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 V.20 No.46 | November 17 - 23, 2011 

Eating In

Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner and Pie

Squash dishes you’ll eat for pleasure, not duty

There’s chocolate in that there squash.
Ari LeVaux
There’s chocolate in that there squash.

Winter squashalong with turkey, eggnog and perhaps your crazy aunt Berthareserves a place at most holiday tables. But unlike the others, there’s a seasonal reason for squash being there. And by seasonal, I don't mean the holiday season.

As the warm part of the year belongs to salad greens and tomatoes, the cold months belong to that hard-shelled, long-storing cucurbit. I've got a stash of more than 200 buttercup squashes from a crop that friends and I grew in a shared garden on borrowed land. At first this mountain of blue/green spheroids looked insurmountable, and I wondered what I would possibly do with them all. But as I started cooking, the pile began to look almost pitifully inadequate. Now I know that I'll be depending on, and enjoying, those squashes all through the long, cold winter.

In other English-speaking countries, the word "pumpkin" refers to the entire diversity of winter squash. But in the U.S., pumpkin is just one type within an expansive family. That might explain why so many American cooks and consumers think of winter squash as weird and consider dealing with it as a choremore like Christmas shopping than the gift that it is.

The mediocre reception also has a lot to do with the most common cooking advice given to neophyte chefs. "Simply cut the squash in half, scoop out the seeds and bake it face down on a cookie sheet at 350° until soft," goes the protocol. Those who follow such directions are usually told to serve their squash dressed in butter and maple syrup or some other sweetener. To me, that's like serving milk with cream, or bacon with grease.

Baking squash is a fine means to an end for pie or soup. But a chunk of baked squash tends to remain on the plate after the dinner party action has moved to the living room couch.

Baking squash is a fine means to an end for pie or soup. But a chunk of baked squash tends to remain on the plate after the dinner party action has moved to the living room couch.

I hope to change that for good with these recipes. First, a chocolate squash pie that’ll make you hoard your squash like a squirrel stashing acorns. Next, a soup that's simple and satisfying. And finally, crispy chunks of roasted squash with roots that are as addictive as potato chips.

Starchy winter squashes like buttercup, sunshine, kabocha and blue hubbard work best for all of these recipes, because the starch adds body. Avoid pumpkins, butternuts and other watery squashes. And please avoid spaghetti squash, which doesn't work at all.

If the last two dishes survive the night, they reheat excellently the next day. The roasted roots can accompany breakfast eggs, and the soup makes a nice lunch. The pie almost certainly won't survive the night, but it makes a tasty treat any time of day.

Chocolate Winter Squash Pie

Bake the squash as described above (seeded, halved and face down at 350° until softabout an hour, but it depends on the type and thickness of the squash you use). As the squash is cooking, make a 9-inch pie crust from your favorite recipe (or just use a store-bought one), stopping short of baking it. Then prepare the following chocolate sauce:

Mix half a cup of sugar and half a cup of unsweetened cocoa powder in a medium-size bowl. In a saucepan, melt half a stick of butter over low heat, add the chocolate-and-sugar mixture and stir it all together. Add more cocoa powder if you like your chocolate dark. Stir until completely combined, then incorporate half a cup of milk. Pour the mixture into the crustit should be about half an inch deepand put the crust in the freezer.

Let the squash cool, then scoop the flesh out of the shell and into a food processor. For a two- or three-pound squash, add three medium eggs, a cup of milk, and a tablespoon each of dried, shredded coconut and cracked (aka “quick cook”) tapioca. Blend and taste. (It’ll probably taste really good, so try to control yourself.)

Once the chocolate sauce has frozen solid inside the crust, remove it from the freezer and spread the squash mixture on top. Bake for 45 minutes at 300° or until an inserted knife comes out clean. Let the pie cool to room temperature so the chocolate layer doesn't smear when you cut it.

Winter Squash Soup

While the inherent sweetness of winter squash is apparent in pie, it doesn't get in the way of this savory soup. The trick here is combining baked and simmered squash.

Start with one in the oven, as above. Take another squash, or the other half of a big squash, and skin it with a knife. Cut it into small pieces until you have a cup's worth. Sauté a chopped onion in olive oil until translucent, then add the cut squash and two cups of water. Simmer for about half an hour, then mash the baked squash and mix two cups of it into the simmering squash broth. It should result in a soft, chunky consistency. Add salt and raw pressed garlic to taste, and serve.

Roasted Winter Squash “Roots”

Winter squash can act like an honorary root vegetable when you roast it alongside fellow storage crops, such as potatoes, carrots and parsnips. This easy recipe is perfectly at home alongside any other components of your winter feast.

Cut roots and skin-on squash into 1-inch chunks, coat with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook under the broiler, stirring frequently for even browning. In about half an hour, the roots and squash will be crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. Remove, cool and eat.

 

Tomorrow's Events

Corrales Growers' Market at Corrales Growers' Market

Fresh, locally grown food and fantastic local music.

San Pedro Mile-Hi Farmers' Market at Alvarado Park

Afternoon Tea & Talk at Fragrant Leaf Tea Boutique

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