Early fall marks the start of winter squash season, a time when farmers' markets and CSA shares are loaded down with an assortment of these bulbous, colorful gourds. Squash can be intimidating in the kitchen. From the outside, there isn't much indication of what lies within. And when you slice them open, the fibrous, fleshy pulp doesn't immediately look appetizing. With a little know-how and confidence in the kitchen, you can coax out the buttery, nutty and complex flavors of these tasty squash that complement both sweet and savory dishes.
There are myriad varieties available in Middle Tennessee. Butternut, acorn, spaghetti, delicata and pumpkins, beyond the Halloween variety, are available from many growers. In addition to these more traditional types, look for heirloom and specialty varieties such as rampicante tatume, a.k.a. trumpet squash. According to Catherine Simmons of Flying S Farms in Woodbury, TN, rampicante is like a butternut squash on steroids with a long, hooked neck.
Once you've learned some squash basics, you can handle any squash in the kitchen. Of course, the best rule of thumb when encountering a new variety is to ask the grower for their favorite cooking methods and recipes. The following is an overview and some recipe suggestions for four of the most popular winter squash you'll see this season.
Carl Thoni of Kirkview Farms says acorn is one of his winter squash bestsellers. With its pretty green, ribbed skin, oval shape and nutty flavor, acorn squash is wonderful roasted and served straight from its shell. To roast cut the squash through its stem and scrape out the seeds. Drizzle inside and outside with olive oil or melted butter, kosher salt and pepper. Roast at 350 degrees cut side down for about 45 minutes to 1 hour or until the flesh is easily scooped from the skin.
A long, cylindrical-shaped squash that's slightly wider at its base, butternut squash has sweet, bright orange flesh. Butternut holds up in soups or stews and pairs well with sweet potatoes. Its flesh can be bland. Try it roasted in its shell like acorn or peel and cube the squash and roast it, stirring occasionally. Cooking it in this fashion will brown the cubes on each side, caramelizing - and thus deepening - the flavor. Add cooked cubes to stuffing. It pairs well with salty sausage. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and serve on its own.
This pale yellow and green-striped squash features flavorful yellow flesh that some say tastes like a mix between sweet potato and butternut squash. Its thin skin gets crispy when roasted and can be eaten.
This oblong yellow squash gets its named from its flesh, which separates into long spaghetti-like strands when cooked. After slicing in half lengthwise, remove the seeds and roast like the acorn squash above. Once roasted, scrape out the strands with a fork and toss with marinara, Parmesan cheese or a favorite pasta sauce. For a sweet application, Simmons suggests serving the roasted strands with Chimichurri, an Argentinean sauce made from parsley, herbs and olive oil. Or, she says, before roasting drizzle squash with melted butter and brown sugar and serve for dessert.