Winter Squash: Quashing Questions – Delicata Squash

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With a unique oblong shape and striped coloration, delicata squash is easy to spot and even easier to prepare; its rich sweet flavor makes it another favorite in my kitchen. It’s often sliced in half lengthwise to function as a serving vessel, and when stuffed looks like an overladen canoe – possibly applicable as part of a strategy to entice children to eat their veggies, and perhaps even opening the door to countering some stereotypes about Native Americans and teaching kids about the Three Sisters: squash, corn, and beans which were planted together by the indigenous people of North America.


Its individual serving size and indisputably edible thin skin lends itself to preparations like this, another common delicata treatment. I simply sliced it into rings and removed the seeds, anointed it with a bit of EVOO and a touch of salt, and roasted it in a hot oven. (Hey, kids might think these are cute, too.) Incidentally, those are Thai basil flowers garnishing the squash – just because I had ’em.

Next up tetsukabuto squash.

 
 
Stay safe, be well, and eat whatever it takes. ❤️
 
 

Winter Squash: Quashing Questions – Honeynut Squash

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Developed by Cornell University, honeynut squash is a new hybrid that’s a cross between butternut and buttercup squash, single serving size (this one was about 4½ inches long), and with an unbelievable flavor. My understanding is that it undergoes a period of temperature-controlled curing which condenses its sugars and intensifies its sweet, nutty, caramel taste.


I didn’t subject it to any special preparation other than what I did for the brulee squash and a few others that I wanted to sample unadorned. Its dark, sweet flesh aspires to be dessert; if winter squash and candy had a baby, it would be this. ‘Nuff said.

Look for them at your local farmers’ market or specialty produce store, and let me know what you think.

Next up, delicata squash.

 
 
Stay safe, be well, and eat whatever it takes. ❤️
 
 

Winter Squash: Quashing Questions – Brulee Squash

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The brulee squash is simply a compact, individually sized breed of butternut squash; this one was a mere 4½ inches long.


Since I’d never tasted one before, rather than doing anything fancy with it I merely halved it, cleaned it up, and roasted it, cut side down. Now, with a name like brulee, visions of crème brûlée danced in my head as it was cooking and I was looking forward to my first bite with the eager anticipation of a kid opening a Christmas present.

True, it was sweet like some of its relatives and undeniably cute like certain others, but frankly, I was a little disappointed because, well, that’s as far as it went. After all, in retrospect, there was no promise of crème in its name. Just brulee.

Which, in French, means burned.
 
 
Next up, honeynut squash.

 
 
Stay safe, be well, and eat whatever it takes. ❤️
 
 

Winter Squash: Quashing Questions – Butternut Squash

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You know this one; it often sports a long neck and a bulbous bottom, the result of tinkering with crookneck squash breeding, selecting for a more compact size, a straight neck, and a stackable shape with a nod to the marketplace: butternut squash is another extremely popular and rather ubiquitous item at the supermarket. Because of its smooth skin, it’s easy to peel and since the seeds are concentrated in the lower section, it lends itself to applications where chunks or planks of squash are called for.

Since my quest was for diminutive squashes, I admit that it was a bit of an outlier, but it was the smallest one of its ilk that I could find (and probably why its shape was less than classic).


Were you waiting for this? (I was.)

Like many winter squash, butternut squash is exceedingly versatile and often subs for pumpkin in recipes like this one. Now, I make a mean pumpkin pie IIDSSM and every year my family and certain special friends enjoy sampling my wares; this year, of course, was an exception because of the pandemic. But since I had a butternut squash on hand and no one would be subjected to my experiment, I decided to see what would happen if I followed my time-honored pumpkin pie recipe verbatim, but with butternut squash subbing in for the pumpkin. Happily, the experiment was a success – but between you and me, I like pumpkin better. (Didn’t stop me from eating this though!)

Next up, brulee squash.

 
 
Stay safe, be well, and eat whatever it takes. ❤️
 
 

Winter Squash: Quashing Questions – Buttercup Squash

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Warts and all, buttercup squash (not to be confused with butternut squash) is one of my favorites for its rich flavor (sometimes compared to sweet potato or chestnut) and solid satiny texture. As it matures, its characteristic turban top that you may have seen elsewhere will grow – this one was a baby. Because it’s on the dry side, you’ll see some caveats against roasting or baking and favoring simmering, steaming or boiling, but I’ve never had a problem applying dry heat to it.


