Squashed!

When you hear the word squash, do you say: “Yuck!” “Yum!” or “What do I do with it?” As a seasonal cook, and lover of vegetables, I’d be remiss if I wasn’t honest about my enthusiasm regarding fall foods, and in particular, squashes.

Of all the produce that is grown in autumn, nothing says the season more to me, than squash. They comprise a palette of orange, amber and golden hues, deep conifer greens and earthen pottery tans that provide a bounty of beauty and whimsy to behold. From sleek and scalloped to knobby and squat, cooked squashes are tender, nutty and sweet for eating. Versatile, they’re delicious baked, roasted, mashed, stuffed, pureed, spiced or eaten simply naked; enjoyed as soup, main course, side dish, dessert or even breakfast.

Two weeks ago I offered up SQUASH as the theme for my October’s 2nd Meatless Monday dinner/class. I haven’t been this possessed since I made 15 pounds of ratatouille this past summer.  In a short two hours, I wanted to offer all I could muster in squash that could reasonably be absorbed in taste, variety, and ease of preparation, without gastrointestinal confusion.  It was comical, fun and delicious. But most of all, I think it was informing for those at the table who were less familiar with these strange creatures.

So won’t you please join us and discover the bounty of simple squash?

The squashes we were tasting were on the table as centerpieces.

In the photo below are most of the squash varieties we ate: delicata, butternut, acorn, Burgess buttercup (green and squat, missing in this photo), Japanese red kuri, spaghetti, and the solo picture of the great cheese pumpkin, for pie. And yes… there are more varieties I didn’t prepare!

Menu:

Shitake mushroom & barley soup (I purposely didn’t make squash soup…too much of a good thing in one night. So I’m including week 3’s Butternut Squash & Pear Soup recipe in this article.)

Plain whole baked squashes, assortment (to experience taste & texture)

Roasted squash assortment – simply with olive oil, S & P, drizzle of water

Baked butternut cubes in apple cider and cinnamon

Roasted delicata squash stuffed with white beans, spinach, parmesan & sage

Spaghetti squash with arrabbiata sauce (I said I was possessed!)

2 varieties of steamed kale & carrots

Pumpkin Pie w/ dollup of fresh whipped cream, nutmeg & maple syrup

Below is a smattering of photos from the evening, a few simple recipes, plus my discovery of making perfect roasted squash. Hands down, the favorite two things of the evening were the incomparable sweetness of delicata squash and the sumptuous flavor and texture of REAL pumpkin pie. So if you can get your hands on delicata squash this fall, and you’ve never tasted it…look out for something GREAT coming your way! By the way, the skin on delicata squash is totally edible, another plus.

In a bowl I simply drizzled olive oil on the squashes, mixed them well to coat, and then sprinkled kosher salt & cracked pepper on them. Coarse salt works well on baked/roasted vegetables.

Acorn squash is in the back rows left, front left is butternut, and four rows of delicata half rounds.

Here they are arranged by shape, showing different ways to cut the squashes for beauty. My secret discovery for perfect roasted vegetables, including squash, is to occasionally sprinkle water on them while they’re baking.

No need to cover them with tin foil (though you can if you prefer and don’t mind wasting the foil). I have a small bowl of water and after about 25 or 30 minutes I just sprinkle some around and on top of the squashes (a tablespoon at most). This creates a moist environment in the oven and caramelizes the sugary juices of the squashes (or vegetables) and they taste fantastic. The bottoms will brown beautifully; the exposed tops will form a delicate skin that protects the soft texture of roasted squash. It’s so simple, and is how I love to prepare vegetables and squashes most often in the fall and winter.

Below are the delicata squashes oiled, salted and peppered, ready for baking.

Delicata squashes sliced in half, seeds removed.

And here they are, out of the oven, roasted in the same fashion, with just a little sprinkled water. I don’t have pictures of all the squash assortments, but they looked just as beautiful.

Here are the fresh cooked white beans (I pressure cooked mine, you can substitute with canned beans) used to stuff the delicata squashes, with sautéed garlic, spinach, and sage. You can make ANY kind of filling for squash that you love. Experiment with your favorite bean and vegetable combinations. I love green lentils cooked with carrot, bay leaf, tamari and vegetable bouillon or powder, mixed with sautéed garlic, onions, celery and mushrooms and herbs like thyme and marjoram.

And for the great pumpkin photos:

The great cheese pumpkin ready for pie.

This baby made alota pies!

I’m not sure how heavy this cheese pumpkin was, maybe 5 or 6 pounds? But it made the equivalent of 4 pies. Plus…roasted pumpkin seeds.

All in all it was a jam-packed night of squash jamboree. I sure hope you’ll find some room to experiment with them this fall, and remember to get the delicata squashes when you see them.