Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Squash that Squash

The squash is still piling up and the special Winter Share deliveries offered by our CSA begin on Friday. That will consist of a big box full of a two-week supply of winter storage vegetables, which is likely to include, you guessed it, more winter squash.The little ones are great for stuffing, and I intend to make Quinoa Stuffed Squash for dinner tonight. The big squash, however, like the kabocha, the huge butternut, and the nice sugar pumpkin we got just in time for Halloween are more than we can handle in one round of dinner for two. And so the day has come to repackage the winter squash, so to speak: cut it, gut it, roast it, scoop it, puree it, and bag it for storage. In short, it’s time to squash that squash.

A frozen puree of winter squash is a beautiful thing for quick week-night meals and rivals canned pumpkin for convenience in fall baking. You can use just about any of the sweet, orange-fleshed squash when a recipe calls for pumpkin (spaghetti squash is an exception). Some varieties may be a bit fibrous or stringy, however, so you might want to process them more thoroughly, or strain them before using them in place of canned pumpkin. I just made “pumpkin” waffles last weekend (using this recipe from Cooking Light magazine) with some pureed kabocha squash, and they were terrific.

Of course the catch to having this homemade version of a healthy convenience food on hand is that you have to do the work to get it. The hardest part of cooking a winter squash is cutting the darned thing open. I use the low-tech and somewhat brutal rubber-mallet-and-cleaver method. I whack the cleaver (you could use any large knife, but I like the wide blade of the cleaver) into the squash so that it pierces the skin, then pound on the cleaver with the mallet, shifting it as needed until I cut through the whole squash. I suppose this is technically somewhat dangerous and I should tell you to be careful, but the sheer amount of aggression relief may counteract some of the danger. Trust me, there has been more than one day when beating on an innocent squash has probably kept me from doing similar harm to fellow humans.

Once the squash has been cut open, it’s just a matter of scooping out the seeds and their fibers (you can clean and toast them), roasting the flesh and mashing it or pureeing it. I then use the resulting squash puree in a variety of recipes, some of which I hope to post here over the next couple months. You could also simply season the puree with salt, pepper, herbs or warm spices like cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg, and serve it as a side dish.

Of course, if this all seems like too much work, you could simply buy a few cans of pumpkin or a box of frozen squash puree and call it a day. For me and my mounting pile of fabulous winter vegetables, however, it’s really not an option. I will, instead, be squashing lots of squash.

Roasted Winter Squash Puree Recipe

Winter squash, such as pumpkin, acorn, butternut, kabocha, carnival, etc, cut in half (or into smaller pieces), seeds and seed fibers removed
Salt and pepper, optional

1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Place the squash in a baking dish, roasting pan or on a sheet pan. Sprinkle the inside of the squash with a small pinch of salt and pepper if desired. If the squash can conveniently lie cut-side down in the pan, place it that way. It will keep the edges of the flesh from getting too dried out. (If you roast the squash cut-side up, it will still be just fine, if a little less moist.)

2. Bake the squash at 350 F for 40 minutes to 1 hour, depending on the size of the squash. The squash is fully cooked when it is easily pierced with a fork all the way through. Remove from the oven and cool until very easy to handle.

3. Scoop the tender squash flesh away from the skin and place it in the work bowl of a food processer. Process the squash until pureed to desired consistency. Alternatively, if you prefer a coarser mash to a puree, place the cooked squash in a large bowl and mash it with a potato masher or a fork.

4. Squash puree can be used right away, but to preserve it for later use, cool completely. Cover and refrigerate or place it in a freezable container or freezer bag and freeze until ready to use. Thaw in the refrigerator when needed. It would be best to use refrigerated squash within a week.

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