Food » Flash in the Pan

Squash: fall’s guardian angel

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It happens like clockwork. Every autumn, without fail, somebody approaches me with a question about how to cook squash. This year it was Holly. The only noteworthy difference between her query and that of the guy from last year was that Holly was so drunk she had to call me back the next day and ask me to remind her what I said.

Chocked with vitamins, beta-carotenes, starch and flavor, squash is the guardian angel of fall. In its many incarnations, it can be eaten for breakfast, lunch and dinner; and, of course, dessert. Yes, dessert! Remember, pumpkin pie isn’t just for pumpkins…it’s for all the winter squashes, and each type lends a signature twist to the pie. Back in the day, my friends and I had a pumpkin/squash pie business. This gave me the opportunity to prove, scientifically, that one can live for weeks on squash pie alone, three meals a day plus dessert.

The experience inspired me to verse. I’ll call this “Ode to Squash”: Squash, squash, you ripen in the season of the dying plants. Thanks for reminding me how dirty my Carhartts are. I think of you and wash my pants.

Squash. Why is it that so many people are cornered by the stale advice that it’s best cooked by cutting it in half and baking face-down on an oiled cookie sheet until soft? Yes, you can cook squash this way. And yes, it’s really easy. But unless your goal is to scoop out and eat spoonfuls from a baked squash half, the next step becomes: “What do you dress it with to make it more interesting?” Unfortunately, most people resort to butter, or soy sauce or maple syrup (as if squash isn’t sweet enough). Nothing is wrong with that, from time to time, but I have a hunch that our cultural habit of cooking squash this way is responsible for the widespread conviction that squash is boring. Maybe this also has something to do with the fact that the most popular squashes—acorn, butternut and spaghetti squash—are in my opinion the most boring varieties there are.

Baking squash like this is a good first step to more complex recipes, like ravioli with squash stuffing, or squash pie. But if you have no such intentions, here is my favorite way of cooking squash. First, cut open the squash and scoop out the seeds with a spoon. Then place the squash, cut side down, on the cutting board, and cut off the hard peel with a sturdy knife. Cut the squash flesh into small cubes, put them in a pot with a few inches of boiling water and cover with a tight-fitting lid.

While the squash is cooking, get some goodies going in a fry pan. Start with oil or butter and/or chopped bacon. Sauté onions, garlic, ginger, peppers…whatever you like. Then, when the squash in the pot is soft, stir in the goodies from the pan and taste. Season with black pepper, salt or soy sauce and cider vinegar. Add water if you want squash soup, or slowly cook it down if you want something thicker. When almost ready to serve, stir in some chunks of a sturdy cheese, like feta.

If that’s too vague and micromanagement is what you want, here’s a nice recipe I adapted from a sweet potato soup served at the Good Food Store. I substituted squash for sweet potato and made a few more adjustments.

Spread one cup shredded coconut on a sheet pan and toast at 350 until golden (about five minutes). Heat one tablespoon canola or grapeseed oil in a pot on medium heat. Sauté one chopped onion until translucent. Add two tablespoons dark mustard seed, one cubic inch of chopped ginger, one tablespoon turmeric, one (or more) chopped hot peppers and one tablespoon curry powder. (I like Bengali-style curry powder the best here). Sauté this mixture, stirring constantly, for about a minute.

Then add a cup of chicken or veggie stock and seven cups squash, peeled and cubed as described above. My favorite squashes for this are blue hubbard, kabocha, buttercup, red curry and sweet meat. Add enough water to just cover the squash. Simmer until tender, then stir in one can coconut milk. Remove from heat and purée the soup, ideally with a submersible blender (aka “the tool”). A whisk works too. Or leave it chunky. Stir in one cup frozen peas and the toasted coconut. Season with salt and cider vinegar.

You’ll never call squash boring again. You might even need to wash your pants.

flash@missoulanews.com

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