November 6, 2013

Soup to Nuts: It's winter squash weather

The gourds of autumn, in all their crazy-quilt colors and endearingly lumpy shapes, are rumbling in at your local farm and farmers market.

By Meredith Goad mgoad@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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A variety of squash is displayed at the Portland Farmers Market. From bottom, clockwise, sugar dumpling, acorn, delicata and golden acorn.

Photos by John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

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Growers say that a lot of squash varieties taste better now than when they were freshly harvested in September.

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n But that doesn’t work every time because sometimes squash grows higher up on the stem and never touches the ground. This is particularly true for acorn and delicata squash. So check the stem as well. As a squash ripens, the stem may change from green to a brownish or whitish color.

n Generally speaking, Wilcox says, bigger is better because a big squash is more mature. But not always. A variety of acorn squash called Honey Bear is smaller than another acorn variety called Jet, but the Honey Bear is sweeter. So this rule works best within varieties.

COOKING TIPS

Winter squash has thick skin that can be difficult, even dangerous, to peel. There are a couple of ways to deal with this. One is to just throw the squash into the oven for a few minutes and cook it long enough for the skin to soften.

You can also just cook it whole, or cut it in half, and then scoop out the flesh when it’s done. “You actually get more flesh that way,” Snell says.

Just be sure if you cook the squash whole to stab it with a knife a few times before putting it in the oven so you don’t have a squash explosion.

WHAT ABOUT STORAGE?

It’s better not to store your winter squash in the fridge, Snell said. The optimal storage temperature is 50 to 60 degrees, so a hallway that’s away from heat sources but doesn’t get too cold will do.

Root cellars are fine, but the cellar temperature should be closer to 50 than to 40.

BUTTERNUT SQUASH

Butternut squash is one of the more popular, and versatile, kinds of winter squash. It’s most often made into a delicious, creamy soup.

“I like squash apple soup with maple in it,” Snell said. “That makes it more sweet. I also like curried squash soup. There’s a lot of directions you can go with that.”

Butternut squash makes a good pie, Wilcox said, and it’s great in chili. Just dice it and throw it in the chili about an hour before it’s done. It adds color and won’t turn to mush.

The Snells have a recipe for squash lasagna on their website (go to snellfamilyfarm.com, then click on recipes) that uses leftover squash instead of ricotta and an alfredo sauce instead of tomato sauce. (Buttercup or hubbard works well in addition to butternut, but you might need to add more butter or stock to the buttercup squash to get it the right consistency.)

“People also use butternut squash for filling raviolis,” Snell said. “We sell butternut and hubbard to Ribollita, and they make their famous ravioli with that.”

Snell said a variety of butternut squash called Ultra Butternut that has a long neck and a lot of flesh is good for making soup for a crowd or a lot of raviolis.

Finally, Snell swears by using butternut squash in burritos. She chunks the squash and roasts it, then fries it on the stovetop to get the edges crispy in oil. Add cumin or other spices, then mix the squash with meat or peppers, mushrooms and beans. Butternut squash can also be used as a substitute for refried beans.

ACORN SQUASH

Snell calls acorn squash the “consolation prize squash.”

“Acorn’s not my favorite because it’s not as sweet,” she said. “I feel like almost everything you could do with acorn you can do with delicata, and it’s just sweeter.”

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