Produce at its Peak: Winter Squash

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Of the many reasons to love eating with the seasons, I find the anticipation of the next season’s harvest perhaps the most satisfying. The feeling of excitement for the return of certain fruits and vegetables after months away – when they are in their prime and often when we like to eat them most.

This summer, we’ve had our fill of vine-ripened tomatoes, succulent stone fruit, and hydrating melons – all of which require no heat or fuss to enjoy. As summer winds down and the weather cools, cool season bulk greens such as arugula, spicy mix, salad mix, and spinach have returned from Heartbeet Farm and we have been enjoying deliveries of late season raspberries. We’ll have both until the frost. We also have squash, sweet potatoes, and fall apples to look forward to cooking with and feasting upon for months to come.

In the past few weeks, squash availability really blossomed. Now, beyond the standard butternut and spaghetti squash we have acorn, blue hubbard, buttercup, red kabocha, red kuri, and delicata. Over the next few months, this list will grow to include over a dozen winter squash varieties each with unique flavors and textures suited to different preparations.

Butternut squash makes a richer and nuttier pie than any pumpkin pie I’ve tried. Roasted buttercup is my favorite for a pureed soup. For a quick snack, halve a delicate squash lengthwise, brush the flesh side with olive oil and tuck a clove of garlic and a few sprigs of rosemary or thyme in the cavity and place flesh side down on a baking sheet. Roast until soft and fragrant. Add a little butter, salt and pepper and eat right out of the skin.
I love simmering thick wedges of a red kuri squash, skins on, in 1 cup dashi (Japanese broth made of kombu and bonito flakes), 2 Tbsp mirin, 2 Tbsp sake, 2 Tbsp sugar, 1 Tbsp soy sauce and a pinch of salt until the broth is reduced by half and the squash is tender. Equal parts savory and sweet, this makes a delicious side or could be eaten over rice with a little of the cooking broth poured over.

Squash risotto is perhaps my favorite way to eat winter squash. In a heavy pan, heat a tablespoon of butter and a little olive oil over medium heat. Add 2 cups of squash (butternut or buttercup are great here) cut into ½ inch cubes. Cook until the squash begins to soften – around 10 minutes. Add 1 cup of Arborio rice, stir to coat the squash and cook for a few minutes until the rice begins to appear translucent. Add ½ cup of dry white wine, stir until the wine has evaporated. Add in heated vegetable or chicken stock ½ cup at a time allowing each to be absorbed by the rice up to 3 cups in total. When finished, the rice should be tender but not soft and the squash should be fully incorporated. Add ½ cup of grated parmesan, salt and pepper to taste and garnish with sage and more parmesan.

To navigate the many squash varieties, look to Produce staff. Information is also posted next to the squash display with basic flavor profiles and suggested uses. In the next Sprout!, Snow Aukema, Seward Coop Produce Buyer has profiled the squash varieties expected from our local farms this year. Perhaps the best way to become familiar with the different squash varieties is to try and taste them all.