I relish evidence of the miraculous order of the universe, particularly when it is provided by foodstuffs. As I hacked up a fat little buttercup squash (wicked cheap, from the "remainder" produce rack at my local market . . . you know, those reject piles are worth exploring, for soup ingredients and such. Three organic apples for sixty cents: hello, applesauce!), I fell to pondering the "True Nature" of winter squash, and how exquisite it is that in autumn, the earth mother
offers a bounty of hard-shelled foods like squashes that keep for months – as if she knew that some of us would be needing to store something away for winter survival. She filled these fruits with beta carotene and fiber and starch – providing immune support as well as energy suitable for splitting wood and generally staying warm. Just what you want for the cold months.
In the hot months, we get yellow and green zucchini, pattypans, probably more I'm not thinking of. Sweet and versatile – but holding lots of water, so you Must Eat Them Promptly or they will become repulsive and slimy foul. It's a lesson taught with food: hunker down for the long haul with winter squash, and live in the moment with summer varieties. Is this not indescribably elegant?
It has come to my attention that many folks are not really familiar with what to do with winter squash and find them, therefore, fearsome. (I realize, also, that they can be a pain in the ass to prepare.) Hence, here are three real-life squash options, slacker-tested for your enjoyment.
Default squash behavior: chunk and oven-roast it. This is easiest with any of the smooth-sided hard squash you will find heaped in your grocery store: butternut, delicata, buttercup, hubbard, dumpling, and probably more I'm not thinking of.
(Except acorn squash. Acorn squash you gotta cut into halves or slices, bake, and scoop out the flesh after you cook it. It conveniently makes its own bowl, though, should you wish to stuff it with something.)
Regardless, once you've found a suitable squash, peel it with a big heavy knife, lop off the stem and blossom ends, and cut it in half lengthwise. Scrape out the seeds with a sharp-edged spoon. (Don't discard the seeds!) If the squash is really hard to manipulate and cut, and you do not object morally to the use of a microwave oven, pierce it with a fork and zap it for a minute or two to soften it. (Otherwise, hie thee to the cellar for the machete, or bash your squash on
Slacker hint: Let me suggest that you select delicata squashes over any others if you can. They do not need to be peeled before eating, they taste fabulous and, a tad softer than other varieties, they are really easy to cut up. Best, they offer a joy opportunity. If you cut them in half lengthwise and then slice the halves crosswise, you get a happy bowlful of smile-shaped squash bits, which, in a vulnerable moment, can provide just the sort of lift you might need on a
miserable winter day.
Cut your squash into chunks about an inch square (or into smiles) and toss them in a bowl. Sprinkle them with a small amount of olive oil (a couple teaspoons should be enough for one squash), dust them with sea salt and fresh pepper, and toss them with a spoon till all the chunks have a light coat of oil. Using some form of fat to cook yellow vegetables lets you convert the food's beta carotene into the form of Vitamin A your body likes best. Spread the pieces on a cookie
sheet and put them in the oven at high heat (say, 425F to 450F) for about a half hour. Go do something else.
Your chunks are done when they're softened and browned and don't seem watery anymore. You can flip them but you don't have to. I usually will make extra so I have some pieces available for snacking, tossing in salads, or serving as a side dish. Maybe mix in some chopped up carrots or sweet potatoes. Cooking up the yellow veggies has become a Sunday afternoon ritual at my house.
When you're tired of delicata smiles, try some soup. My method makes enough for two or three people but you can multiply it for multitudes. This is so easy it is not funny.
Saute up a chopped onion in a couple teaspoons of olive oil in the bottom of a large saucepan. Add a teaspoon of fresh grated ginger if you have some, or use dried if you don't; add a minced clove of garlic if you like it, or skip that if you don't. When the onions are golden and fragrant, add about two cups of peeled squash chunks, and simmer them with two cups of chicken or vegetable broth for 20 to 30 minutes or so. When the squash is soft, put the whole mess in a
blender and puree it, or go after it with your stick blender or even an electric mixer. For extra "heft," you could add a little cream, coconut milk, or almond butter, but I usually like it just like this. Salt and pepper, ba-da-bing.
Finally – eat your squash's seeds! We are talking Big Fiber, Healthy Fat, and Major Crunch. Way cheaper than commercial pumpkin seeds from the health food store, and the skins are so thin you can eat them whole. Who wants to waste food?
To prepare these, wash off all the slimy squash guts from your saved seeds – in a colander under running water works best. Dry them off with a tea towel and toss them in a bowl with a tablespoon of olive oil and some sea salt. You can also add cayenne or garlic salt or cumin (or all three!) if you like spicy. Spread the seeds out in a single layer on a cookie sheet and roast them at 350F for about 30 minutes. Check on them about halfway through to make sure they're not
cooking too fast; shake the cookie sheet gently once or twice while they're toasting to keep them from sticking or burning. Oh, these smell so good!
If this is All Just Too Much for you, well, at least put the squash trimmings and the seeds out for the backyard creatures you host. They have an even longer, harder winter than you do!