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Winter Squash

by Louise Fiszer & Jeannette Ferrary

In Alexander Dumas's distinguished Grand Dictionary de Cuisine, he includes directions on how to cook an elephant. For many people, elephant cookery is less daunting than dealing with the mammoth category of winter squash. Not only do winter squashes come in quite a few major varieties, but they all differ in shape, size and color: long pale boomerang shapes, golden yellow footballs, grooved orange spheres and multi-colored turbans. There are even quarter-ton pumpkins that take blue ribbons at pumpkin festivals. But the strangest aspect of winter squashes is that, with few exceptions, they are all handled alike for cooking purposes.

They can be baked whole and peeled for purees and soups; or cut in half, scooped of their seeds, stuffed and baked. In the Philippines, thick slices of peeled, firm squash are fried with garlic and onion. Latin Americans use the sweetest varieties in their confections. Italians use pumpkin puree as a filling for ravioli. In Japan, kabocha squash symbolizes good health and luck. Spaniards mix sugar with the pasta like strands of spaghetti squash and boil it to make a sweet called "cabello de angel."

If a vote were taken to select the most unusual member of this large, ancient family of vegetables, the winner would probably be the spaghetti squash, the only type that calls for its own distinct cooking treatment.

Everybody's favorite would be the one winter squash that people buy in great numbers, but may never eat. One that is prepared for the front porch with a candle inside. This Halloween favorite has been named for the occasion: some of the pumpkin types are Spooky, Triple Treat and Jack Be Little (which fits neatly on the end of a broomstick).

Consumer and Cooking Guide

Market Selection
sweet varieties include acorn, butternut, hubbard, delicata, kabocha, and sweet dumpling. Pumpkin, banana, golden acorn squash are more fibrous in texture and milder in flavor. Spaghetti squash differs from the others in that the flesh separates into strands when cooked (hence its name). Select firm, thick shelled squash. If you plan to cook pumpkins, select small ones, but not miniatures.

peak season: September through March.

whole squash may be stored in a cool dry place up to 2 months. Cut squash should be wrapped in plastic and stored in the refrigerator up to one week.

Flavor Enhancers
nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon, cloves, curry and sage.

Nutritional Value
good source of vitamin A and beta carotene; 80 calories per cup

Cooking and Handling
to make squash puree, cut squash in half and bake, cut side down in preheated 400 degree oven for about 45 minutes or until tender. Remove the skin and seeds, scoop out the flesh and puree.

To bake spaghetti squash, leave squash whole and pierce in several places. Bake in preheated 400 degree oven about 45 minutes, or until tender. Allow to cool a while, cut in half, remove seeds and scoop out strands.

Butternut Squash Soup with Tomatoes and Corn
Serves 6

3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 leek, white part only, sliced
1 cup chopped tomato
1/2 teaspoon thyme
4 cups chicken stock
1 butternut squash, peeled seeded and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1/2 cup cream
salt and pepper
1 cup corn kernels
1/2 cup chopped chives

Heat oil in a large pot . Saute the leek, tomato and thyme about five minutes. Add the stock and bring to a boil. Add the squash, lower heat and cook until tender, about 25 minutes. In a blender or food processor puree the mixture with cream. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Return to pot and stir in the corn. Heat gently and serve garnished with chopped chives.

Spaghetti Squash Salad with Olives and Sun-Dried Tomatoes
Serves 6

1 large spaghetti squash, baked
1 cup imported black olives, pitted and halved
1/2 cup oil packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained and cut into thin strips
1 cup diced mozzarella cheese
1 cup chopped parsley
1 clove garlic, minced
3 tablespoons Balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
salt and pepper

Remove seeds from squash and scoop out strands into large bowl. Combine with olives, sun-dried tomatoes, cheese and parsley. Mix dressing ingredients until well blended. Toss with spaghetti squash mixture. Taste for salt and pepper.

Winter Squash and Green Bean Ragout
Serves 6

2 tablespoons oil
1/4 pound pancetta, diced
1 small red onion, diced
1 squash (butternut, delicata, or sweet dumpling) peeled and diced
1 cup chopped tomato
1/3 cup chicken stock
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 pound green beans, trimmed and cut into 2 inch pieces
salt and pepper

Heat oil in large skillet . Add the pancetta and onion and cook about three minutes. Add the squash, tomato, stock and oregano. Simmer, covered, about 12 minutes or until squash is barely tender. Add green beans and cook, uncovered 4-5 minutes. Taste for salt and pepper and serve.

Pumpkin Pot de Creme
Serves 8

1 1/2 cups pumpkin puree
4 egg yolks
2/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 cups heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Whisk the pumpkin puree and egg yolks until smooth. Add the sugar, vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg and whisk again until well combined. Stir in the cream. Divide the mixture among eight six- or eight-ounce ramekins. Place the ramekins in a shallow baking pan. Add enough boiling water to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake for about 25 minutes or until the custard is almost firm. Remove from water bath and let cool at room temperature. (The custard will thicken up as it cools.) Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Serve cold or room temperature.

Jeannette & Louise are Bay Area freelance food writers and the authors of several books including Sweet Onions & Sour Cherries and A Good Day for Soup.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the businesses in question before making your plans.

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