Butternut squash — it’s a little buttery and a little nutty. Sort of.
It is also plentiful right now, ludicrously plentiful, and therefore extremely reasonably priced. Local farmers grow acres of the stuff, and each bite is jam-packed full of Vitamins A and C.
So it is local, cheap, delicious, and good for you. What’s not to like?
Yes, butternut squash looks a little funny, but so do a lot of squash. It is tan in color, long, and bulbous on one end. And it can be hard to cut, so be sure to use a sharp knife, the heavier the better.
But once you get it cut and cooked, few things are better; especially at this time of the year, when the nights have a crisp chill. As a vegetable — technically, it’s a fruit, but nobody eats it as a fruit — most people think of it only as a side dish. But it is hearty enough to feature as the central ingredient of an entree.
When many folks think of butternut squash, which they probably don’t do very often, their first thought is: soup. And why not? The texture of winter squash is absolutely made for soup, it purées with ease, and the subtle-but-deep flavor is perfect for a fall or winter’s day.
I also love the way curry powder works as a natural compliment to squash soup, the rich tastes blending so harmoniously that they form their own unique, unified flavor. Apples, especially when they are a little tart, provide a classic counterpoint.
I found a recipe that essentially keeps the soup to these basic, healthy ingredients, without any of the (admittedly delicious) additions that can add calories: cream, milk, and coconut milk. And because the curry powder makes it seem Indian, it is served with an assortment of condiments on top or on the side.
When I was growing up, what we thought of as Indian food always came with an assortment of condiments such as cashews, raisins, and shredded coconut. I don’t know why. Maybe they do that in India, but I’ve never seen them served at an Indian restaurant. Indian restaurants tend to serve chutneys, pickled onions, sauces, and pappadam, those addictive lentil crackers.
This soup, perhaps comfortingly, comes with many of the condiments I grew up with: scallions, coconut, cashews, and bananas. And because it has just a hint of curry, it should not be too spicy for anyone’s delicate palate.
I next made a made a batch of butternut squash pot stickers, which are sort of the Asian version of ravioli (you can also make butternut squash ravioli). It was simple and kind of fun: You boil the squash with a bit of soy sauce, brown sugar, and salt. You mash it with a fork — that’s one of the fun parts — and add scallions and ginger.
You then place that mixture by the spoonful in the middle of a wonton wrapper — this is another fun part — and wrap the wrapper around it, pressing the moistened edges together to form a triangle. Pan fry it until it is golden and delicious, and serve it with a dipping sauce of thinned soy sauce and sesame seeds.
Equally as enticing is a risotto with butternut squash, Monterey Jack cheese, and pancetta, if you have it, which I didn’t.
Unlike a traditional risotto, which involves constant stirring and the slow and gradual introduction of stock, this one mixes all of the rice and stock together for an initial simmer. The pot is then popped into the oven for a constant-temperature simmer, and then it all sits off-heat to allow the rice to absorb more of the stock.
It is much less labor-intensive to make this way, and although the result does not have the amazing creaminess that defines risotto, it is nearly every bit as delectable. The great taste comes from a fine selection of ingredients, including a bit of sweet wine (Madeira or Marsala, though I used an Amontillado sherry), onion, garlic, Monterey Jack cheese, butternut squash, and pancetta. If you have it. Which, as I said, I didn’t.
But I did have sweet potatoes, so I made an intriguing and surprising side dish, puréed roasted squash and yams with citrus. It’s the citrus, so unexpected, that is the surprise.
It’s also good for you (low calories, no saturated or polyunsaturated fat, no cholesterol), but you don’t have to tell your other guests that. Just let them smell the cinnamon and taste the mixture of puréed squash and sweet potatoes, accented with that delightful bit of citrus zest, and they will think they are eating something special.
And so they are. The New York Times, which originally created the recipe, recommends serving it for Thanksgiving. And that’s not a bad idea. But you just might also want to make it a few times between now and then. You know, just to make sure it’s right.
Contact Daniel Neman at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6155.
Roasted Butternut Squash Soup and Curry Condiments
Preheat oven to 425°.
Cut the butternut squash, onions, and apples into 1-inch cubes. Place them in a large bowl and toss them with the olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper. Divide the squash mixture between 2 greased sheet pans and spread in a single layer. Roast for 35-45 minutes, tossing occasionally, until very tender.
