It’s squash season…
…And there’s lot more to our fall lineup of gorgeous gourds than the old fashioned Halloween pumpkin!
I particularly love Butternut and Pepper squashes. Once you bake a squash off in a slow oven with the right basic seasonings, you can enjoy it in any number of delicious ways!
Bake squash to pump up the flavour!
I start by washing the squash, using a nail or vegetable brush to get off all clinging soil, especially around the ends knots, in the creases of the Pepper squash and in any rough blemishes on the skin. I then quarter the squash lengthwise, remove all the seeds and ‘hair’ with a sharp spoon, and set the quarters on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, spaced a few centimetres (about an inch) apart, with their centres facing up.
If any of the quarters tends to tip over to one side or the other (and one or more always do!), just cut a small slice off the back of the piece creating a flat, stable surface on which the quarter can rest. This is important to keep in the good things I add next quarters as the squash slowly bakes to tender, golden perfection.
Now, I add a heaping teaspoon of butter, a heaping tablespoon of brown sugar, a sprinkle of salt and a few grinds of fresh pepper to each of the upturned squash cavities. I also like to add a good pinch of ground nutmeg to each squash quarter. This versatile spice really brings out the flavour in squashes and many other vegetables!
I then place the prepared squash quarters in a pre-heated 350F oven for about an hour and a half, basting with its own buttery, sugary juices about every half hour. You’ll know they’re done when the flesh of the squash offers no resistance to your testing fork and comes away easily from the skin.
Many ways to enjoy…
You can serve the squash quarters (sliced further into eighths after cooling slightly) just as they are.
Or, you can bake them off ahead of time and scoop the flesh out of the skins and into a casserole. Whisk in a couple of eggs, one third cup of cream some fresh herbs (whatever you like best with the sweet, earthy flavour of squash). I grew Lemon Thyme in my herb garden this past summer. I love it with any savoury squash dish.
In a separate bowl, blend two cups of bread crumbs (whole wheat, or any whole grain bread is really good in this application) with half a cup of brown sugar, a good pinch of salt and pepper and enough salad-quality (good extra-virgin) olive oil to make a thick paste that just sticks together like wet sand when you squeeze some in your hand. You can also add more nutmeg to this mixture if you want to, but be careful not too add too much, or the spice will overpower the other suble flavours in the dish.
Use a big spoon or a spatula to smooth the squash purée into a an even layer in the casserole. Then, sprinkle the crumb mixture over the tip and gently spread it our to cover the squash evenly.
Bake the completed casserole in a 350F or 375F oven for 45 to 60 minutes (until the topping is crusty and lightly browned). This dish is a staple of my holiday feasts, from Thanksgiving, through Christmas and New Year’s, to Easter!
If you have baked squash left over, fear not. I use it in several delicious ways!
I occasionally make a squash pie as a harvest-time side dish. This recipe requires at least one whole large squash (or two small ones) to fill a standard 9 in. pie crust.
Again, prepare a squash purée, but not exactly as you would for the casserole described above. Drain any excess water out of the basic (unseasoned) purée by placing in a fine mesh sieve over a bowl for a few minutes.
Place the drained purée in a large bowl with plenty of stirring room. Add three eggs, one half cup of cream and one quarter cup brown sugar. Also add a teaspoon of cinnamon, half a teaspoon of nutmeg and a good pinch of cloves. Combine all ingredients well, with a whisk, incorporating some air if possible.
Sound familiar? Yup, it’s pretty much like a good old Pumpkin Pie! But this is intended as a hearty, albeit sweetish, main course dish, not a dessert.
Make up enough pie crust (your favourite recipe) for a single-crust (bottom crust only) pie. Roll out the dough and place in that 9 in. pie pan we discussed earlier. Pour in filling and bake immediately.
Okay… I know some of you are thinking, “Do I bake off the crust, totally or partly, before filling it?”
The answer is a resounding no!
Our filling is a classic custard and it will take a good hour to cook properly. The secret to avoiding a soggy bottom crust on any pie with a liquid filling, including the elusive Perfect Quiche, is to pre-heat your oven to 425F and bake the pie at that temperature for the first 15 minutes. Then, turn down the oven to 350F for the remaining baking time (50 to 60 minutes). This ensures that the bottom crust will set and crust-up before the liquid filling can soak into it. On the other hand, we want to bake the filling off at a lower temperature to ensure that the custard sets properly – and that the crust doesn’t burn. Try it!
Squash soup: a classic!
The other thing I love about squashes and fall is squash soup!
You can simply purée any left over baked squash flesh with a handful of sautéed onion and a strip or two of crispy bacon as the basis for a savoury, satisfying cold-weather soup.
Crisp off the bacon in a sauce pan, rather than a shallow frypan or skillet, and reserve the bacon fat to brown the onions. Add the squash-bacon-onion purée back into the same pan, stirring gently until it warms through (a few minutes) and all the little bits of oniony and bacony flavour come up off the bottom. Then add enough cream to make a nice, thick, creamy soup and bring the whole mixture to a low boil. Turn heat down to a simmer. Taste for salt and pepper and adjust as needed. (You will probably need a little more of each.) For a special treat, add a pat or two of butter just before serving and stir in gently.
This soup is great as a prelude to the supper main course, or by itself for lunch with a a slice of hot, toasted garlic bread.
Enjoy our locally-grown, fall squashes in as many ways as you can imagine while they’re in season!
~ Maggie J.