When Oliver Twist and his little orphan scamp buddies burst into “Food, Glorious Food,” their high-pitched voices trill on about sausages and custards. For me, when I hear the song, my imagination brings forth images of bulbous winter squashes. That’s right: for yours truly, the first meal after years of gruel would consist of squash in all its myriad forms – butternut, acorn, calabash, kobacha, carnival, delicate, spaghetti, sugar pumpkin, Hubbard, and red kuri. Among others, of course, as I am certain to find some cartoonish-shaped heirloom variety out there at a farmers’ market sometime this season.
While these thick-skinned varieties are called winter squashes, they are harvested in the fall. Their durability to last throughout the colder season gives the bunch their catchall name. In Native American lore, squash was part of the “Three Sisters” crops, along with corn and beans, which were planted together, as all could keep well and last throughout the winter as sustenance.
The darker the skin of the squash, the more beta-carotene, which everyone knows is good for you. Winter squash also contains iron, fiber, vitamin C, potassium, vitamin B6, folate, and other nutritional goodies.
If you have a yen for winter squash in all its glory, hit some restaurants around the city for their takes on the autumn delicacy. Martini Modern Italian whips up a rockin’ butternut squash tortellini, while Dempsey’s downtown makes a luscious bisque out of the same varietal. For an Asian twist, try Haiku’s Harvest Roll with acorn squash tempura, cream cheese, avocado, and sriracha. And it’s well known that innovative and imaginative local chef Alana Shock loves winter squash, so make the Olde North restaurant a stop on your squash tour.
If you are picking out your own squash at the market, look for a specimen that is heavy in the ends, without any soft spots. The stem should be dry, not black and mushy.
For home cooks, baked acorn squash is an easy dish…
My Mother’s Baked Acorn Squash
Preheat the oven to 350. Take one acorn squash and pop off the stem. Make little slices on both ends so the squash can stand up in the pan. With a super sharp knife, cut it in half along the equator and scoop the seeds and stringy stuff out of the middle. In an oven-proof pan, stand each half up on its end (now you see the reason for those tiny chops) and in each half, put one tablespoon butter and a hint of maple syrup. If you wanna get really crazy, add a pour of half-and-half. Carefully put in the oven and cook for 45 minutes to an hour, or until a fork poked into the flesh slips in easily.