Winter Squash: Quashing Questions – Winter Sweet Kabocha Squash

👨‍🍳 Cooking in the Time of COVID 👨‍🍳

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I know kabocha as a dark green, firm-fleshed squash often reputed to taste like a blend of pumpkin, chestnut, and sweet potato, and it’s another of my favorites (most Japanese squashes garner high marks from me). But one crate at the farmers’ market bore a sign that read “winter sweet kabocha” and another was identified as merely “winter kabocha” so I inferred that they were two different varieties. I bought one of each (see the pair side by side in this photo) and decided to pass on the standard green variety – I mean really, how many kabochas can I use? Since the pair tasted pretty much the same (I suspect it was a labeling issue), I’m pretty sure in retrospect that purchasing both winter versions had been unnecessary and it would have been wiser to compare winter sweet kabocha to the more common green one (which I didn’t do) or the orange variation (which I did do).


Since kabocha of any color holds its shape commendably when steamed or simmered…


…I couldn’t resist making Kabocha no Nimono (かぼちゃの煮物), a classic Japanese treatment that simmers chunks of kabocha in dashi (Japanese soup stock) seasoned with sake and/or mirin, soy sauce, sugar and salt; the garnish is fresh ginger sliced into matchsticks. Very satisfying.

Next up, the aforementioned orange kabocha squash.
 
(For those who are just joining us, the saga begins here.)
 
 
Stay safe, be well, and eat whatever it takes. ❤️
 
 

Winter Squash: Quashing Questions – Tetsukabuto Squash

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The Japanese tetsukabuto squash is a cross between kabocha and butternut squashes, which makes it a C. moschata and a C. maxima hybrid.


Its flavor reminded me of sweet pumpkin with nutty overtones; on the dry/satiny-smooth side of the texture continuum, it’s sufficiently firm to cut into cubes, for example, and it will retain its shape fairly well. Intensely flavorful, it’s another standout of the group.


I tinkered with a couple of different preparations for this one. This classic combination was an afterthought (that’s why there’s not all that much of it) but it was delicious with this squash. Essentially, there are four main ingredients: orecchiette pasta, crumbled hot Italian sausage, lacinato kale sautéed with garlic in the sausage drippings, and dollops of squash (which should have been cubes), along with a bit of minced fresh sage. A more decadent version adds a splash of chicken broth and heavy cream – another superb afterthought that didn’t make it into this photo but fortunately did make it into my mouth 😉. Garnish with freshly grated nutmeg and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. I only wish I had made more of it.

Next up, winter sweet kabocha squash.
 
(For those who are just joining us, the saga begins here.)
 
 
Stay safe, be well, and eat whatever it takes. ❤️
 
 

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.
 
(For those who are just joining us, the saga begins here.)
 
 
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.
 
(For those who are just joining us, the saga begins here.)
 
 
Stay safe, be well, and eat whatever it takes. ❤️
 
 

Winter Squash: Quashing Questions – Brulee Squash

👨‍🍳 Cooking in the Time of COVID 👨‍🍳

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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.
 
(For those who are just joining us, the saga begins here.)
 
 
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.
 
(For those who are just joining us, the saga begins here.)
 
 
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.
 
(For those who are just joining us, the saga begins here.)
 
 
Stay safe, be well, and eat whatever it takes. ❤️
 
 

Winter Squash: Quashing Questions – Red Kuri Squash

👨‍🍳 Cooking in the Time of COVID 👨‍🍳

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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.
 
(For those who are just joining us, the saga begins here.)
 
 
Stay safe, be well, and eat whatever it takes. ❤️
 
 

Winter Squash: Quashing Questions – Autumn Frost Squash

👨‍🍳 Cooking in the Time of COVID 👨‍🍳

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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.
 
(For those who are just joining us, the saga begins here.)
 
 
Stay safe, be well, and eat whatever it takes. ❤️
 
 

Winter Squash: Quashing Questions – Acorn Squash

👨‍🍳 Cooking in the Time of COVID 👨‍🍳

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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.
 
(For those who are just joining us, the saga begins here.)
 
 
Stay safe, be well, and eat whatever it takes. ❤️