As a matter of fact, because of its rich, firm texture, I decided to cut it into roasted pieces and press it into service as part of a schmancy salad for brunch. For the base, I used the lettuce, tomato, shredded carrot, and caramelized onion quartet that typically finds its way into the salad bowl chez moi, added roasted Brussels sprouts (since I was roasting anyway) and concord grapes (because I had some in the fridge), shaved down some cheese into a fan (because I’m a cheese fan) and topped it with a crispy fried egg (no explanation necessary). An unusual and delicious combination!

Next up, butternut squash.

 
 
Stay safe, be well, and eat whatever it takes. ❤️
 
 

Winter Squash: Quashing Questions – Red Kuri Squash

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Red kuri squash is also known as potimarron, a French portmanteau combining potiron meaning pumpkin and marron meaning chestnut, acknowledging the squash’s characteristic flavor profile. (“Portmanteau” itself is a portmanteau combining the French words porter meaning carry and manteau meaning cloak. How meta. But I digress.) Kuri is Japanese for chestnut, same rationale.

My understanding is that in the UK, it’s called “onion squash” preferring to address its appearance rather than its flavor. (Draw your own conclusions regarding whatever that says about the culinary aptitude of the Brits. 😉)


Since this one was new to me, I just halved it and cleaned it out, roasting it with some butter in the cavity. The flavor wasn’t particularly deep, actually almost watery, in contrast to its texture which was more on the dry/satiny-smooth side of the continuum. Since I felt that it needed a boost, I added maple syrup and cinnamon to the melted butter.

Given another shot at it, I might try slicing and baking it with a glaze to concentrate its flavor and give each piece some individualized attention.

Next up, buttercup (no, not butternut) squash.

 
 
Stay safe, be well, and eat whatever it takes. ❤️
 
 

Winter Squash: Quashing Questions – Autumn Frost Squash

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Autumn frost squash is actually a specialty butternut squash, bred for its compact size and named, I suspect, for its misty cast.

One lesson I learned from this foray into squashdom is to not expect perfect consistency of flavor from one squash to the next seemingly identical specimen. ’Jever dig into a bag of roasted peanuts in the shell where one radiates leguminous luciousness and the next is just kind of – off? I’m sure that’s true of most produce, but it’s easy to forget; I’m speculating that this was an example of that lesson.


There wasn’t much depth of flavor in this baby after I roasted it, and the flesh was on the moist/squishy-pulpy end of the continuum, so between its flavor (which I could doctor up) and somewhat soggy texture, I decided that its destiny would be the soup pot.


Garnished with what I had on hand, chestnuts and fresh herbs (looks like I know what I’m doing, doesn’t it?), the soup was a festive celebration of seasoned puréed squash, chicken broth and heavy cream with a bit of fresh thyme and sage. Ginger came to the party too. But alas, not Mary Ann. (Speaking of a misty cast.)

Next up, red kuri squash.

 
 
Stay safe, be well, and eat whatever it takes. ❤️
 
 

Winter Squash: Quashing Questions – Acorn Squash

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Acorn squash is a reliable mainstay of supermarket produce aisles year-round. Sweet, as well as a good vehicle for stuffing, it’s frequently seen sporting a British racing green exterior but it also comes in white and gold models; the plush interior is always yellow-orange. (Talk about your mixed metaphors.) I think of it as falling somewhere in the middle of the dry/satiny-smooth <-> moist/squishy-pulpy texture continuum.


This photo of Maple Sugar Acorn Squash with Spicy Roasted Pepitas was taken at last year’s Thanksgiving extravaganza; if you’re curious, here’s very approximately what I did:

Using an extremely sharp, heavy knife, very carefully slice it in half, pole to pole; remove the seeds and strings. In each half, place about 2 tablespoons of butter and 1 tablespoon of grade A dark amber maple syrup and bake in a hot oven until completely soft. Pour off and reserve the liquids, scoop out and mash the squash adding back the juices, a little freshly grated nutmeg, a pinch of dried rosemary (a little goes a long way) and more melted butter if you like. (I like.)

The topping involves pepitas sautéed in hazelnut oil (with a few drops of sesame oil for good measure) dredged in a combination of sugar, salt, ground cumin, ginger and cinnamon, with a pinch of cayenne pepper. This dish, originally sans crunch, had always been a welcome addition to our Thanksgiving feast, but the topping turned out to be its sine qua non.

Next up, autumn frost squash.

