Nancy Krcek Allen blox

Nancy Krcek Allen

Squash is a humble food, right? Sweet, sunny, starchy and filling, it could be a stand-in for loaves and fishes to feed the hungry hordes. Mashed with a little butter it’s simple ambrosia.

You probably think of squash as only fit for a Thanksgiving pie or muffins, always the bridesmaid never the bride. But maybe you’re just not tapping into your inner creative. No matter. Some of my favorite recipes below will help to jumpstart your culinary imagination. They feature dishes from around the world. The unpretentious pumpkin and squash have traveled from their birthplace in the Americas to Japan, Thailand, Europe, India, Africa and beyond.

Autumn is my favorite season precisely because it’s when the bright bonanza of pumpkin and squash (and their B.F.F.s, apples and pears) arrive around northern Michigan: turban, butternut, acorn, buttercup, red kuri, kabocha, sweet dumpling, delicata, sugar baby pumpkins, spaghetti squash and sunshine. Each has a different hue and texture; each is startlingly delicious. Other than a drizzle of maple syrup most squash need little or no sweetening.

Every day of the season I find ways of incorporating these gems into my culinary life. One winter I breakfasted on assorted varieties of baked squash mixed with homemade applesauce and a touch of ghee. This season has begun with puréed squash soups. My first was laced with shallots, red curry paste, ginger, cilantro and coconut milk.

Winter squashes offer the cook with many choices. For deep flavor, but firmer texture, peel, cube and roast, stir-fry or sauté your tasty choices. Slice a whole squash in half, scoop out seeds, lay it on cut side on a sheet pan or baking dish. Bake at 400 degrees F until fork-tender, about one hour. Scoop out flesh and purée into soup or stir into pasta or rice dishes. Baked squash freezes well. Scoop it into quart containers and freeze, ready for soup (generally a one to one ratio with stock).

If you have a hungry horde to feed, the humble squash just might be the solution.

Turban

Turban squash is very colorful and looks like a pumpkin wearing a striped green turban. The skin is tough. The flesh is pale yellow with a soft, floury texture and mild, nutty flavor.

Butternut

This beloved squash has a bell-shape, a creamy, sweet orange flesh and a thin, pale, flesh-colored skin. It’s a perfect place to begin your squash explorations.

Acorn

Named for its shape, acorn squash has a hard, green rind, deep ridges with sweet yellow flesh. It cuts into a bowl shape and is ideal for stuffing.

Buttercup

Buttercup is squat and round with a hard green shell, green-grey stripes and a round cap on its bottom. It stores for months. Its firm, dense flesh is very similar to sweet potato in texture and sweetness.

Red Kuri

Red Kuri is a small, teardrop-shaped squash with a reddish-orange hue, sweet with a hint of chestnut. Its hard skin can be eaten when cooked.

Kabocha

Kabocha features a green, slightly bumpy skin, light green or white stripes and dark yellow-orange flesh that is very sweet with a slightly dry texture like a sweet potato.

Sweet Dumpling

This small, round squash has a creamy skin with dark green stripes. It is one of the sweetest squashes with a less dense, yellow flesh.

Delicata

This long squash with skin like the sweet dumpling has a yellow flesh with a flavor hinting of corn and sweet potato. The skin is delicate and can be eaten along with the rich flesh.

Sugar Baby Pumpkin

This small orange pumpkin is sweeter and less grainy than large pumpkins, with less defined ridges.

Spaghetti Squash

This versatile squash presents with a very hard, pale yellow shell and pale yellow flesh. Cut it in half or poke a whole one with holes and bake (cut-side down). Shred the flesh with a fork for a delicious pasta substitute. It may cooked in a microwave.

Sunshine

This delightful squash weighs 3- to 4-pounds and looks like a flattened globe. The bright orange flesh is sweet, nutty and creamy-smooth with no stringiness. It may be baked, steamed or microwaved.

