November 16, 2011

Winter squash: low in fat, high in fiber, versatility

They come in an array of colors and skin textures and are finding their way into soups, ravioli and salads.

By SUSAN M. SELASKY McClatchy Newspapers

Grocery store bins and farmers markets are brimming with winter squash. It's hard not to notice these versatile vegetables.

COOKING WITH SQUASH
click image to enlarge

Squash overruns the produce bins at this time of year.

McClatchy Newspapers

COOKING WITH SQUASH
click image to enlarge

The round, pumpkin-like butternut squash stars here in Enchiladas Calabaza.

McClatchy Newspapers

SQUASH BASICS

CHOOSING: Look for squash that is firm and heavy. Avoid any with decay or soft spots.

PREPARING: Maren Jackson, co-owner of Seva restaurant in Ann Arbor, Mich., says to first slice off the top or bottom so you have a flat surface to rest it on before peeling. Peel with a paring knife or vegetable peeler.

WITH A LARGE SQUASH like Hubbard, insert a knife and use a meat cleaver or rubber mallet to pound the knife into the squash. (If you do an Internet search, you will see people throwing them on concrete to split them open.)

SMALLER VARIETIES such as acorn, delicata and carnival can be pierced several times all over and then microwaved a few minutes to soften the skin. That makes it easier to cut through.

STORING, BAKING, ROASTING: Most squash will last for weeks stored in a cool, dark place. To bake, cut in half or into pieces and remove the seeds. Place cut side up on a baking sheet. Brush with olive oil, melted butter or margarine and, if you like, a sprinkling of brown sugar. Bake at 350 degrees until tender, about 45 minutes. To roast, cut squash in half lengthwise. Rub with a little olive oil and place the cut side down on a sided baking sheet. Roast at 400 degrees until tender, about 45 minutes.

ONCE IT'S COOKED, keep it just a few days in the refrigerator. You also can freeze cooked squash. Place cooked cubes or puree in sealable freezer bags or containers and freeze up to one year.

They're dressed in an array of oranges and reds, light and dark greens, even pale cream speckled with green.

They have smooth, rough or warty skins and odd names like kabocha and calabaza. Some, like turban and acorn, are named for their shapes. The long, yellow strands of spaghetti squash, appropriately enough, make a great stand-in for pasta. Bell-shaped butternut, hailed for its brilliant orange flesh, is one of the best loved.

Local chefs are tucking these beauties into enchiladas, pureeing them for soup, stuffing them in ravioli and cubing them for salads.

"We do a roasted butternut squash chili that has a sweet-hot dichotomy," says Maren Jackson, co-owner of Seva vegetarian restaurant in Ann Arbor, Mich. The chili replaces one of the weekly soups on the fall menu. Later in the season, pumpkin manicotti and spaghetti squash with hazelnut mole show up.

Jackson says squash not only tastes great but is full of good vitamins and nutritional elements like fiber and beta carotene. Plus, it's low in fat.

"My favorite is butternut squash because it has the richest flavor, especially if you oven-roast it," Jackson said. "It caramelizes the sugars a little bit and gets the good deep flavor."

Jackson developed one of Seva's best-selling entrees, the Enchiladas Calabaza, named for the round, pumpkin-like squash. The enchiladas have been a menu feature since the 1980s.

To match the sweetness of the squash, the dish employs typical ethnic seasonings.

"We use cinnamon and cumin, which adds some Mexican authenticity there," Jackson says.

At vegetarian Inn Season Cafe in Royal Oak, Mich., chef Thomas Lasher uses delicata, kabocha, Hubbard and butternut squash in many dishes.

"We will put chunks of butternut in grain salads, stuff acorn or delicata because they have the form for it and use buttercup squash in soups," Lasher says.

Many squash varieties can be intimidating with their large shapes and thick skins, but Lasher says people shouldn't be afraid.

