by Julie Van Rosendaal
The prairie provinces are not known for their abundance of local produce when they arrive at bleak midwinter. A few root veggies cling to life well into the new year, though, and winter squash carries on with little effort, its sturdy exteriors protecting vitamin-rich and flavourful innards from the elements.
Beyond pumpkins (the smaller ones are more than ornamental), supermarkets in the past rarely ventured beyond the usual trio of squashes – acorn, butternut and spaghetti. But dusty grey-blue Hubbards are becoming easier to find now. You may come across a teardrop-shaped red kuri, a lumpy, lanky crookneck, or a squat green buttercup or kabocha, and you might even discover some varieties you’re unable to identify. So long as you know it’s some sort of winter squash, thick and gnarly, you can take it home, warts and all, scoop out the seeds and stringy bits and treat it the same as others that are more familiar, even if you’re not on a first-name basis.
When searching for recipes, butternut squash is often the default, its solid neck easy to handle, providing a large enough chunk to spiralize into ribbons, coarsely grate or even hasselback. Beyond butternut, and besides spaghetti squash, which has a stringy texture that can be pulled into strands with a fork, most winter squash has dense flesh in shades ranging from yellow to deep orange; its hardy, often awkward surface is the only obstacle between inside and out. Smooth butternut can be peeled with a vegetable peeler, but ridged or warty squashes aren’t as easily accessed, particularly when they’re almost the size of a watermelon. Delicata – long and narrow, yellow with green stripes – has a thinner skin, sort-of halfway between acorn and zucchini, that is perfectly edible once cooked and requires no significant upper body strength to wrestle a knife through. Whichever variety you’re attempting to tackle on your kitchen counter, use a large chef’s knife or cleaver to cut it into manageable pieces and microwave or bake it in the oven until the flesh is soft enough to scoop from its skin. Or toss wedges in oil, sprinkle with salt and/or spices and roast at 425°F until tender and golden.
Maple-Roasted Winter Squash Soup
Perhaps the main mission of winter squash is to be transformed into soup – it’s a great way to use squash varieties that are harder to handle, and you can save the seeds to toast, chop and sprinkle on top. Use sage or curry powder, depending on your mood.
- 1 winter squash
- canola or olive oil, for cooking
- 1/4 c. pure maple syrup, divided
- 2 T. butter
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 1 tart apple or ripe pear, chopped
- 1/2 t. sage or curry powder
- 4 c. chicken stock
- 1/2 c. whipping cream or 18% coffee cream
- salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Halve the squash, scoop out the seeds and separate them from the membranes, rinsing them well in a colander. Cut the squash into rough chunks, or, if you’re using butternut, peel it using a vegetable peeler and cut into chunks.
Spread out the pieces or chunks on a rimmed baking sheet, drizzle with oil and half the maple syrup, and roast at 425°F for 20-30 minutes, or until tender and starting to turn golden. (Don’t worry if they aren’t cooked through yet – you’re just looking for larger pieces to be soft enough to scoop out, or chunks to get a bit of colour.) Toss the rinsed seeds with oil and spread out on a smaller parchment-lined baking sheet, sprinkle with salt and roast alongside, or after the squash comes out, stirring once or twice, for 10-15 minutes, until golden.
In a medium pot or Dutch oven, heat another drizzle of oil along with the butter over medium-high heat. When the foam subsides, add the onion and sauté for 3-4 minutes, until soft. Add the apple or pear along with the sage or curry powder and cook for another minute. Add the roasted squash, scooping the flesh out of the skins if necessary, and the stock, and bring to a simmer; cook for 20-30 minutes, until the squash is very soft. Add the cream and remaining maple syrup, season with salt and pepper and purée in batches in a blender or with a hand-held immersion blender right in the pot, until smooth. Adjust seasoning and serve topped with the toasted seeds, if you like. Serves 4 to 6.
The necks of butternut squash can be cooked much like hasselback potatoes, with dense flesh that’s easy to slice thin. Like other roasted veggies, your hasselback squash could be spiked with curry powder, chile powder or sprigs of fresh thyme.
- 2 medium-small butternut squash
- canola or olive oil, for cooking
- 1/4 c. butter, melted
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 425°F. Cut the necks off the squash and set the bulbs aside for another use. Peel the necks and cut in half lengthwise, lay cut-side down on a parchment-lined sheet, drizzle with oil and bake for 15 minutes, or until just tender. (Alternatively, place in a microwave-safe dish and cook, covered, for 5 minutes.) Remove from the pan and set them cut-side down on a cutting board, lay a chopstick on either side of each piece and slice crosswise very thin, using the chopsticks to keep your knife from slicing all the way through.
Return to the baking sheet, drizzle with melted butter and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Return to the oven for another 20 minutes, or until tender and golden. Serves 4.
Winter Squash and Pear Morning Glory Muffins
Grated raw squash works much like grated carrot in cakes and muffins – it’s a great way to inject veggies into your morning routine. This batter can also be baked as a loaf, in a parchment-lined 9×5-inch loaf tin for 50-60 minutes.
- 2 c. all-purpose flour
- 1 c. sugar (white or brown)
- 2 t. cinnamon
- 2 t. baking soda
- 1/4 t. salt
- 2 c. grated raw butternut squash or carrots
- 1/2 c. chopped pecans or walnuts
- 1/2 c. raisins
- 1/4 c. flaked coconut, sweetened or unsweetened (optional)
- 1/2 c. buttermilk or plain yogurt
- 1/2 c. canola or light olive oil
- 3 large eggs
- 2 t. vanilla extract
- 1 pear or apple, coarsely grated (don’t bother peeling it)
Preheat the oven to 350°F and line a muffin tin with paper liners.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, cinnamon, baking soda and salt. Add the squash (or carrots), nuts, raisins, and coconut and toss to combine.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, oil, eggs and vanilla. Add to the squash mixture along with the grated pear or apple and stir just until the batter is combined.
Fill the prepared muffin tins almost to the top and bake for 25-30 minutes, until the muffins are golden and the tops are springy to the touch. Tip them in their cups to help them cool by allowing steam to escape. Makes about 1 dozen muffins.
Delicata Squash Jackson Pollock
I started thinking of this dish as Jackson Pollock-esque simply because of its presentation, because I love to scatter the colourful roasted veg with bright pomegranate seeds and splatter it with balsamic reduction before bringing it to the table.
- 1 delicata or acorn squash
- a few handfuls of Brussels sprouts, halved
- olive or canola oil, for cooking
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- pomegranate seeds
- balsamic reduction
Preheat the oven to 425°F. Slice the delicata or acorn squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Slice into wedges or half-moons. Spread out on a parchment-lined baking sheet with the Brussels sprouts, without crowding the pan, drizzle with oil and toss them about with your hands to coat while spreading them out in a single layer.
Sprinkle with salt and pepper and roast for 20-30 minutes, stirring or shaking the pan once or twice, if you think of it, until the veggies are tender and caramelized on the edges. Scatter with pomegranate seeds and drizzle with balsamic reduction (if it’s still on parchment, the balsamic will constrict to little dots) and serve immediately. Serves 6.