 
 
Stay safe, be well, and eat whatever it takes. ❤️
 
 

Winter Squash: Quashing Questions – Carnival Squash

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Carnival squash is a relatively new hybrid of acorn squash (note the shape) and sweet dumpling squash (note the variegated markings). Its popularity stems from the fact that it is both decorative as well as tasty so you can swap this baby into any recipe that calls for acorn squash or any tablescape that calls for its sweet dumpling relative.

I was particularly curious about the difference between this type and its near-doppelganger dumpling cousin. (It’s a Cathy/Patty thing.) Aside from its slightly larger size (and therefore more capacious cavity), I was surprised to find it a bit less sweet than the dumpling contrary to what I’ve read, although YMMV, but its flesh was considerably firmer, so I decided to press it into service as an edible soup bowl. I lopped off its crown, cleaned out the seeds and strings, and baked it at high heat, cut side down, just until it was soft enough to consume but still maintained enough structural integrity to function as an individual serving bowl, perfect for this creamy chestnut soup, a tasty contrast.

Next up, one of its progenitors, the ubiquitous acorn squash.

 
 
Stay safe, be well, and eat whatever it takes. ❤️
 
 

Winter Squash: Quashing Questions – But First

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A few words that apply universally to these beauties before we get too deep into the weeds (so to speak):

Winter squash represent one-third of the agricultural trio known as the Three Sisters, life-sustaining crops planted ensemble by the indigenous people of North America, the other two siblings being maize (corn) and climbing beans. Despite their radically different appearances and flavor profiles, winter squash are all members of the same genus, Cucurbita (Latin for gourd), native to Mesoamerica and the Andes. Of the five species that are cultivated throughout the world, three are well represented in our marketplaces around these parts: C. maxima (which includes buttercup, kabocha, and red kuri), C. pepo (which includes acorn and delicata squashes along with pumpkin and most summer squashes), and C. moschata (which includes butternut and autumn frost varieties). If you’re attempting to tease out and unravel common threads based on appearance, flavor or texture, it’s a fruitless task (even though they’re fruits, not vegetables), so go back to work solving your four dimensional Rubik’s Cube – trust me, it’s easier.

Winter squash are harvested in late summer through autumn as opposed to the fecund summer squash that flourish during the warmer months – as any generous gardener who may visit you will make evident over armfuls of them. Unlike their summer cousins, their thick skin facilitates fairly long term storage at home in a cool, dry place – which raises the question, can you eat the skin? Depends on whom you ask. (And that caveat will apply repeatedly throughout this discourse.) For example, regarding acorn squash, one highly respected writer (who shall remain nameless) asserts that “the peel is not edible” while another vaunted resource (also to remain nameless) states that “it is most often prepared with its skin on as the skin is edible when cooked”. IMO, for most winter squash, if the skin is thin enough and it looks appetizing, chomp away, but personally, I don’t find any appeal in a peel when the flavorful flesh is the reason for consuming them in the first place – and I won’t miss the roughage.

Most winter squash are well suited to roasting, baking, stuffing, broiling, sautéing, steaming, and grilling, but that’s another area where the experts clash, singling out recommended methods of preparation for each variety that differ from one Cucurbita cuckoo to the next. I tend to favor dry heat (roasting, for example) because it concentrates the flavor of the flesh, but it varies with the recipe, not the squash. For example, roasted or baked kabocha is outstanding, but when it’s simmered in a dish like kabocha no nimono (more about that later), it’s every bit as delicious. My advice is to find a recipe that looks yummy to you and use that as a launching point.

Populating a continuum of textures from dry and satiny-smooth to moist and squishy-pulpy, winter squash are incredibly versatile performers. They can take the lead in a main dish, share the spotlight as a side, rock a supporting role puréed into a sauce or stew, they play well with others in a mélange, and as a matter of course can run the gamut from savory appetizers like soup to sweet desserts like pie; even the seeds can be roasted as a snack: “everything from soup to nuts” as my satiated grandfather intoned unfailingly, patting his bulging belly after every Thanksgiving dinner when I was a kid.

Enough obligatory preamble. If you’re wondering about which varieties of squash will be highlighted in this series, here’s the list (they’ll link as I post them):

Carnival Squash
Acorn Squash
Autumn Frost Squash
Red Kuri Squash
Buttercup Squash
Butternut Squash
Brulee Squash
Honeynut Squash
Delicata Squash
Tetsukabuto Squash
Winter Sweet Kabocha Squash
Orange Kabocha Squash
Sweet Dumpling Squash
Golden Papaya Squash

 
 
Stay safe, be well, and eat whatever it takes. ❤️