Thursday, December 2, 2010

Versatility Makes Squash Useful

by Nancy Newberry

Winter squash is no zucchini. It does not multiply until there are so many zucchini that you find yourself sneaking it onto your neighbor’s porch in the dead of night because your family won’t even look at it anymore.  Instead, winter squash is more like a collectible. It comes in beautiful shapes, colors, and sizes, each with a subtly different flavor. Your stash of winter squash is a wealth of soups, pies, muffins, and casseroles, neatly packaged in sturdy hard cases. Winter squash does not rush you. If you keep it dry and cool, you have weeks to decide what to do with it. If you put a small amount of oil on a paper towel, and polish the skins of your squashes, you can admire them for most of the winter while you make those decisions.
Squash grows well here, too, so if you enjoy eating locally and supporting local farmers, these recipes fit right into the program. My collection is all local: from Magdalena, a blue pumpkin grown by Bob Enders and acorn squash from Ian Jenness ; from San Antonio, Delicata and Sugar Pie pumpkin from Sichler’s Produce; and from Datil, an heirloom variety Australian butter squash grown by Rebecca Pache . This beauty, from seed by the Baker Seed Company, looks like a light-orange version of Cinderella’s coach.  These recipes also feature local garlic from Nick at Polvadera Farms, and onions and parsnips available at the Socorro Farmers’ Market from Tom Hyden.
Few vegetables are as versatile as winter squash. It can be the base for rich or light, savory or sweet dishes, from side vegetable to dessert, which means even the most skeptical eater can like it. For instance, you can cut any squash in half, scoop out the seeds and stringy pulp, and place it cut-side down in a baking dish, and roast in a 375-degree preheated oven until it gives no resistance when poked with a sharp knife (about 1 hour). To serve it, flip it over, and place a dab of butter in the hollow. For the sweet lovers, a little cinnamon and brown sugar on the table will make it delightful; for those who prefer it savory, a sprinkle of salt is sufficient.
And, just so that we can all get on the same page, save those seeds.  Heirloom varieties will grow true from seed (many hybrid squashes will grow a different generic type from saved seed), and you can grow them next spring if you try. And we all know that you can toss pumpkin seeds with a little oil and toast them on a baking sheet in the oven for 10 minutes for a wonderful snack.
Squash Basics. How can you tell which squash to buy? Choose an unblemished squash or pumpkin that feels heavy for its size. As for flavor, butternut and kabocha tend to be rich, with a nutty, earthy flavor, while Delicata and acorn squashes are lighter. Blue pumpkin has a coarse texture and medium flavor, and the heirloom Australian butter squash is nothing short of sublime. Store squashes in a cool, dry place. For long-term storage, wipe the skins with olive oil using a paper towel, and turn them occasionally.  A 3-pound squash or pumpkin will yield about 2 1/2 cups of pulp when cooked.

Ginger Carrot Squash Soup
The natural sweetness of carrots and the tang of ginger make this a very fresh, light soup.
Yield: 6 servings
2 large carrots, cut into 1-inch pieces
7 cups Squash Soup Base
 ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
2 tablespoons freshly grated ginger root, or to taste
Salt and ground black pepper to taste
Heat carrots with enough water to cover to a boil in a saucepan over medium heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer until carrots are tender, about 15 minutes. Drain. Mash the carrots with a potato masher.
Add soup base and ginger to the saucepan, and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Season with salt and pepper.

Harvest Pumpkin Bread
This delicious moist loaf is rich with chocolate and pecans, and the spicy glaze, while optional, makes it very indulgent.
Yield: 1 (4x8 inch) loaf or 3 mini loaves
1 ¾ cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda (use ¾ teaspoon above 7000 feet)
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
½ cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
¾ cup pumpkin or roasted squash pulp
½ cup chopped pecans
¾ cup semisweet chocolate chips
Glaze (optional)
½ cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon half and half cream
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ cup chopped pecans
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a 4x8-inch loaf pan, or 3 mini loaf pans. Whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, the 1 teaspoon cinnamon, ¼ teaspoon nutmeg, ginger, and cloves. Set aside.
Cream the butter and sugar together until well combined. Whisk in the eggs and pumpkin. Stir in the ½ cup chopped pecans. Combine the flour mixture and the pumpkin mixture quickly, stirring just until all ingredients are moistened. Spoon into the prepared loaf pan.
Bake in the preheated oven until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean, about 1 hour. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes; remove to a plate.
Meanwhile, make the glaze. Whisk together the cream, remaining nutmeg, cinnamon and pecans. Pour glaze over the bread slowly, allowing it to absorb into the warm loaf.

Winter Squash and Parsnip Hash
Similar to a sweet potato hash served in the Common Grill in Chelsea, Michigan, you’ll want to serve this unusual dish alongside eggs for breakfast, brunch, or supper.
1 ½ pounds winter squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1/2 –inch cubes
¼ pound parsnips, peeled and chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
4 slices bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley
Salt and ground black pepper to taste
Place squash cubes and parsnip pieces in a saucepan with enough cold water to cover. Bring to a boil over medium high heat, and cook just until tender. Drain; place in an ice water bath to cool. Set aside.
Heat a large skillet over medium heat and cook and stir the bacon until crisp. Pour in the vegetable oil and the onion, and cook and stir until onion is translucent, about 5 minutes.  Stir in the squash and parsnips, and cook, stirring gently, until golden, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle with the parsley; season to taste with salt and pepper.

Nancy Newberry arrived in Magdalena from Seattle about a year ago, where her DIY food exploits are, while not quite legendary, pretty daring. She has worked in coffee shops and deli kitchens, cooked for camps and field trips, and worked as a site producer for the #1 Food and Entertainment website on the web,

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