|Wendy Karush’s squash, a Burpee butterbush, reads, “Cook me, mash me, add me to pancake batter.” The squash was displayed at the Exhibition Hall at the Common Ground Country Fair. English photo.|
by Roberta Bailey
Last fall defied all that I know to be true of weather in New England. After waiting until mid-October for the still elusive frost to come, I realized that I was now two or three weeks behind my usual fall schedule of garden cleanup and compost building. I began pulling lush pepper and tomato plants, wheeling my loaded cart past equally lush rows of unfrosted basil. I bit my lip and pulled summer squash and pole beans that were still producing blossoms and immature fruit.
Ignoring the weather and going by the calendar, I pulled beets and put them into an unusually warm root cellar. The carrots would have to wait, a juggle between trying to cool the root cellar and the fear of a hard freeze. The cabbages had to be harvested, as they were starting to burst. I guess 10 inches of rain taxes even the densest storage cabbage.
“Never before” became my mantra, muttered under my breath with each task. I mowed the buckwheat that covered my future garlic plot. It was supposed to have been frosted and tilled in weeks ago.
Harvesting winter squash and pumpkins was a prickly business. Never before had these been harvested, cured and put away while the morning glories still climbed their trellis. I left the lush nasturtiums that have spread out of the flower gardens. Bulb planting would have to wait.
About the only thing that did happen on time this fall was my intense craving for winter squash, which kicks in about a week after the squash are harvested and a week or so before they are fully cured. I always thought the cold weather triggered my need to bake and eat dense, nourishing food, but this year the cravings came in the midst of 60-degree weather and rain. Never before have I baked winter squash and looked out my kitchen window to see a row of sweet basil, not a nip of frost damage on it.
Now that the cold has come and ice is forming on the ponds, and friends and family gather to help pass the dark of winter, pull out some winter squash and dress it up for the party.
1 cup cranberries
1 apple, cubed
juice and zest of 1 small orange
1 to 2 Tbsp. honey (optional)
1 Tbsp. melted butter (optional)
dash of salt
Mix squash, apple cubes and cranberries together. Arrange them in a well-greased, glass baking dish. Mix the orange juice, zest, honey, butter and salt, then drizzle this over the squash mixture. If your squash is already sweet, you won’t need the honey. Cover the dish with a lid or foil. Bake at 400 degrees until tender, 25 to 40 minutes. Makes 4 servings.
WINTER SQUASH SOUFFLÉ
This dish is very easy to make, a great addition to any meal, and sweet enough to be dessert. I have added 3/4 cup finely chopped cranberries to it for a different flair.
3 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1/4 cup whole wheat (pastry) flour
3/4 cup milk, soymilk, or orange juice if using the dish as a dessert
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. freshly grated ginger (optional)
dash of nutmeg
4 eggs, separated
OVEN-ROASTED SQUASH WITH GARLIC, ROSEMARY AND PARSLEY
Peel, seed and cut into 1-inch cubes any kabocha, butternut, Hubbard or acorn squash. Toss with olive oil, salt and pepper. Spread the chunks evenly on a baking sheet and roast at 400 degrees until soft – 30 to 40 minutes. Peel and finely mince two cloves of garlic. Sauté in 1/4 cup olive oil until soft but not browned. Add 1/2 tsp. finely minced rosemary to the hot oil and garlic. Toss the squash with the oil, adding a handful of minced parsley. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
GREEN CHILI AND SQUASH SOUP
This soup can be made with summer squash or cushaw or winter squash. I use half winter squash and half zucchini purée that I freeze in summer for use in winter soups.
1 to 3 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1 large onion, diced
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. salt or to taste
1/2 tsp. oregano
1/2 to 1 tsp. cumin (optional)
2 ears fresh corn or 11/2 cups frozen or canned corn kernels
1/2 to 1 cup chopped mild green chilies, fresh or canned
1 cup grated Monterey Jack or cheddar cheese
Peel, seed and steam the winter squash or chop and steam the summer squash. Purée until smooth. Sauté the onion in the oil in a large skillet, adding the oregano, cumin and salt in the last minute of cooking. In a soup pot, combine the squash and onion mixture, adding as much stock as needed for desired soup thickness. Heat and stir, adding in the corn and chilies. Simmer for 15 minutes. Adjust seasonings. Serve with cheese sprinkled on top and tortilla chips. Serves 4 to 6.
SAGE AND BUTTERNUT SQUASH RISOTTO
fresh sage leaves
salt and pepper
7 to 8 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1 large onion
5 Tbsp. butter
2 cups Arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup grated Reggiano Parmesan cheese, plus extra for garnish
Dice the squash into very small cubes. Place the squash in a heavy-bottomed pot and cook with a few whole sage leaves, salt and 2 cups of stock. Cook until tender but not too soft, about 10 minutes.
Mince five sage leaves and dice the onion.
Heat the remaining stock and bring to a low simmer. In a separate sauté pan, melt 3 Tbsp. butter and add the minced sage and onion. Sauté until translucent. Add the rice to the onion and a pinch of salt, then cook over low heat for three to four minutes, until the rice is slightly translucent.
Turn up the heat and pour in the white wine. When the wine has been absorbed, add just enough hot stock to cover the rice. Stir well and reduce the heat.
Keep the rice at a gentle simmer and continue to add hot stock, 1/2 cup at a time, letting the rice absorb each addition. While the rice cooks, sauté the last five sage leaves in 2 Tbsp. butter until crispy.
After about 15 minutes, the rice will be nearly cooked. Stir in the cooked squash and the cheese. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes. Taste for texture and consistency, adding a bit of stock if needed. Adjust the seasoning.
When done, serve in bowls and garnish with crisp sage leaves and extra cheese. Serves 6.
About the author: Roberta is a long-time writer for The MOF&G. She lives in Vassalboro.