When we made plans months ago to visit Hershey Park in the Dark over the Halloween weekend, we were certainly not expecting 5-8 inches of snow, as has now been predicted for tomorrow. Thankfully, we have plenty of squash on hand to combat the chill of early winter!
Squash are often viewed with skepticism by adults and children alike. This floors me, since they are such a delicious substitute for low-nutrient starches like potatoes and pasta. So we're going to start small, with three of the most common varieties (not counting the almighty pumpkin, of course, about which I wrote last fall.)
Acorn Squash are so named for their shape: look for smooth, firm ridges and flesh that varies in color from green to orange and brown, sometimes with pretty dapples of color.
- Foolproof: cut in half, scoop out the seeds and strings (but don't throw them away, please!) and place cut-side down in a baking pan filled with half an inch of water. When they're fork-tender, add a pat of butter and a drizzle of maple syrup to the cavity and mash gently for a delicious breakfast or dessert.
- Fancy: Cut the halves into half-inch slices; toss these with olive oil, salt, pepper and a little brown sugar and roast at 400 degrees until tender. Or stuff the halves with wild rice, dried fruit and nuts and bake skin-side down for an amazing vegetarian main dish.
Spaghetti Squash look unassuming on the outside (just plain yellow ovals) but they have a magical secret: when baked, the flesh separates into thin strings that look and feel just like -- you guessed it -- cooked spaghetti.
- Foolproof: bake as with acorn squash; use a fork to separate the strands of squash from the skin and top with marinara sauce and meatballs. Your family might not even notice!
- Fancy: toss with herbs, olive oil, salt and garlic; top with sauteed scallops or shrimp. Or use some of that fresh pesto you made up a few weeks ago.
Butternut Squash are a toasty orange color with a sort of bell shape; depending on the maturity of the fruit, they can grow into giant U's over the course of a long season.
- Foolproof: bake, again, as with acorn squash. Butternut squash tend to be much larger, so puree and freeze most of the flesh for use in pies or soups. Reserve a little to mash with butter, salt and syrup as a side dish for roasted pork.
- Fancy: The New York Times Magazine's annual Food Issue contained a fascinating article about preparing for a dinner party with minimal fuss. In it, Mark Bittman explains how to tweak a simple soup recipe to include flavors from the Mediterranean, Asian or Latin Americas: it's a simple matter of adjusting the seasonings. So really, this is pretty much foolproof too!