Thursday, October 6, 2016

Featuring: Winter Squash

By Chef Andrea
     Fall is definitely in the air, and it’s time to get serious about winter squash!  Our winter squash seemed to ripen a little early this year which, in retrospect, was a good thing! We are very thankful to have been able to harvest all our squash before the big rains came our way. Unfortunately, we had to finish the harvest in between rains which may be part of the reason this year’s crop is a bit more delicate. Field conditions are directly related to the storage potential of a crop. Wet years in our valley generally lend themselves to producing squash that doesn’t store quite as well as those grown in a dry year. We’ve already seen some squash starting to get spots on the exterior…usually it’s the sweetest squash that go the fastest. We’ve been monitoring them diligently since harvest and have already sorted through them several times to remove ones showing signs of deterioration. If you feel like we’ve delivered more squash this year than we normally do by this point in the season, well, you’re right. We know this year’s crop is not going to store as well, and we need your help in taking care of it to make sure we all get to enjoy as many of these delicious squash as possible. It’s easier for you to keep your eye on a handful of squash than it is for us to monitor thousands of them.
Front: Orange Kabocha Squash / Rear: Butternut Squash
     This week’s selections include two of our favorite varieties, orange kabocha and butternut squash. Orange kabocha squash have a deep orange colored flesh that is rich and sweet when cooked. Honestly, my favorite way to eat this squash is to just cook the flesh, puree it and eat it warmed with butter, salt and pepper. However, this squash is also delicious when used to make soups, curry dishes and baked goods, to name a few.
     The other squash variety this week is butternut, but not just any butternut. This week we’re delivering two of our sweetest butternut varieties, honeynut butternuts and butterscotch butternuts. The honeynut butternuts are dark brown in color while the butterscotch ones are the typical tan butternut color. Both varieties have been developed to be small, personal sized squash that boast sweet, delicious flesh.
     The ideal temperature for storing squash is between 45 and 55°F. This is a bit more chilly than most of your homes, so know that it’s ok to store them on your kitchen counter at a warmer temperature as long as you keep your eye on them. You do not want to store squash in the refrigerator or in an uninsulated garage where the temperatures could dip below 45°F once winter sets in. At temperatures less than 45°F squash is vulnerable to chill injury. I keep telling you to “keep your eye on the squash.”  But what are you looking for?! If you notice any sort of a spot starting to form or any signs of deterioration, you need to intervene immediately. A small spot doesn’t mean the squash is bad or needs to be composted, rather it means you need to eat it right away! Just cut away the bad spot and use the rest. If you leave it unattended, the spot will continue to grow and consume your squash….which is what we do not want to happen! Even if you are not quite ready to eat the squash, I encourage you to cook it anyway. Winter squash is a great vegetable to cook in advance and freeze. It’s super quick and easy to pull precooked squash out of the freezer in the middle of the winter and heat it up to eat as a side dish or incorporate it into baked goods or other dishes. The main thing is, don’t let it go to waste! If I have a pile of squash on my counter, I like to bake a lot at one time…the oven is already hot, and if you’re going to make a mess it’s better to clean up just once!
Butterscotch Butternut Squash
     Winter squash is easy to cook. The method I employ most frequently is to simply cut the squash in half and scrape out the seed cavity. I place it, cut side down, in a baking dish and add a little bit of water to the pan, enough to cover the bottom of the pan and come up about ¼-½ an inch on the squash. I bake it in the oven at about 350°F until it is tender when poked with a fork. Once tender, I remove them from the oven and flip them over so the cut side is up. I allow them to rest until they are cool enough to handle, then scoop out the flesh. When you scoop the seed cavity out, remember that the seeds are edible as well. Squash that have smaller seeds are more tender may be rinsed, dried and then toasted.
     There are other methods of cooking squash including roasting or steaming it. Depending on the end result you may choose to peel the squash first.  Roasted squash is a sweet treat and can be made just as you would roast any other vegetable. The recipe for butternut squash and tahini spread in this week’s newsletter starts with roasting butternut squash tossed with olive oil and cinnamon. You could actually stop right there….it’s so delicious it’s like eating candy. The recipe for Autumn Millet Bake employs more of a steaming method for cooking squash. The raw squash is added to a baking dish with the other ingredients, including liquid. The dish is covered and during the baking process the squash cooks by steaming it.
     There are so many different ways to incorporate winter squash into your diet this fall and winter. Get creative and try some new recipes. As always, we appreciate it when our members share their favorite recipes with us!

