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JP’s Food Adventures: What to Do With Winter Squash

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Photo by Cynthia Lamb.

We’ve had our first snow, the nights are cool and the leaves are falling. I’ve reluctantly put my sandals away, and stopped eating Caprese salads. No denying autumn is here, and with it the desire for fall flavors. Winter squash is an essential fall flavor. I recommend getting yours at the greenmarkets, both for freshness’ sake and to help support local farmers, after what has been a ruinous year for many. This week I’ll look at a few varieties of winter squash and offer suggestions of what to do with them. That Halloween pumpkin is good for more than just pie!

My favorite of the bunch is the kabocha, or Japanese green pumpkin. Once roasted it’s densely flavored, not at all watery and the skin is edible (though I don’t always eat it). It works unadorned as a side dish, or you can tart it up with butter and/or salt. (The less sturdy Delicata squash can be treated the same way, though it’s flavor is not as intense).

Photo by Cynthia Lamb.

I love me some butternut squash, too. I wouldn’t eat the skin on this one, but the brilliant orange flesh is a treat. It’s best roasted, but can also be peeled, cut into chunks and boiled to good effect. (This can be accomplished very quickly in a pressure cooker). Butternut makes a fine side dish mashed with butter and salt (and maybe sweet spices, such as cinnamon, nutmeg, clove and allspice). And like all winter squashes it makes a fantastic soup.

My mother swears by Hubbard squashes for pies, preferring them over traditional orange pumpkins. She always keeps some cooked squash in the freezer so she can have a taste of fall whenever she likes. That is a nice feature of winter squash: they freeze very well. You can cook a big one, then freeze whatever you don’t use for later. Frozen, the squash keeps for a year!

Another variety found in the neighborhood is calabaza, or West Indian pumpkin. It’s similar to butternut squash (bright orange flesh), and indispensable in many Latino and Caribbean recipes. I was initially surprised when a Puerto Rican friend told me she put pumpkin in her beans, but it’s a good combination.

Aside from eating it roasted on its own, the easiest thing to make with winter squash is soup. Winter squash soup is easy and adaptable. It doesn’t require a stock. Starting off with sautéed onion (and/or shallot) is optional, too. It can be as simple as squash, water, butter, salt and a little glug of cream (or coconut milk). I often dress it up with a spoonful of curry powder. You may prefer sweet spices. Some amontillado sherry isn’t a bad idea, to add both a little sweetness and greater depth of flavor. You could even riff on the classic ravioli combination of Parmesan, browned butter and fresh sage. Blending with a hand mixer makes for an elegant result, but mashing with a potato masher works, too. Toasted pumpkin seeds are a logical garnish. As long as you keep it simple it’s hard to mess up, so feel free to play around with various seasonings and ingredient combinations. In this weather a warm bowl of autumn flavor is a great way to start a meal.

Roasting winter squash: I usually cut them in half, scoop out the seeds, wrap the halves in foil, then place in a 375 degree oven until soft. Depending on the squash that will take 35-45 min. (Delicata squash, being small and thin-skinned, will cook faster). My brother dispenses with the foil by rubbing the cut side of the squash half with a little oil, then placing that side down on a roasting pan. This way he can tell the squash is done when the skin begins to brown.

JP Bowersock is a professional musician and music producer who has toured the world repeatedly, eating at top restaurants and hole-in-the-wall joints. He is a serious home cook with over two decades’ experience cooking for family, friends and fellow rock and rollers. Mr Bowersock keeps a toe in the wine business as well,  consulting for the wine lists of several neighborhood establishments, including Clandestino, 35 Canal St. When not on tour or in the recording studio he’s scouring the neighborhood for frugal food finds.

 

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I tend toward crisp acidity when it comes to white wines, but that doesn’t mean I’m not open to other styles. Valle Reale Trebbiano d’Abruzzo 2010 ($13 at Seward Park Liquors) is a great food wine: round in the mouth, medium bodied, hints of minerality and floral notes. Not a stunner on its own, but perfect with a fish supper. For me this wine was a fun change of pace, and a decent value.

 

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Rob,

    How much water you use depends on how thick you want to soup to be. Just enough water to cover the roasted squash in the pot results in a thick, intense soup. Getting closer to two parts water to one part squash (by volume) will give a thinner soup better for starting a meal than being a substantial part of it.

    I’m one of those guys who eyeballs everything when cooking, but here’s a starting point: 2 cups cooked squash and 3 cups water. That’ll give you four starter course servings or two more substantial bowls’ full. After that you can adjust the water amount to your taste next time you make it.

    Remember the cream goes in right before serving. You don’t want to boil the cream.

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