I Heart Squash!
Few vegetables bring me back to my Yankee roots like the butternut squash. I would not dream of a Thanksgiving table without it and growing up, it was a frequent supper side dish during the fall and winter months. It was the gourd of choice and so common to the New England dinner table, that it was known simply as “squash”. THE squash. As if there were no others.
Shortly after my family moved from the city to the suburbs, we started a small vegetable garden. As an 11-year-old, I’m sure I whined nonstop about having to pull weeds and dig up rocks, but I was more than happy to gobble up my share of the bounty. My mother was head gardener and chose what to plant and when to pick. It’s not difficult for me to recall the sensations of standing in what used to be the side yard, now roto-tilled and filled with the pungent scent of tomato leaves, skinny corn stalks doing their best to be “knee high by the Fourth of July” and a rambling tangle of squash vines that turned the shadier bottom of the garden into a prickly green carpet. One year, those vines would yield such a squash as I had never seen before. It was BIG! It was BLUE! It was DELICIOUS! We snapped a picture of my mom, smiling, but struggling to hoist that hefty bad boy for the camera. It was a proud moment. It was also the moment that I realized that butternut was not the only squash. It was my first taste of something “other”. It was a Blue Hubbard and it was the gateway to a whole new squash-y world.
A squash is easy to love. The soft flesh, in many shades of yellow and orange, has a natural sweetness and wants nothing more than a pat of butter and a sprinkle of salt and pepper to bring it to full glory. I heartily recommend you do just that. When you want a little something different, try my recipe for CREAMY BUTTERNUT SQUASH SOUP. It is rich, yet delicate with a hint of apple and herbs. My BAKED ACORN SQUASH with QUINOA takes advantage of acorn squash’s smaller size to make individual portions served up in the squash itself. It is a perfect vegetarian offering for the holiday table. I hope that you will heart squash too!
CREAMY BUTTERNUT SQUASH SOUP
2 T olive oil
1 onion, diced (about 1 cup)
1 butternut squash, 2-1/2 to 3 lbs, peeled and cut into large chunks (about 4-5 cups)
1-2 apples, peeled, cored and cut into chunks
4 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper
1-2 T fresh rosemary and/or thyme, chopped
4-5 cups chicken stock, vegetable stock, water or apple cider
1 can coconut milk
1 T pepitas (pumpkin seeds) per serving for garnish (optional)
In saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until translucent. Add squash, apple and garlic and continue to cook for a few minutes more, being careful not to brown garlic. Add chicken stock (or stock/liquid of choice), salt and pepper to taste and chopped herbs to the pot. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer until squash is cooked through and soft. Turn off the heat and puree soup in the saucepan with an immersion blender (stick blender) or puree in batches in a regular blender or food processor in batches, being careful not to fill container more than halfway to avoid burns from hot liquid. After blending, return soup to saucepan and add the coconut milk. Simmer 1 to 2 more minutes. Stir well and serve, garnishing with pepitas if desired.
BAKED ACORN SQUASH WITH QUINOA, WALNUT AND CRANBERRY STUFFING
3 acorn squash
3 T olive oil
1 cup quinoa (white, red or a mix), rinsed under cold water in a fine meshed sieve
2 cups vegetable broth (may substitute chicken stock or water)
1 onion, chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
8 ounces Baby Bella mushrooms, chopped (about 1 cup)
¾ cup walnuts, chopped
¾ cup dried cranberries, chopped
2-3 T poultry seasoning OR 1 T dried sage plus 2 T dried thyme
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 450°. Carefully cut each acorn squash in half lengthwise (stem end to bottom, not across middle). Scoop out the pulp and seeds and discard. (Seeds may be saved for roasting at a later time) Using 1 T of the olive oil, brush the flesh of all 6 squash halves and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Line a sheet pan with parchment or foil and arrange squash halves cut side down. Roast until the flesh is tender and the edges of the squash are a golden brown, 25-35 minutes.
While the squash roasts, add the rinsed quinoa and broth to a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer until tender and liquid is absorbed, 15-20 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a large sauté pan, heat the remaining 2 T olive oil and sauté the onion, red pepper and garlic until softened, 5-7 minutes. Add the mushrooms, poultry seasoning (or sage and thyme), salt and pepper and continue to cook until mushrooms are tender. Remove from heat. In a large bowl combine the sautéed vegetables, cooked quinoa, walnuts and cranberries.
Remove the cooked squash from the oven and flip over so the cut side is facing up. Fill each squash half with some of the quinoa/mushroom mixture. Return to the oven and bake for an additional 10 minutes. Remove from oven and serve.