Butternut Squash & Tahini Spread

Photo Borrowed from Chef Ottolenghi's website
Serves: 6-8
7 cups butternut squash, peeled and cut into chunks
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp ground cinnamon
5 Tbsp light tahini paste
½ cup Greek yogurt
2 small cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp mixed black and white sesame seeds (or just white if you can’t find black)
1 ½ tsp date syrup or maple syrup
2 Tbsp chopped cilantro
Salt, to taste

1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. 
2. Spread the squash out in a medium roasting pan.  Pour over the olive oil and sprinkle on the cinnamon and ½ tsp salt.  Mix together well, cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil, and roast in the oven for 70 minutes, stirring once during the cooking.  (AY Note: I did not cover the pan when I roasted it, but rather let the squash becomes golden and tender.)  Remove from the oven and leave to cool.
3. Transfer the squash to a food processor, along with the tahini, yogurt, and garlic.  Roughly pulse so that everything is combined into a coarse paste, without the spread becoming smooth;  you can also do this by hand using a fork or potato masher. 
4. Spread the butternut in a wavy pattern over a flat plate and sprinkle with the sesame seeds, drizzle over the syrup, and finish with the cilantro, if using.

     This recipe was borrowed from Jerusalem: A Cookbook, written by Yotam Ottolenghi & Sami Tamimi.  Here’s an excerpt from their introduction to the recipe.  “This dip seems to be fantastically popular with anyone who tries it.  There is something about the magical combination of tahini and squash that we always tend to come back to.  Serve as a starter with bread or as part of a meze selection.”  
     We served this spread at our Harvest Party several weeks ago.  We found the leftovers were delicious when spread on a warm tortilla and topped with black beans and cabbage slaw.

Mark Bittman’s Autumn Millet Bake

Yield: 4-6 servings
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil, plus oil for the dish
¾ cup millet
1 medium butternut or other winter squash, peeled seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 cup fresh cranberries
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 Tbsp minced fresh sage leaves or 1 tsp dried
2 Tbsp maple syrup or honey
1 cup vegetable stock or water, warmed
¼ cup pumpkin seeds or coarsely chopped hazelnuts

1. Preheat the oven to 375°F and grease a 2-quart casserole, a large gratin dish, or a 9x13-inch baking dish with olive oil.
2. Put 2 Tbsp of the oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add the millet and cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant and golden, about 3 minutes. Spread in the bottom of the prepared baking dish.
3. Scatter the squash or pumpkin cubes and the cranberries on top of the millet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and the sage and drizzle with syrup. Carefully pour the warmed stock over all. Cover tightly with foil and bake without disturbing, for 45 minutes.
4. Carefully uncover and turn the oven to 400°F. As discreetly as possible, sneak a taste and adjust the seasoning. If it looks too dry, add a spoonful or two of water or stock. (Note from Heidi: This is key! The millet should be close to being cooked through at this point, if not you need to add liquid and keep it moist and cooking - I used another ¼ cup+ of stock here). Sprinkle the pumpkin seeds and/or nuts on top, and return the dish to the oven. Bake until the mixture bubbles and the top is browned, another 10 minutes or so. Serve piping hot or at room temperature (Note from Heidi, Drizzled with the remaining olive oil if you like.)

This recipe was created by Mark Bittman and published in his book, How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.  I found this recipe when perusing Heidi Swanson’s blog,  Visit her website to read more about this dish and her variations.

Chai Spiced Winter Squash Lassi

Photo borrowed from Andrea Bemis' blog
Yield: 2 servings
½ cup cooked butternut or kabocha squash puree
1 ½ cups plain unsweetened full fat yogurt
½ cup ice cold water
2-3 Tbsp pure maple syrup, plus more to taste
2 tsp vanilla extract
¼ tsp fine sea salt
2 tsp minced fresh ginger
½ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground cardamom
Pinch of ground cloves
Freshly ground black pepper, just a touch

Combine all the ingredients into a high speed blender and blend until smooth.  Taste for seasonings and adjust to your liking.

This recipe was adapted from Andrea Bemis’ Chai-Spiced Pumpkin Lassi recipe featured recently on her blog, Dishing Up the Dirt.  Her recipe calls for 1 Tbsp of chai-spiced tea leaves from one bag of tea.  I didn’t have a chai tea bag handy, so I created this variation.  This is a delicious way to incorporate squash into breakfast!

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