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Deli News: Winter Squash
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Gobbling without the Turkey
Producer Profile: Lathrop Farms' Real Turkeys
Thanksgiving Shopping List
by Dan Moore, Deli Manager
If there’s one thing Willy Street Co-op members love it’s variety. Throughout spring and summer one can wander our produce aisle and find fruits, greens, and other veggies in abundance, and menu ideas jump out at you from every corner. Each year we look forward to warm weather and the fresh and local varieties of produce of every sort. There’s picnic food, grilling food, baking food, and a lot of wholesome dinnertime fare. Then we hit winter. Cold weather, less fruit, fewer greens, and no more corn on the cob. No wonder some folks start to get a little down. But let’s look on the bright side. Once the days get shorter and cooler, there’s no better time for turning on the oven and no better time to eat some comforting and tasty meals. More to the point, for the creative cook there’s also some of the best produce available for baking, grilling, and making dinner. A case in point—squash.
With Thanksgiving coming up, all the good press goes to the standards. Turkey, sweet potatoes, and cranberries are on everyone’s list for dinner (at least those of us who are carnivores). And while I can definitely recommend these items, after Thanksgiving I for one am looking for new ideas. There are over 30 varieties of winter squash out there with different textures, levels of sweetness, moisture content, and appearance (obviously). With this level of variety, it’s easy to come up with new and interesting recipes, and serving suggestions that are both delicious and beautiful.
The main varieties of winter squash include acorn, delicata, spaghetti, butternut, and the creatively named “true winter squash.” Each of these are extremely high in vitamin A, and are also good sources for fiber, vitamin C, potassium, and vitamins B1, B3, B5, and B6. The other thing they have in common is that they are all extremely easy to prepare.
The most basic way to prepare any of these types of squash is to halve them, scoop out the seeds and stringy bits, and bake them. Put about a 1/2 inch of water in the bottom of a baking pan and place the squash meat side down. Bake at 350º for about 30-40 minutes, depending upon the type you’ve chosen, and they’re done. A little butter, some salt and pepper, and you’ve got a tasty side dish. But what fun is that? Here are a couple of my favorite ways to cook a squash that gives it a little more panache, and makes it a great centerpiece for your meal.
The most beautiful meal I’ve ever made was with a variety of delicata known as a sweet dumpling squash. It has the coloring of a delicata (a sort of cream color with dark green stripes) but it’s round, small, and has a convenient flat bottom. The meal calls for using the squash as a bowl for a dark red beet soup that really contrasts gorgeously with the squash. Here’s how it goes:
First you’ll need about 8 of the squash. Trim the bottom of the squash so it can stand on it’s own (making sure not to trim too much—you don’t want to go all the way to the cavity) then cut off the top and scoop out the seeds. Brush the squash and the tops lightly with olive oil and sprinkle both the top and the inside of the squash with salt. Arrange the squash in a shallow baking pan (no water needed) with the tops next to them stem side up. Roast about 1-1/4 hours at 375º.
To make the soup you’ll need the following:
1 large red onion, chopped
1 1/2 TB of olive oil
5 medium beets (without greens) peeled and diced
1 red apple (I suggest a Braeburn) peeled and diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 cups veggie broth
4-5 cups water
2 TB apple cider vinegar
1 TB packed brown sugar
In a heavy saucepan, cook the onion in the oil until it’s softened. Add the beets and apple and cook for 5 minutes, then and garlic and cook for another minute, stirring occasionally.
Add broth and 4 cups water and simmer, uncovered, until beets are tender, about 40 minutes. Then stir in vinegar and brown sugar.
Now all you do is puree the soup in a blender and add salt and pepper to taste. If it’s too thick add some more water. Your soup should be a dark red and creamy, although I never puree all of it—I love the small tender chunks of beet and apple in my soup. Pour the soup carefully into the squash bowls and marvel at easy it was to make a meal that looks so amazing. The rich, dark color of the soup combined with the mellow cream and green of the squash is hard to beat. I served this with a couple of sprigs of mint and a dollop of whipped cream to add even more color and flavor, then surrounded it with a salad of greens and raspberry vinaigrette.
My other favorite squash recipe uses spaghetti squash. Spaghetti squash gets its name from the fact that when cooked, its flesh forms thin spaghetti-like strands. Yet for some reason I never took this to its logical conclusion until recently. Why not treat it just like spaghetti? So after searching the web for recipes, I stumbled upon one for spaghetti squash alfredo. It’s surprisingly easy, and is another recipe that makes you look like a graduate of Culinary Institute of America. Here’s what you’ll need:
1/2 medium spaghetti squash
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup heavy cream
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 1/2 cups freshly grated Parmesan
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
Fresh basil leaves
Grape or cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
First, put on a big pot of water to boil. Cut the squash in half lengthwise and remove the innards, just like a pumpkin. Submerge the squash in the boiling water and cook about 20 minutes, or until the flesh is tender and pulls apart in strands—it’s much better to undercook a little, so watch closely towards the end. Cool the squash under cold water and scoop out the flesh, much like you would with an avocado. Using a fork (or your hands if you cook like I do at home) separate the strands and fluff them a bit to give the spaghetti-like look we’re going for. Then set aside the squash while you make your sauce.
To make the sauce, melt half the butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add cream and reduce for about 2 minutes, then add garlic and cheese and whisk quickly, heating through. Stir in the rest of the butter and parsley. That’s it.
Grab your reserved squash and using a set of tongs, or a pasta server, re-heat it by dipping it back in the boiling water. If it’s a little too al dente, just leave it a little longer and let it cook a bit. Place the squash in a bowl and pour your sauce over. They say that 50% of a meal’s taste comes from presentation; in this case it’s closer to 75%. Serve your pasta onto the plates and garnish with the halved tomatoes and a couple of sprigs of fresh basil. The bright colors once again really set off the whole meal nicely, and make it look like a meal you’d find in any of Madison’s fancy restaurants.
You now have an Italian-y meal and a soup which when served in the squash bowl becomes a main course. For more ideas, you can make squash gratin, squash soup, pies, cakes, breakfast hash, casserole, or even grill some. I’ve also served it stuffed with apple and pineapple, in stew, and (in one of my more trying recipes) inside of some cannelloni with braised lamb shanks. Remarkably, my wife and I never got tired of the variations on the theme.