10 Ways to Enjoy Winter Squash
By Simone McKenzie
Walk through your local farmer’s market, and you may be dazzled by the array of winter squash available. From classic orange pumpkins and yellow and orange toned squash to grey-blue hulks or huge striped and bent varieties, you may find the selection and sizes a little intimidating.
Don’t miss out on the season’s bounty buy skipping the gourds. This versatile vegetable can be used in a wide variety of both sweet and savoury recipes with its delicate sweet, nutty or creamy flavours. Choose squash that seem heavy for their size, with a dull, thick rind you can’t put your thumbnail through. If you find one you love, buy as many as you can hold; they can keep for two months or longer when stored in a cool, dry place, especially if they have retained a piece of stem and are blemish-free.
Use winter squash to make a delightful variety of hearty seasonal soups. Combine with pear, heavy cream and a touch of curry for a delicate soup, or cook with coconut milk, scotch bonnet pepper and pimento for a spicy island flavour. Always roast the squash before adding to soups to bring out the natural sweetness, and pass puréed soups through a sieve for the silkiest texture.
The mild flavours of winter squash make them a perfect addition to Italian cuisine. Fill homemade ravioli with pumpkin purée, make pumpkin gnocchi, or use puréed squash as a delicious sauce atop your favourite noodle. You can also try cooking bite-sized pieces of squash in oil over low heat until tender; add garlic, pasta, grated parmesan and chopped fresh sage or arugula for a simple yet tasty meal. Varietals with a sweet or nutty flavour are best for pastas, such as butternut or small pumpkins.
Soft delicate breads are enhanced by the rich taste of winter squash, with pumpkin pie seasoning, or a simple ginger addition. Try purées made from Buttercup squash or the large and unwieldy looking “Green Striped Cushaw” for the best bread flavours. Don’t let Cushaw’s size intimidate you, it’s rich flesh can be puréed and stored in the freezer so you can make your favourite squash bread whenever the mood strikes.
Presentation reigns supreme when winter squash are roasted and filled with hearty soups, stews or pilafs. Slice the top off of single-serving sized squash, scoop out the seeds and fibres, and coat with butter or olive oil. Roast the squash and their tops together in a 375°F oven for one to 1¼ hours, or until squash are very tender. Fill, reheat if required, and serve. Acorn squash or the lovely green and white striped “sweet dumpling” make the best edible bowls.
Purée is an excellent way to prepare squash. Serve it as a side dish, or use it as the basis for pies, breads, pasta sauces and puddings. Slice squash in half or manageable pieces for larger varieties, scrape out the seeds and fibrous centre, and rub with olive oil. Bake in a 400° oven for about an hour, or until soft. Once the squash has cooled, scoop out the flesh and purée in a blender, food processor or food mill, adding water if required. Squash purée can be stored in the freezer. The best purée varieties include butternut, buttercup or sugar pie.
While there’s some disagreement in culinary circles as to whether it’s better to roast your squash skin up, skin down, peeled or unpeeled, everyone agrees that roasting makes them taste better. Save yourself the trouble of peeling the thick skins; once the flesh has been roasted to perfection, it is easily scooped out of the rind. If you’re roasting the squash as a side dish, roast skin down so that the added flavours don’t get lost in the pan. Add brandy and a little brown sugar, or try butter, cinnamon and applesauce for delicious Fall flavour.
Anything worth eating is worth grilling. This Canadian truism holds for winter squash too. Cut your favourite squash into cubes, string onto kebab skewers, coat with butter and grill until soft. You can also baste them with a variety of flavours while they cook, including honey, ginger, or spicy chipotle pepper butter.
Like most vegetables, steaming is the most nutritious way to prepare winter squash. To prepare this rich source of vitamin A and potassium, cut the squash into cubes, and steam until fork-tender, about 30 minutes. Serve as is, sauté with butter and cumin, or mash with a dollop of butter and roasted garlic as an alternative to mashed potatoes.
The combination of cloves, cinnamon, ginger and allspice are the perfect complement to the sweetness of pumpkin flesh. Though high-quality canned pumpkin purées are now widely available for pie filling, nothing beats the flavour and love put into a completely homemade pumpkin pie with a large dollop of whipped cream. For the best result, use a sugar pumpkin, also known as “sugar pie.”
Don’t Forget the Seeds!
Don’t be too quick to toss the seeds. Pumpkin seeds are one of the most nutritious available, high in magnesium, manganese and phosphorous, and a good source of iron, copper, protein and zinc. They also contain phytosterols, which are believed to lower cholesterol. Rinse the seeds, scatter in a single layer on a baking sheet; sprinkle with sea salt before roasting at low heat for about an hour. They also make a great alternative to peanuts in brittle.