I love winter squash; moist, rich, and hearty, packed with vitamins, fiber and antioxidants. Native to the Americas for over seven thousand years, winter squashes and pumpkins were an unknown vegetable to the early European explorers, who mistook them for a variety of melon. Fortunately for us, squashes were adapted readily by the first New England settlers, providing a much-needed source of food the first winter, and preventing their near-starvation.
Winter squashes come in many different varieties; tall, tan butternut, dark green and round buttercup, blue-green and often giant sized Hubbard, long, ridged delicata with cream, orange and green stripes, and small, dark green acorn. Although often available in the supermarkets all year, winter squash is a fall crop, then when properly cured and stored will keep for several months. We enjoyed the last two of our 2017 butternut squashes in July of this year.
The flesh of winter squash needs to be fully cooked; a fork inserted into the squash should face no resistance. Baking and roasting are my favorite ways to prepare squash. To bake, cut the squash into evenly sized pieces and remove the seeds. Place in a baking dish, skin side up. Add about an inch of water and bake at 350 degrees until fork-tender. Allow to cool, and scrape the flesh from the skin. No peeling required!
To roast, peel and cube the squash. Toss the cubes with oil, chopped herbs or spices of your choice, and roast on a sheet pan in a 400-degree oven. Red curry paste, chipotle peppers, garlic and onions are all delicious additions to golden nuggets of roasted squash. Excellent in salads and soups, roasted squash has no equal in the vegetarian kitchen.
For our family Thanksgiving feast this year, my contribution is Butternut Squash with Caramelized Apples. The combination of apples and squash is always popular with eaters of all ages. The recipe, adapted from “Recipes from the Root Cellar”, can be prepared with any squash or pumpkin puree. Pressed for time? Check out your local market for peeled and cut squash, or frozen squash puree. Prefer to make your own puree? One pound of winter squash or pumpkin yields about 1-¾ cups of mashed or pureed.
This prepared “casserole” will keep in the refrigerator for several days, and transport easily to grandmother’s house. Spicy, fragrant and with a nice apple crunch, Butternut Squash with Caramelized Apples will inspire everyone to appreciate and enjoy one of our oldest, native vegetables.