Squash: The Underdog

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At the very hint of that first autumn breeze, baking season begins. If the fall season is about anything in particular, it would be food. But pumpkin gets all the love; why not shift your focus and your taste buds to something a little more unexpected, but equally versatile and delicious. We’re talking about squash, the underdog of the gourds (not the obscure racquet game).

There are many varieties of squash, and so many things you can do with them. Botanically speaking, squash is a fruit, though it is usually considered a vegetable when it comes to cooking. In addition to the fruit, other parts of the squash plant are edible, including the seeds, which can be eaten or pressed into oils, and the shoots and leaves, which can be used just like any greens. Even the blossoms can be used in cooking.

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image source

Squash can be eaten fresh, cooked, even pickled. The premature fruit is usually referred to as summer squash, and the mature fruit as winter squash, which also has more varieties, like acorn squash, butternut squash, spaghetti squash, and so many others. This post at Suzie’s farm or this awesome guide by This Heart of Mine can help you distinguish them.

It’s the perfect time of year for winter squashes, so we’re gathering up season-appropriate recipes for our favorite and often-overlooked gourd.

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Thai Curry Butternut Squash Soup: image and recipe source

Jessica at How Sweet It Is have a serious soup obsession, which is perfect for us to try ourselves on these chilly, grey days. This is her adaption of a soup recipe from Cooking Light Magazine, using coconut milk.

You will need:

3 tablespoons coconut oil
1 sweet onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
2 tablespoons red curry paste
3 cups low-sodium vegetable stock
4 cups uncooked butternut squash (1-inch) cubes
1 (14-ounce) can coconut milk
1 lime, juiced
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup torn fresh cilantro for serving
1/3 cup chopped roasted peanuts for serving

Directions: Heat a large pot over medium-low heat and add coconut oil. Once it’s melted, add in the onions and the garlic with a pinch of salt and stir. Cook until the onions are soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add in the ginger and curry paste and stir until it is incorporated. Cook the curry and onion mixture for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Pour in the stock and add the squash cubes. Cover the pot and increase the heat to medium. Cook until the squash is soft, about 20 minutes.

Once the squash is soft, turn off the heat and very carefully pour the entire mixture into a blender. Blend until the soup is smooth and pureed. Pour it back into the pot and turn the heat on to medium low. Add in the coconut milk, lime juice, salt and pepper, and stir. Cover and cook the soup for 10 minutes until it’s completely warm. Taste and season additionally if desired. Serve the soup with a garnish of torn cilantro and crushed peanuts.

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Winter Squash and Bean Soup: image and recipe source

While we’re on a soup kick, here’s an alternative veggie version from Edible Living.

You will need:

4 large carrots, scrubbed
4 stalks celery, plus leaves
2 handfuls fingerling potatoes, scrubbed
1 large squash, peeled and cleaned (or 20 ounces cubed butternut squash)
4 small campari or 3 plum tomatoes (optional)
1 large bunch kale
1 small wedge aged Parmigiano Reggiano
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Several sprigs of fresh thyme
6 to 8 cups water, plus as needed
Pinch red pepper flakes
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 15-oz can of your favorite beans, rinsed and drained

Directions: Slice the carrots and celery plus the celery leaves. Quarter the potatoes and cut the squash into chunks. Quarter the tomatoes. Remove the ribs from the kale and chop into bite-sized pieces. Set all the vegetables aside. Trim the parmesan away from the rind (or use a rind saved from a previous wedge) and set the rest aside.

Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot over medium high heat. Add the carrots, celery and celery leaves and stir to coat. Cook until lightly browned, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the potatoes, squash, tomatoes, water, thyme and parmesan rind and bring to a simmer. Add a generous pinch of red pepper flakes and season with salt and pepper. Cook until the vegetables are tender, the squash is beginning to break down, and the soup is full of flavor, about 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Stir in the beans and cook to warm through, 2 minutes. Remove the lid and add the kale. Stir to cook (uncovered) until bright green and tender, 3 minutes more. Ladle into bowls and grate parmesan cheese generously over the top. Serve warm with buttered bread.

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Quinoa, Butternut Squash & Kale Salad: image and recipe source

This one, from Tartelette, is gluten free and a nice take on fall eating.

You will need:

1 1/2 cups quinoa
3 cups water
2 teaspoons olive oil, divided
1 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 cups peeled, cored and diced butternut squash
1 1/2 cups roughly chopped kale (previously washed and cleaned)
2 teaspoons fresh thyme, chopped
vinaigrette - recipe here

Directions: In a large pot, bring the quinoa and water to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer, covered until all the water has been absorbed (about 20 minutes). Remove from the heat, fluff with a fork and place in a large bowl to cool for 20 minutes.

In the meantime, heat one teaspoons olive oil in a large skillet, add the onion and cook until it turns translucid. Add the garlic, butternut squash and kale. Cover with a lid and cook for about 10 minutes on medium-low heat. Remove the lid, check that the butternut squash is tender but not mushy or hard when you poke a piece with a knife. Add the thyme and continue cooking until the all the liquid creating by the cover has evaporated. Let cool to room temperature. Gently fold the cooked quinoa and the cooked vegetables together along with the vinaigrette.

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Soft Tacos with Winter Squash and Chipotles: image and recipe source 

An even more unexpected twist on squash, this one comes from The New York Times by Martha Rose Shulman.

You will need:

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 pounds winter squash, such as butternut or banana squash, peeled and cut in 1/2 inch dice
Salt to taste
2 to 4 chipotle chiles in adobo (to taste), removed from the adobo and minced
1/2 cup plain low-fat yogurt
1/4 pound Mexican queso ranchero or feta
8 corn tortillas

Directions: Cook the squash. Heat half of the olive oil in a large, heavy cast iron or nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add half the squash in a single layer. Turn the heat down to medium. Cook five minutes or until the squash is nicely browned on one side; shake the pan to turn the squash or use tongs. Cook for another five to 10 minutes, shaking the pan often or stirring with a wooden spoon, until the squash is nicely browned and tender when pierced by a knife or skewer. Season to taste with salt, and transfer to a bowl. Repeat with the remaining olive oil and squash.

When the second batch of squash is tender, return the first batch of squash to the pan and stir everything together. Add the chipotles, and toss in the pan for one more minute. Remove from the heat, stir for a minute and then stir in the yogurt. Keep warm while you heat the tortillas, but don’t allow the yogurt to boil or it will curdle.

Heat the tortillas. Fill the bottom of a steamer with 1/2 inch of water, and bring to a boil. Meanwhile, wrap the tortillas in a heavy kitchen towel, and place in the steamer basket above the boiling water. Cover tightly and steam one minute, then turn off the heat but do not uncover. Let stand for 15 minutes.

Pass the hot tortillas, and top with the squash. Sprinkle on the queso fresco, fold the tortillas over and enjoy.

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