February 16, 2006

Squashing it Around

I love squash whether it's summer or fall squash. I grow a ton of it in my garden and freeze it so I can have it to cook with all year round.

Butternut squash is easily found in supermarkets. Beige colored and shaped like a vase, it's more watery and tastes somewhat similar to sweet potatoes. It has a bulbous end and pale, creamy skin, with a choice, fine-textured, deep-orange flesh with a sweet, nutty flavor. It weighs from 2 to 5 pounds. The oranger the color, the riper, drier and sweeter the squash.

Winter squash matures on the vine and develops an inedible, thick, hard rind and tough seeds. Because this rind makes most squash difficult to peel, it's easier to cook the unpeeled squash, and then scoop out the cooked flesh. Wash the exterior of the squash just before using. The seeds are scooped out before or after cooking.

To cut in half, grasp the squash firmly and use a sharp knife to slice through to the center. Then flip and cut the other side until the squash falls open. Remove and discard the seeds.

To bake a whole (1 to 11/2 pound) winter squash, pierce the rind with a fork and bake in a 350-degree oven 45 minutes. Test for doneness by piercing with a fork.

Boil or steam quarters or rings 25 minutes or until tender.

To microwave, place halves or quarters, cut side down, in a shallow dish; add 1/4 cup water. Cover tightly and microwave on HIGH 6 minutes per pound.

All varieties are great for puréeing, roasting and baking. Once squash is cooked and mashed, it can be used in soups, main dishes, vegetable side dishes, even breads, muffins, custards and pies.

Boil or mash winter squash just as you would potatoes. Or add peeled squash cubes to your favorite soups, stews, beans, gratins and vegetable ragouts.

Dress any cooked winter squash with butter and herbs, a cream sauce, cheese sauce, maple syrup and nuts, marinara sauce or stewed fruit.

Butternut Squash Soup

2 tbs. butter
1 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 carrots, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
1 potato, peeled and diced
1 butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and diced
3 cans (14.5 oz. each) chicken broth
½ c. honey
½ tsp. dried thyme leaves, crushed
½ tsp salt
1 tsp. pepper

In large pot, melt butter, stir in onions and garlic. Cook and stir until browned (5 minutes). Stir in carrots and celery and cook until tender (5 minutes.) Stir in potatoes, squash, chicken broth, honey, and thyme. Bring to boil and simmer for 35 minutes. Remove from heat and cool slightly. Place mixture into a food processor and mix till smooth. Return pureed soup to pot and season with salt and pepper.

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