Winter is upon us and fresh tomatoes, lettuce, peppers, and stones fruits have been replaced by their sturdier cousins potatoes, onions, hardy greens, and apples. Winter squash is one simple way we can add both bright colors and bright flavors that tend to be missing from our winter table. Winter squash are diverse in their shapes and sizes, some perfect for a single serving and others will feed your largest dinner party.
Winter squash is a vegetable that is important to buy certified organic. Studies have shown that winter squash is useful in reconditioning the soil in fields because it has the ability to draw chemicals out of contaminated soils. The studies showed that the winter squash plants were effective in drawing out polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons such as pyrene, flouranthene and chrysene. This is a great attribute for a plant, but not for a plant to eat, especially since the fruit (squash) is the plant’s storage facility of these chemicals. Insist that all of your winter squash is certified organic.
There are many different varieties of winter squash, too many to talk about here. I will focus on a few varieties we carry that you may not be familiar with.
Kabocha squash, a.k.a. Japanese pumpkin, have either a dark green or deep orange skin, with flesh that is deep yellow color. The meat has a rich sweet flavor, and often a dry, flaky consistency.
Carnival Squash, shaped similar to an acorn squash, has a cream colored skin with orange and green spots and stripes. The meat is yellow and reminiscent of sweet potatoes and butternut squash. This squash is great in soups, or baked with fresh herbs.
Sweet Dumpling Squash, usually the smallest winter squash, resembles a pumpkin with cream colored skin that has green spots and stripes. It has sweet, tender meat, and is excellent for baking and stuffing.
Blue Ballet Squash, similar to the blue hubbard, is generally one of the largest squash in the display. They have a blue to blue-gray skin and dense, moist meat that requires a longer cooking time. They are excellent when boiled, cut up and roasted, or steamed. And they are perfect for pies.
Red Kuri Squash has the appearance of a small pumpkin without ridges. The meat inside is firm with a mild chestnut-like flavor. Take your pick of ways to cook it, like most winter squash it is versatile. Because of its nutty flavor it is excellent in baked good as well.
Most winter squashes are interchangeable in recipes. But keep in mind that the constancy of the meat can vary, like with a spaghetti squash. With most winter squash, the skins are thick and hard to cut through. Make sure to use your sharpest knife. In some cases, they will require a bit of strength to cut them up.
The nice part about winter squash is they are simple to cook. A good rule of thumb for baking winter squash is bake them at 350 degrees until they are tender. First cut them in half, then scoop out the seeds and place cut side down on a lightly greased baking sheet. Once baked it is just a matter of adding butter and herbs. If you want to go the sweet route, you can top top the squash with butter, sugar, cinnamon or nutmeg. For more savory options you can stuff squash with lentils or a rice pilaf.
Winter squash is an amazing and versatile ingredient. Take your favorite recipe and switch out the acorn squash for a red kuri or a kabohca. Whether you roast, bake, boil or steam it, take advantage of the abundance of certified organic winter squash that we have available this time of year.
Braised Winter Squash & Potatoes with Mustard
- 2 Tbsp. butter
- 1 lb. winter squash, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
- (about 1 1/2 cups)
- 1 lb. red potatoes, cut into 1-inch chunks
- 4 medium shallots, peeled and halved
- 2 tsp. minced fresh rosemary
- 1 tsp. coarse salt
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 1 Tbsp. coarse-grained mustard
- 1 cup low-salt vegetable or chicken broth
- In a large skillet over medium-high heat, melt butter and add squash, potatoes and shallots.
- Stir over medium-high heat until vegetables have browned around the edges, 8-10 minutes.
- Add rosemary, salt and pepper and stir well.
- Add mustard and broth, stirring to mix.
- Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce heat to medium low.
- After braising for 10 minutes, check the liquid: it should be almost all absorbed and the vegetables should be completely tender.
- If vegetables are tender but there is still too much broth, raise heat to high and boil the liquid, uncovered, until it’s reduced to a syrupy glaze.
- Toss to coat the vegetables and transfer to a serving dish.