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Thursday, September 2, 2010

Autumn Means Squash

Each Sunday, after our breakfast together, I have gotten into the habit of taking my mom grocery shopping.

This past Sunday, we had stopped into our local Whole Foods so she could pick up a few things. As we walked through the produce department, I noticed a small display of hard-shelled squash. Seeing the Sweet Dumpling and Delicata Squash reminded me of my first few years in the produce business. It seemed that every fall season (back in the late 1970s) would bring a new variety of squash.

At one point, I think we were offering more than 15 varieties – each a different color, shape and flavor! I found in those early days that most people (buyers and consumers alike) didn’t realize that squash was edible…they thought they were totally for decoration. All hard shelled squash are edible, but the bigger ones are just harder to cut.

What I like most about Sweet Dumpling and Delicata Squash is their small size and great flavor. Sweet Dumpling has an internal golden flesh which is thick and super sweet. Delicata, even though it looks similar with its green and cream stripes, tastes like Corn Chowder! Really, like corn chowder.

When you pick up a squash, it should be heavy for its size. If it seems light in weight, it is probably dehydrated. The domestic squash season starts in late August and goes through Thanksgiving, so most of the squash you find now should be heavy (and meaty), since they are freshly harvested.

Microwave or Oven? Everyone always asks this. Well, if you are in hurry (during the week) – then by all means, use the microwave. You should always halve the squash before cooking (which hastens the process) – and it should take less then 10 minutes (but let the squash rest for about 5 minutes, to complete the cooking and develop a fuller flavor). For exact directions and delicious recipe ideas, click here to go to our website.

But, if you want to savor the smell and the taste of freshly roasted squash, then I really recommend baking it. Yes, it heats up your kitchen, but you can cook squash at the same time as other dinner items. The slow cooking time allows the full flavor of the squash to develop – and sometimes cooked squash can taste like dessert (instead of like a vegetable high in fiber and vitamin A).

Coincidentally, I was at a Gourmet Club dinner party on the Saturday evening before and one of the guests (my friend Don) brought a very delicious side dish...made with three varieties of hard shelled squash. I asked Don if I could share his recipe. Since cooking is one of Don’s passions, he doesn’t use exact recipes, so when you read this you will get the idea (this recipe serves 16 people).

Don’s Amazing Squash
The key is to make this in a Clay Pot with a lid.

  • 3 whole squash, halved, seeded and cut into rings (he used Butternut and Green Acorn) – do not peel. Arrange the sliced squash in the clay pot.
  • In a sauce pan, melt 2 sticks of butter and add diced shallots (about 5-6 shallots). Season with dried rosemary, sage, mace, white pepper and black pepper. Add 2 cups milk and heat thoroughly.
  • Pour this butter mixture over the squash and cover with clay top. Cook at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Open Pot and gently stir squash. Cover and continue cooking for another 30 minutes.

The Clay Pot makes the perfect tenderizer for the squash. And yes, the skin on these varieties is edible!

So, as the weather continues to cool, take the opportunity to cook up some squash. Use them to decorate your counter top, until you cook them for dinner!

Enjoy!
Karen


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