I think that the thing I like best about winter squashes are their names – Sweet Mama, Long Island Cheese, Blue Banana, Marblehead, Turk’s Turban, Red Bonnet, Sweet Dumpling, Paw Paw – on and on they go. Even their scientific name, cucurbita curls off the tongue. And, the way they look is pretty neat, also. Warty, streaked, lumpy, sectioned, striped, dotted, scalloped – they are all magnificent moments of natural beauty.
One of the most admired books of recent vintage is devoted to them; Amy Goldman’s The Compleat Squash, A Passionate Grower’s Guide to Pumpkins, Squashes, and Gourds with photographs by Victor Schrager. This book showcases the glory of one of nature’s most commanding vegetables (although I’m not thrilled with the recipes offered).
Although most squash have an innate sweetness, many recipes add a little sugar (brown or white), honey, or maple syrup to accent the positive. You can serve any of the squashes as a side dish, but I often use them as the center of a dish. One of our favorite fall and winter meals is stuffed squash. I have no single recipe, but make a stuffing out of whatever I have on hand. Sometimes I use a little bit of meat – prosciutto, chicken, sausage (even soy sausage), sometimes not – just some grains, nuts, and aromatics. Sometimes I serve them with a sauce – marinara, curry, green – sometimes not. I find that all winter squashes make a great canvas for culinary artistry. Plus, they usually do not cost much, are extremely filling, and nutritious to boot.
Butternut Squash Soup
3 medium butternut squash, peeled, halved, seeded, and cubed
1 cup chopped sweet onion
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger or galangal
Approximately ¾ cup maple syrup (honey or light brown sugar)
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
4½ cups chicken stock (or nonfat, low sodium chicken broth)
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
¼ cup heavy cream, optional
1 tablespoon minced fresh chives or parsley, optional
Combine the squash cubes, onion, and ginger in a steamer basket placed over boiling water. Cover and steam for about 15 minutes or until the squash is very tender.
Divide the syrup in half. Set aside.
Working in batches, place the squash mixture in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Using half of the syrup, place some of the syrup along with a portion of the nutmeg, cinnamon, and cardamom and the stock into each batch. Process to a smooth purée. You should use all of the stock and spices.
As the squash is puréed, transfer it to a saucepan.
When all of the squash is puréed, season with salt and pepper to taste. Taste and, if necessary, add all or part of the remaining syrup to achieve the desired sweetness. (The soup may be made up to this point and stored, covered and refrigerated, for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months.) Place over medium heat and bring to just a simmer.
Serve hot, garnished with a swirl of heavy cream and a sprinkle of chives.
Curried Winter Squash
10 whole cloves garlic or galangal
One 2-inch piece cinnamon stick
1 tablespoon cardamom seeds
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1 teaspoon turmeric
¼ teaspoon fennel seeds
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper or to taste
⅓ cup clarified butter or vegetable oil
1½ cups diced onion
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1 dried red hot chile
¾ cup unsweetened coconut milk
1½ cups vegetable broth
1½ cups peeled, seeded, and diced fresh tomatoes
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
8 cups (from about 2 large) cubed winter squash
½ cup heavy cream, at room temperature
1 teaspoon garam masala
Basmati rice, polenta, or grits for serving, optional
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro, for optional garnish
Roasted, unsalted cashews, optional garnish
Place the cloves, cinnamon stick, cardamom seeds, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, mustard seeds, turmeric, and fennel seeds in a small frying pan over medium heat. Fry, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes or until nicely roasted and very aromatic. Remove from the heat and pour into a spice grinder. Add the cayenne and grind to a powder. Set aside.
Heat the clarified butter in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and fry, stirring frequently, for about 12 minutes or until beginning to color. Lower the heat and continue frying for another 10 minutes or so or until the onions are a deep, rich brown. Stir in the garlic and ginger and continue to fry for 3 minutes. Stir in the reserved spice mixture along with the dried chile and coconut milk and cook, stirring frequently, for 2 minutes.
Stir in the broth, tomatoes, and lemon juice, raise the heat, and bring to a boil. Season with salt and pepper, lower the heat, and simmer for about 20 minutes or until slightly thickened.
Stir in the squash, raise the heat, and bring to a boil. Immediately lower the heat and cook for about 12 minutes or until the squash is just tender.
Stir in the cream and garam masala and cook for 5 minutes.
Serve hot over steamed basmati rice, polenta, or grits, if desired. Garnish with chopped cilantro and unsalted, roasted cashews, if desired.
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