Winter Squash: A Must For Fall

Winter Squash: A Must For Fall

a test kitchen dossier

“We fancy men are individuals; so are pumpkins; but every pumpkin in the field goes through every point of pumpkin history.”
— Ralph Waldo Emerson

From the Narragansett (a Native American Language) askutasquash which means “eaten raw” or “uncooked.”

Squash is a native of the Americas and was discovered by European settlers upon arrival, although the people of Mexico had been enjoying squash since 5500 B.C. At the first Thanksgiving potluck, squash was undoubtedly a Native American contribution. We are pretty sure the European settlers were curious about these alien-like gourds, but once they tasted, they understood their goodness. (We really would have liked to have been a part of that spread.)

Squash isn’t only delicious, but it is also part of the “three sisters” which included corn and beans (flashback to elementary school social studies, anyone?). Squash allowed ancient tribes in South America to survive when game was scarce; the corn and beans gave them a complete protein and the squash provided vital omega-3, beta carotene and potassium.

We love it when the air gets crisp, the leaves crunch under our feet and the fall colors radiate throughout the atmosphere. A sea of orange at the pumpkin patch certainly gets us in the mood to cook up a storm. Winter squash have tough skins and are harvested at maturity in September and October unlike summer squash which have edible, thin skins. The tough outer skin of a winter squash allows for up to three months of storage after fall harvest, which is an added bonus to their already great taste and nutritional value. The most popular winter squash is likely the great pumpkin; pumpkins are commonly used in sweet dishes, but we love to feature one of the most popular dessert squash in savory applications like Thai Red Curry Beef and Pumpkin. And lthough it is easy to focus on pumpkins upon hearing “winter squash,” the entire family includes many different shapes and colors. A few of them are below.

Butternut Squash
Have you noticed that we like anything with the word butter? This lovely and delicious pear-shaped squash has beige skin and a recognizable orange, meaty flesh. Butternut squash is somewhat sweet, making it one of our favorites to use in soups. It pairs amazingly with sage, butter, brown sugar, maple, pecans, creme, rosemary and nutmeg. Need we say more?

Acorn Squash
These little things are probably the best squash for stuffing. They are usually smaller, acorn-shaped (hence the name) and have a beautiful, dark-green scalloped skin. Their flesh is pale yellow in color and is more subtly sweet than butternut.

Spaghetti Squash
Oh, how we love texture. After choosing the most beautiful, yellow, medium-sized gourd, cut in half and bake on a sheet pan for about 50 minutes at 350 F. Our favorite part of enjoying spaghetti squash is in removing the spaghetti strands with a fork. It’s kind of like popping bubble wrap, you just can’t help but do it. Spaghetti squash makes a nice alternative to pasta, especially for gluten-free folks, so go out on a limb and try it with Bolognese sauce.

Carnival Squash
We are a fan of foods that scream fun, like our friend the carnival squash. The yellow flesh is similar to acorn squash, but the skin is a confetti of yellow and green.

Turban Squash
Shaped like a turban, this is a weird looking gourd. It can be green, orange and yellow with a bulb-like top. But don’t let it fool you; it’s not only for fall decor displays. It has a sweet and mild flavor with hazelnut tones. It can also be used as a pretty fabulous-looking soup tureen.

Our Approach
The entire season of fall isn’t complete without squash, especially considering Thanksgiving dinner. Step aside, green bean casserole, because roasted squash is taking your place. (What we mean to say is, please roast some squash this fall.) Don’t bother peeling unless you want to smoke the squash, which is absolutely delicious. You can roast squash in the oven at 350 F: Cut the squash in half (be sure to have a sharp knife and take your time, as the skin is quite difficult to get through), scoop out the seeds and drizzle with olive oil and salt. Roast face-down in a pan filled with a small amount of water for 25 minutes. Turn face up and roast for another 25 minutes. The flesh should come out easily for use in soups and purees. You can also dice the cooked squash and leave whole in your favorite risotto, salad, or roast winter vegetable medley.

So geek out with us a little. The scent of roasting squash puts us out of our gourd. If you don’t already, we think you’ll love it.

Thai Red Curry Beef and Pumpkin
Pumpkin Streusel Cake
Pumpkin Flan with Chile-Spiced Brittle
Roasted Pumpkin & Vegetable Medley with Creamy Polenta
Pumpkin Bisque
Butternut Squash Bisque with Nutmeg Crème Fraîche
Pepitas (Spicy Pumpkin Seeds)

The Worldwide Gourmet: Spaghetti Squash
The Worldwide Gourmet: Turban Squash
The World’s Healthiest Foods: Winter Squash
Veg Paradise: Squash

Photo: Kalle Guinn
Dossier by Kalle Guinn