Get to know your squash options and choose the best for your winter dishes.
|Assorted winter squash|
In terms of New England sustainability, winter squash may be the most important vegetable we have: it’s easy to grow in this climate, easy to store, and one plant will feed one person for a full season.
There’s a fair amount of writing by colonists suggesting that the pumpkin (which is just another variety of winter squash) was considered “the meanest of God’s blessings.” It got those colonists through the long New England winters all right, but it did get tiresome and uninspiring. One poet wrote:
For pottage and puddings, custards and pies,
Our pumpkins and parsnips are common supplies.
We have pumpkins at morning and pumpkins at noon;
If it were not for pumpkins, we should be undoon.
|Squash lined up for sampling|
If you are looking for an acorn alternative, sweet dumpling is your squash. It is sweet-fleshed with an edible skin and a good candidate for stuffing. It also makes a good purée.
Dark green buttercups are confusing, sometimes sporting a small light blue turban and sometimes not. Fans say buttercup never needs added sweetener, but I think maple syrup is always welcome. The size of buttercup isn’t ideal: one squash yields enough for only three people.
Butternut, according to the folks at Johnny’s Seeds, is the longest-keeping squash, and in my opinion, is the very best winter squash in terms of performance in the kitchen. It is easily peeled. Its long, seed-free neck gives you a nice piece of squash that can be easily grated raw and sautéed for a quick-cooking dish. It is also easily cubed for roasting and delicious when combined with cubed root vegetables in a mixed vegetable roast. The flesh makes a smooth purée.
Delicatas have edible skins, which makes them good for stuffing, slicing, and roasting, but the relatively small amount of flesh makes them a poor choice for puréeing.
|Attacking thick-skinned squash with a cleaver and mallet|
|Andrea with red Kuri squash|
So-called because its fibrous flesh resembles strands of pasta, spaghetti squash is too sweet to be enjoyed as a pasta alternative, but it is really good with garlic and cheese or cream.
When it comes to cooking, the best thing about winter squash is you can’t over-cook them. If you over-steam and the flesh is watery, just drain in a fine-mesh strainer before or after puréeing. Bake halved and seeded squash at 350° in 1 inch of water for 45 to 90 minutes. Steam quartered and seeded pieces for about 15 minutes. Or roast peeled, diced cubes that have been slicked with a little oil at 425°F until lightly brown, 20 to 30 minutes.
Oh, and those purées we tasted in class? After trying each individually, I mix them together, add a fair amount of salt (very important to bring out flavor), some melted butter, and honey, maple syrup, or apple cider syrup. What a treat!
Photos courtesy of Andrea Chesman
Andrea Chesman is the author of many cookbooks, including The Pickled Pantry, Recipes from the Root Cellar, Serving Up the Harvest, Mom’s Best Crowd-Pleasers, and The Vegetarian Grill, which was nominated for a James Beard Foundation Book Award and won a National Barbecue Association Award of Excellence. She is a coauthor of 250 Treasured Country Desserts and The Classic Zucchini Cookbook, and her articles have appeared in the New York Times, Cooking Light, Food & Wine, Vegetarian Times, Organic Gardening, Fine Cooking, and other publications. Her next book, The Backyard Homestead Book of Kitchen Know-How, is forthcoming from Storey in 2015. Visit Andrea’s website.