"You just have to cut it up and roast it," he says. "It definitely brings the sweetness out and the squash becomes more full-flavored."

ENCHILADAS CALABAZA

Makes: about 14

Preparation time: 30 minutes

Total time: 1 hour, 15 minutes

Adjust spice amounts to your taste.

FILLING:

5 pounds calabaza or favorite winter squash

3 to 4 tablespoons canola oil, divided

2 cups diced onions

8 ounces reduced-fat cream cheese

1 cup sliced green onions

1½ teaspoons chili powder

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon oregano

1 teaspoon coriander

1 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon salt

14 corn tortillas (5½ to 6 inches in diameter)

SAUCE:

¾ cup diced onion

½ cup water

½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

½ teaspoon black pepper

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon chili powder

1 teaspoon cumin

2 cups tomato sauce

¼ cup minced cilantro

1 cup shredded cheddar/Monterey Jack cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. To make the filling: Peel and seed the squash. Cut squash flesh into 1-inch pieces and spread the pieces out on a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with 1 to 2 tablespoons oil and toss to coat.

Bake about 30 to 45 minutes, until cooked through. Remove from oven (leave oven on) and transfer squash to a large bowl. Mash up the squash a bit, then set aside.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil and saute the diced onions. Stir in the cream cheese until melted. Remove from the heat and stir in the mashed squash, green onions, chili powder, cinnamon, oregano, coriander, cumin and salt. Steam or microwave the tortillas to soften. Place about ¼ cup (more if using larger tortillas) of squash filling in the center of the tortilla. Roll up and place seam side down in a lightly oiled baking dish.

To make the sauce: In a saucepan, place the onion, water, cayenne, black pepper, salt, garlic powder, chili powder and cumin. Cover and simmer until onions are tender. Stir in tomato sauce and cilantro and heat briefly.

Pour sauce over top of enchiladas. Sprinkle cheese on top. Bake until heated through and cheese is melted. Remove from oven and serve.

From Seva Restaurant, Ann Arbor, Mich.

Nutrition information: 187 calories (44 percent from fat), 9 grams fat (4 grams sat. fat), 21 grams carbohydrates, 6 grams protein, 549 mg sodium, 17 mg cholesterol, 3 grams fiber.

QUINOA SALAD WITH SQUASH

Serves: 6

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Total time: 30 minutes

The recipe makes 1 cup of vinaigrette.

SALAD:

4 cups cooked quinoa

2 cups cubed winter squash, such as butternut

1 tablespoon olive oil

1½ teaspoons cumin

1½ teaspoons chili powder

1 teaspoon ground or rubbed sage

Pinch of salt

1 cup toasted pumpkin seeds (pepitas)

1 cup chopped red onion

1 cup chopped carrot

1 cup chopped celery

½ cup chopped parsley

LIME VINAIGRETTE:

¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil

¼ cup cider vinegar

2 tablespoons lime juice

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1 clove garlic, peeled, mashed

Salt and pepper to taste

Mixed greens for serving

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Cook quinoa according to package directions.

Toss the squash with olive oil, cumin, chili powder, sage and pinch of salt. Roast in oven until tender, about 15 minutes. Remove and set aside.

Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees and toast the pumpkin seeds until lightly browned, about 7 minutes. Remove from oven.

In a large bowl, combine the cooked quinoa, pumpkin seeds, red onion, carrot, celery and parsley with the squash.

In a small bowl, whisk together all the vinaigrette ingredients. Add desired amount of the vinaigrette (or serve it on the side), salt and pepper to taste.

Serve on a bed of greens.

From Inn Season Cafe, Royal Oak, Mich.

Nutrition information: 391 calories (47 percent from fat), 21 grams fat (3 grams sat. fat), 45 grams carbohydrates, 9 grams protein, 113 mg sodium, 0 mg cholesterol, 6 grams fiber.