Thai-Style Pumpkin Braised in Coconut Milk

This popular snack food dish straddles the divide between dessert and dinner.

Yields about 3-1/2 to 4 cups, 4 to 6 servings

1 lb. sweet baby pumpkin, kabocha squash or butternut squash

2 C. coconut milk

2 T. palm sugar or maple syrup

Optional garnish: cilantro leaves

Peel pumpkin or butternut squash. Kabocha skin is tender and edible, no need for peeling. Cut squash/pumpkin in half, remove stem and scrape out seeds. Dice into 1/2- by 1-inch cubes. You’ll need 3-1/2 to 4 cups.

Heat coconut milk, sweetener and 1/2 teaspoon salt in 4-quart saucepan over low heat until sweetener melts. Add pumpkin or squash cubes and bring to a boil. Simmer partly covered until tender, about 10 minutes. Don’t stir, it’ll break up the pumpkin; should remain whole and tender. Remove pan from heat and taste. Season with more salt or sweetener to taste.

To Serve: Spoon squash and coconut milk into bowls. Drizzle each serving with coconut cream and optional cilantro.

Italian-Style Roasted Squash and Pear Soup with Fried Sage

Pre-roasting squash intensifies its flavor in soup. For more flavor, roast halved and pitted pears with the squash.

6 to 8 servings

2 lb. butternut squash, cut in half and seeded

3 T. each: extra virgin olive oil and butter

16 to 24 sage leaves, finely sliced

1 medium onion, peeled and diced

1 leek, white only, cleaned and diced

2 medium carrots, diced

1 large stalk celery, diced

Optional: 1 to 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

2 pears, peeled, seeded and diced

4 to 6 C. chicken or vegetable stock

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Place squash on a cookie sheet with sides. Roast cut side down until tender, about one hour. When squash is cool, discard seeds and scrape out flesh into a bowl. Set aside.

Heat two tablespoons butter in a small skillet until sizzling. Add sliced sage leaves and simmer over moderate heat until they soften. Season with salt and set aside.

Heat a 4 quart soup pot on medium heat. Add oil and remaining butter. When fat is hot, stir in onion, leeks, carrots and celery. Sweat (cook with no color) on medium-low heat until they are soft, around 7 minutes. Add garlic and cook a minute.

Add pears, squash and stock. Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer 20 to 30 minutes. Remove pot from heat and cool. Purée the soup: A blender or food processor will produce the smoothest puree, an immersion blender the easiest and quickest. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

To serve, ladle hot soup into bowls. Top each bowl with fried sage leaves and butter.

Indian-Style Squash Chutney

4 to 6 servings

1 C. golden raisins

1/2 C. dried apricots, 1/4-inch dice

2 T. butter or coconut oil

2 yellow onions, peeled and diced 1/4-inch

1 T. curry powder or 1 teaspoon each: ground cumin, coriander and turmeric

1-1/2 lb. butternut squash, peeled, seeded and diced 1/2-inch cubes

1/2 C. cider, rice or white wine vinegar, as needed

Brown sugar or maple syrup to taste

Pour raisins and apricots into a bowl and rehydrate them with boiling water to just cover for one minute. Drain, but save the liquid.

Over moderate heat, melt fat in a saucepan. Sauté onions until soft, about 5 minutes. Add curry powder and cook 30 seconds. Add squash and cook until tender. Add dried fruit and soaking liquid and 1 tablespoon sweetener.

Bring chutney to a boil, lower heat to a simmer and partially cover pot. Simmer until chutney is very tender, about 30 to 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season with salt, vinegar and sweetener to taste. There should be a sprightly balance of sweet and sour. Serve with meat or rice and vegetables.

— Adapted from Café Boulud Cookbook

Nancy Krcek Allen has been a chef-educator for more than 25 years and has taught professional and recreational classes in California, New York City and Michigan. Her culinary textbook is called “Discovering Global Cuisines.”

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