly small amount of effort.

1 acorn squash (about 1 1/4 pounds)

1/4 teaspoon coarse salt

1 1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 1/2 tablespoon brown sugar

Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Slice a thin piece off both ends of the squash, including the stem. Cut the squash in half crosswise (perpendicular to the ribs). Scoop out the seeds with a sturdy spoon.

Line a rimmed baking sheet, jellyroll pan or shallow baking dish with foil or parchment. (If you’re only cooking two halves, be sure to use a small pan that the squash will fit into somewhat snugly.) If you use foil, rub it with butter to keep the squash from sticking.

Set the squash halves on the prepared baking sheet and smear the flesh all over with the softened butter. Sprinkle with salt. Sprinkle or drizzle the brown sugar (or other flavoring) over the top edge of the squash and into the cavity (most of the liquid will pool up there).

Roast the squash halves until nicely browned and very tender (poke in several places with a fork to test), about 1 hour and 15 minutes for small to medium squash; larger squash may take longer. Don’t undercook. Serve warm with a spoon.

Baked pumpkin slices

From How to Cook Everything, By Mark Bittman, Wiley Publishing, 1998.

Pumpkin is one of the very best squashes.

1 pumpkin

1 tablespoon canola or other neutral oil

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Cut the pumpkin from top to bottom into 1 to 1 1/2 inch thick slices. Discard seeds and strings and spread slices on a lightly oiled baking sheet.

Combine the remaining oil with the rest of the ingredients and brush a bit of this mixture onto the pumkin. Bake for about 25 minutes then brush again. Turn, brush again, and bake until done, an additional 20 to 30 minutes.

Run the slices very briefly under th broiler to brown them if you like. Serve.

—Amy Diaz

2005 HippoPress LLC | Manchester, NH