Thursday, October 16, 2014

Vegetable Feature: Winter Squash

by Andrea Yoder
Front: Delicata squash, Festival Squash, Butternut Squash, Sweet Winter Squash
Back: Red Kuri squash, Sugar Dumpling Squash, Spaghetti Squash, Honeynut Butternut Squash

Honeynut Butternut Squash
Sugar Dumpling Squash
As the leaves turn to shades of orange, red and yellow and the nights get chilly, we welcome the changing of the seasons and transition from cool, refreshing summer vegetables to those that offer us warmth and comfort. Winter squash holds a special place in a seasonal Midwestern diet, with the potential to feed us all the way from September through the cold winter until spring comes again. We grow several different types of winter squash, several varieties you’ve already had in your boxes. We start off our squash season with delicata and spaghetti squash, followed by two of our sweetest varieties—Sugar Dumpling & Honeynut Butternut. Both of these varieties are higher in natural sugars making them very tasty, but the downside is they don’t store as well as some of the other varieties. The little honeynut butternut squash in your boxes this week are a special treat with their rich, sweet flavorful flesh. They are personal sized squashes that need nothing more than to be cut in half and baked cut side down until tender. Season the squash with salt, pepper and a pat of butter and you’ll find they taste like pumpkin pie filling!

Butternut Squash
Kabocha Squash

Soon we’ll be delivering the more familiar butternut variety with buff colored skin followed later in the season by the multi-colored festival squash and red kuri squash. The red kuri squash is a small, round, bright orange squash with dark orange flesh resembling a kabocha squash (a variety we’ve grown in previous years). These three varieties are amongst the varieties that are best for storing. But wait…there’s one more variety! We recently discovered a variety called Winter Sweet. It has a dusky blue-gray skin with a dense, dry yellow flesh. The beauty of this squash is its amazing ability to store well into the winter, and thus this will be the last one we send your way.

Winter Sweet Squash
Winter squash pairs well with a wide variety of other ingredients. You will often see it prepared with fruits including apples, pears, pomegranate, citrus and coconut. It is often flavored with herbs and spices including sage, rosemary, thyme, curry, cumin, coriander and chile powder. As we transition from summer to winter, we find ways to prepare squash alongside summer vegetables including sweet and hot peppers and tomatoes. As we venture deeper into the winter, squash finds its way into dishes alongside other root vegetables, onions, leeks, garlic, dried chiles and dried beans. You’ll find recipes for winter squash from cuisines from all around the world including many Asian countries, Europe and the Americas.

The simplest way to prepare any winter squash is to cut it in half, scoop out the seed cavity, and bake them cut-side down in a baking dish with a little water until they are tender. Remove them from the oven and turn the squash over to cool. When cool enough to handle, scoop the flesh out of the shell using a spoon. The flesh can be mashed or pureed and eaten simply with salt, pepper and butter, or use the puree for other preparations. Squash can also be peeled and sauteed, pan-fried, steamed or roasted. It is often used in soups, stews and curry dishes. It can become a filling for tarts, quiche, turnovers, and ravioli. It pairs well with grains and can be used to make risotto or even incorporated into warm or cold grain salads, such as wild rice, barley or quinoa. For a more sweet approach, incorporate squash into baked goods such as pie, quick breads, bread pudding, custards and even cheesecake. You can substitute squash puree in any recipe that calls for pumpkin puree. As you can see, there are a lot of different ways to enjoy squash! If you find yourself growing tired of eating squash in the middle of the long winter, look around for some new recipes and try a different approach to how you prepare it.

An added bonus with several of the squash varieties is that the seeds are edible. Generally the seeds from the delicata, sugar dumpling and festival squash are tender enough to eat. Sometimes the butternut and orange kuri squash seeds are also tender enough to eat. After you remove them from the squash, rinse the seeds in a colander to remove any squash flesh. Dry them out a little bit by spreading them on a cookie sheet and put them in a dry location overnight or in a low temp oven. Once the seeds are dry, toss them with oil, salt, pepper and any seasonings you might desire. Spread the seasoned seeds on a cookie sheet and toast them in a 350°F oven until they are golden and crispy.

If you want to store your squash for a longer period, it is best to store it in a cool, dry environment between 45-55°F. If you just have a few squash in your collection, you might want to adorn your tables or countertops with their beauty until you’re ready to eat them. Check them frequently and if you see any spots starting to form, that’s your cue that it’s time to cook them.

Corsican Turnovers with Winter Squash
Recipe borrowed from The French Market Cookbook by Clotilde Dusoulier.

Serves 4
Winter Squash Filling
1 Tbsp olive oil for cooking
3 small red onions, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
Salt, to taste
1 small kuri, butternut or kabocha squash, peeled, seeded and diced
2 tsp dried rosemary, finely chopped
Freshly ground black pepper

Olive Oil Tart Dough
¼ cup olive oil for cooking, plus more for the pan
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 tsp fine sea salt
1 large egg
1 large egg white

1. First, prepare the filling. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions, garlic, and ½ tsp salt and cook, stirring often to prevent coloring, until soft, about 10 minutes.

2. Add the squash, rosemary, and ¾ tsp salt. Cover and cook, stirring often, until the squash is soft, 15 to 20 minutes. If the squash has released juices—this will depend on the variety—turn the heat up to high and cook for a few minutes longer, uncovered, until the juices have evaporated. Sprinkle with black pepper, then taste and adjust the seasoning. Set aside to cool.

3. Preheat the oven to 400°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

4. Now prepare the dough. In a medium bowl, combine the flour and salt. Add the oil, egg, and ¼ cup cold water and mix them in with a fork until absorbed. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead lightly until it comes together into a ball. Add a little more water or flour as necessary.

5. Dust the ball of dough and a rolling pin with flour. Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces. On a lightly floured surface, roll out one of the pieces into an 8-inch square. Scoop one-fourth of the squash mixture onto the middle of the square. Bring two opposite corners of the dough into the center of the square and pinch them together. Lift the two remaining corners up to the center, matching the seams so they meet to form raised ridges. Crimp to seal. You’ll get a square turnover, with ridges forming an “X” on top. Lift carefully with a spatula and transfer to the prepared baking sheet.

6. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling to form 3 more turnovers.

7. Brush each turnover with egg white.

8. Bake, rotating the sheet in the oven halfway through cooking for even coloring, until golden, about 30 minutes. Let cool for 5 to 10 minutes before serving

Winter Squash and Leeks Baked in Parchment
Recipe borrowed from The Greens Cookbook by Deborah Madison. 

Serves 4
2 cups winter squash, peeled, seeded and cut into ¼-inch cubes
¾ cup leeks, chopped into ½–inch squares
1 tsp garlic, finely chopped
¼ cup olive oil
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
4 pieces parchment paper, cut to about 12” x 15” 
1-2 Tbsp butter
8 fresh sage leaves

1. Toss the squash, leeks, garlic, and olive oil together, and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. 

2. Preheat the oven to 425°F. Fold the parchment papers in half to make a crease. Open them up and generously butter the bottom half, covering all but an inch from the edge. It is important to coat the surface thoroughly, or the sugars in the squash will stick to the paper and burn. 

3. Divide the vegetables evenly amongst the 4 papers, heaping them into the center of the buttered area. Tuck 2 sage leaves into each one. Lay a few small pieces of butter on top of the vegetables. Fold the top half of the paper down and tightly roll the edges over onto themselves to make a half circle. Give the paper a good twist at the end to hold the packet firmly closed. Bake for 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and open carefully to allow the steam to escape.

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