Monday 29 October 2012

Let's Talk About Squash, Baby...

Autumn is the time of year where you begin to see a variety of strange looking fruit at the market called squash and gourds. They can be many colours from orange, green, yellow, brown and even white. They can be smooth and unblemished or ugly and bizarre looking. Though technically a fruit, squash is mostly prepared as one would a vegetable. They are high in both vitamins and minerals and are low in fat. The most commonly referenced members of the squash family are likely to be pumpkin and zucchini. Here are three examples of other tasty squash available this time of year and how I like to eat them. 

1) Butternut squash

Butternut squash is great because it has a buttery and nutty flavour and is still quite good for you. The peel is a nude colour and its flesh can range from yellow to orange. When I was visiting my mom out west earlier this month, I promised to make her dinner on her birthday. I made pork tenderloin schnitzel that I breaded with panko crumbs and fried until crispy with a creamy, mushroom, country-style gravy. Butternut squash was the star of the side dish, which was a simple roast with celery, shallots and carrots. A little fresh thyme added a fantastic earthy note to the dish.

* Another two great ways to enjoy butternut squash are mashed with butter or puréed and made into a curry-spiced soup. 

2) Acorn Squash

Acorn squash (or pepper squash), as the name suggests, is somewhat the shape of an acorn with ridges and a dark green skin with occasional splotches of orange. The edible flesh ranges in shades of yellow and is mildly sweet. My neighbour and good friend, Michelle, and I came up with this side dish one night a few years ago and we have made it several times since. It's delicious!
Carefully slice the acorn squash in half, lengthwise (careful, they're tough). Remove the seeds and membrane and place cavity side down in a centimeter of salted water in a baking dish. Bake at 400°F/205°C for about 45 minutes. The water will steam the squash until it is oh so tender. During that time, chop some carrots and steam them for a few minutes until cooked but still very al dente. Combine the steamed carrots with walnut pieces, fresh mint, salt, pepper and a light coating of maple syrup. Mix them well. After you've removed the acorn squash from the oven and they are cool enough to handle, season the cavity with salt and pepper, then fill with the sweet and minty carrot-nut stuffing. Sprinkle the edges of the squash with paprika and serve. 

3) Kabocha 

Kabocha is a Japanese winter squash. It essentially looks like a pumpkin only the skin is green. It is a flavourful variety of squash, not unlike the taste of pumpkin, though perhaps with a note of chestnut. Aside from being sliced and fried in tempura batter (amazing), it can also be used in the following manner.
I bought some chicken breasts from my butcher that had been saturated in a luxurious balsamic-rosemary marinade. They make all of their marinades from scratch in house. I placed the chicken in an oiled baking dish. The excess marinade I used to toss cubes of kabocha, red onion and crushed cloves of garlic then roasted everything together. The taste and smell was intoxicating. 

I hope these ideas have inspired you to try new things with squash. They're a healthy and fun seasonal treat. Although, if a more classic and dessert type squash dish appeals to you... all three of these examples of squash can be roasted, puréed, sweetened, spiced and made into a pie filling for Thanksgiving or another festive occasion in autumn. 

Be happy and stay fed,


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