Meanwhile, heat the chicken stock to a simmer. When the vegetables are done, put them through a food mill fitted with the medium blade. (Alternatively, you can place the roasted vegetables in batches in a food processor. Add some of the chicken stock and coarsely purée. Or you can add the vegetables and stock to a large pot and coarsely purée with an immersion blender — be sure to unplug it before cleaning squash from the blade).
When all of the vegetables are processed, place them in a large pot and add enough chicken stock, if necessary, to make a thick soup. Add the curry powder, 1 teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper. Taste for seasonings to be sure there's enough salt and pepper to bring out the curry flavor. Reheat and serve hot with scallions, coconut, cashews, and banana as condiments either on the side or on top of each serving.
Yield: 6-8 servings; Source: Adapted from Ina Garten, via Food Network
Squash Pot Stickers
Put squash, 2 tablespoons soy sauce, sugar, and salt in a medium saucepan. Cover with water; bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook until squash is very soft, about 12 minutes; drain. Transfer to a medium bowl; mash with a fork until smooth. Stir in scallions and ginger. In a separate small bowl, stir together sesame seeds, ¼ cup water, and remaining ½ cup soy sauce; set aside.
Place 1 scant tablespoon filling in the center of each wrapper; brush edges with water. Bring up corners to make a triangle; press to seal. Place on a baking sheet; freeze until firm, 10-15 minutes.
Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat until hot but not smoking. Add 10 pot stickers, and cook, shaking pan frequently, until bottoms are golden brown. Turn pot stickers over; very carefully pour in ½ cup water, and cover. Steam until most liquid is evaporated, 2-3 minutes. Transfer to a serving dish; cover with foil to keep warm. Repeat with remaining oil and pot stickers. Serve with dipping sauce.
Yield: 20-30 pot stickers; Source: Martha Stewart Kids
Risotto with Butternut Squash, Pancetta, and Jack Cheese
Preheat oven to 475°.
Place squash on a nonstick jelly-roll pan coated with cooking spray. Bake at 475° for 20 minutes or until tender, turning after 10 minutes.
Reduce oven temperature to 325°.
Combine broth, water, wine, and tarragon in a saucepan; bring to a simmer. Keep warm over low heat.
Cook pancetta in a large ovenproof Dutch oven over medium-high heat until crisp. Remove pancetta from pan; drain on a paper towel. Discard pan drippings. Add onion and oil to pan; sauté 10 minutes or until onion is tender. Add garlic; sauté 1 minute. Add rice to pan; sauté 1 minute. Stir in broth mixture; bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat, and simmer over low heat, uncovered, for 10 minutes. (Do not stir; rice will have a liquid consistency similar to stew).
Place pan in oven; bake at 325° for 15 minutes. Remove from oven. Stir in the squash, pancetta, cheese, salt, and pepper. Cover with a clean cloth; let stand 10 minutes (rice will continue to cook). Sprinkle with pine nuts. Garnish with tarragon sprigs, if desired.
Yield: 4 servings; Source: Cooking Light
Puréed Roasted Squash, Yams with Citrus
Cook's note: You can bake the squash and sweet potatoes up to 2 days ahead and reheat in a medium oven or on top of the stove.
Preheat oven to 400°. Cover a large baking sheet with foil and brush the foil with olive oil or spray with cooking spray. Cut the squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds and fibers. Lay on the baking sheet, cut-side down. Pierce the sweet potatoes in several places with the tip of a paring knife and place them on the baking sheet. Place in the oven and bake 1 hour, or until the sweet potatoes and squash are thoroughly tender when pierced with a knife.
Meanwhile, bring 1 quart of water to a boil in a saucepan and add the zests. Boil for 3 minutes and drain.
When the squash and sweet potatoes are tender, remove the skins and mash the rest with a fork, potato masher, or standing mixer fitted with the paddle, or put it through a food mill (a food processor makes the mixture too watery). Stir in the citrus zest, cinnamon, olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste.
Scrape the mixture into a heavy skillet or saucepan and cook, stirring, over medium heat, for 10-15 minutes, until it is thick and steamy. Serve hot.
Yield: 6-8 servings Source: New York Times