There are few things that signal the change of seasons like the leaves turning colors and winter squash. The most visible symbol is the pumpkin; introduced to early settlers by the Native Americans, they probably helped prevent our forefathers from starving to death. In Colonial times one of the more creative uses for the pumpkin was its use as a template for a nice round haircut, resulting in New England men being nicknamed “pumpkin heads!”
Why Squash? I’m just going to get this right out there; it’s good for you! The whole family of edible cucurbita routinely make top-ten nutrition lists! This most American of vegetables (though technically a fruit) has many varieties that can be roasted, steamed, spiralized, carved, smashed, or dried and used as containers. It presents many vitamins and minerals that are good for you, and it is simply delicious.
One of the keys to enjoying food is enjoying the preparation. For some it is all ease and convenience, for others it is the challenge of a new recipe. The Co-op Food Stores has everything you need.
On a recent shopping trip I ran into a friend who has retired (alas, I am of that age). When I mentioned the bags of fully peeled butternut squash from Pierson Farm (Bradford, Vt.), she laughed and said she had plenty of time and actually enjoyed peeling it! Although there are many squash that I will tackle with a robust energy, I always hated peeling butternut, so I LOVE Pierson’s squash. Not processed in any way, just peeled and chunked leaving you with complete creative license. Put it in the oven after you have embellished it with garlic, ginger, rosemary, thyme, coffee-infused sea salt, fresh ground pepper, and finished with a spritz of olive oil. It’s an easy and flavorful side dish!
Butternut is just the beginning! Peruse the shelves and see an array of colors, shapes and sizes. They all present their own surprise when opened up with nutty flavors and textures that run from stringy to silky smooth.
- Delicata: open, half, seed, cut in ½-inch slices, season, broil and eat skin and all.
- Acorn (a personal favorite): half, seed, roast with a sprinkle of cinnamon, a dash of nutmeg (a touch of ginger or allspice if you like) and finish with a generous daub of butter (Cabot, a Cooperative product!) and a drizzle of local maple syrup. Yum!
- Carnival is as fun to look at as it is delicious to eat.
- Turban and Hubbard: hearty keepers that last well into the winter months. Dice em, mash em, puree them up into sumptuous soups, endless possibilities. And then there are pumpkins …
Riddle: What do you get if you divide the circumference of a pumpkin by its diameter? (Answer; Pumpkin Pi)
The big orange pumpkins that you buy to decorate are edible, but they have been bread for a thinner shell and are rather stringy in texture. The little ones called ‘Sugar’ or ‘Pie’ pumpkins are the ones you want for your pies.
Protein Alert! As you carve your pumpkins for the upcoming holiday, save the seeds (or some of them at least)! They make a great, easy and healthy snack! Rinse the stringy stuff away and cook on a baking sheet (at about 300) for 20 minutes to dry. Now toss with a little salt and oil and return to the oven until they just start to turn brown (about another 15-20 minutes). Yummy! Kids of all ages love them, and they rival nuts as a source of protein and beneficial oils.
Notes on cooking squash:
One basic method is to cut a round squash in half, scoop out the seeds, lay face down in a baking dish, add a little water, and bake at 350 until soft; then scoop the cooked squash out, or season it and eat it directly from the shell.
Roasting it brings the whole flavor profile up a notch. During the roasting process there is some dehydration that occurs, resulting in a more concentrated flavor.
If you proceed to the next level, you begin to ‘caramelize.’ Caramelization is “…the oxidation of sugar, a type of non-enzymatic browning reaction, which releases volatile chemicals and results in a nutty flavor and brown color; it is a technique used extensively in cooking.” (Reference: The Science of Cooking.) You can roast squash in its shell by simply facing the flesh side up towards the elements.
You can also peel and dice your squash or pumpkin, toss with a small amount of oil and a little salt, and roast on a baking pan. That is how I make my Banana-Pumpkin Bread.