AUTUMN GOLDEN VEGETABLE LASAGNA

Serves: 6

Preparation time: 35 minutes

Total time: 1 hour, 35 minutes

Look for egg roll wrappers in the produce section of grocery stores.

LASAGNA:

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2¼ cups favorite winter squash, peeled and cubed

1 cup water

Salt and pepper to taste

1 can (15 ounces) pure pumpkin puree

1 egg

10 egg roll wrappers (5-inch square)

1¾ cups shredded aged Gouda cheese (about 8 ounces)

8 large basil leaves

CREAMY WHITE SAUCE:

2 tablespoons butter

½ cup finely chopped shallots

¼ cup all-purpose flour

2 cups 2 percent milk, warmed

¼ cup grated parmesan cheese

Salt and pepper to taste

For the lasagna: In a large nonstick skillet, melt the butter. Add the squash and 1 cup water and simmer over medium heat. Season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, until the water is evaporated and the squash is golden and tender, about 13 to 15 minutes; set aside.

Position a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees.

Meanwhile, lightly grease an 8-inch-square glass baking dish and spread ½ cup white sauce (instructions below) in the bottom. In a bowl, whisk together the pumpkin puree and egg.

Cut half of the egg roll wrappers into 3 strips each. Fill a large bowl with hot tap water (as you work with the wrappers, dip them in the water to rinse off the starch). Use 1 whole wrapper and 3 strips to cover the white sauce in the bottom of the dish in a single layer (there will be overlap). Spread a generous ½ cup of pumpkin mixture on top and sprinkle with 1/3 cup cheese. Repeat this layer.

Then, add another layer of egg roll wrappers. Spread with 1 cup white sauce, then top with the squash, basil and 1/3 cup cheese. Add another layer of egg roll wrappers, the remaining pumpkin mixture and 1/3 cup cheese. Top with the remaining egg roll wrappers, then spread with the remaining white sauce.

Cover the dish snugly with foil and bake on a baking sheet in the upper third of the oven for 30 minutes. Uncover the dish, sprinkle the remaining ¾ cup cheese on top and bake until golden and bubbling, about 10 minutes. Let cool for 15 minutes before cutting.

For the creamy white sauce: Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add shallots and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in flour for 2 minutes. Gradually whisk in warm milk, then bring to a boil and cook for 2 minutes, whisking constantly. Remove from heat and stir in parmesan and salt and pepper.

Adapted from Every Day with Rachael Ray magazine. October 2011 issue.

Nutrition information: 446 calories (44 percent from fat), 22 grams fat (14 grams sat. fat), 42 grams carbohydrates, 21 grams protein, 755 mg sodium, 120 mg cholesterol, 3 grams fiber.

MAPLE SQUASH MUFFINS

Makes: 24 large muffins

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Total time: 1 hour

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup cornmeal

1½ tablespoons baking powder

1 tablespoon baking soda

1 tablespoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon allspice

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

2 cups buttercup, kabocha or Hubbard squash puree

2 cups maple syrup

1 cup safflower oil

1 cup plain soy yogurt

1½ teaspoons vanilla extract

2 teaspoons cider vinegar

1½ cups toasted, chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly oil muffin cups.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and cloves. In a separate bowl, combine the squash puree, maple syrup, oil, yogurt, vanilla and cider vinegar. Stir the wet ingredients into the flour mixture until just combined; do not overmix. Fold in pecans.

Bake for about 25 to 30 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the center of muffins comes out clean. Remove from oven. Cool a few minutes in the pan and then invert muffins onto a cooling rack.

Cook's note: To toast the pecans, spread them on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes or until pecans are fragrant. Watch carefully because they burn easily.

From chef Thomas Lasher of Inn Season Cafe, Royal Oak.

Nutrition information: 290 calories (45 percent from fat), 15 grams fat (1 gram sat. fat), 38 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams protein, 257 mg sodium, 1 mg cholesterol, 2 grams fiber.

 

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