BY DEBRA J. MORRIS
Winter squash is often thought of as just a decorative gourd used during the fall season. Most people are unfamiliar with the wonderful variety of hard-shell winter squash that’s available. They offer delicious, mildly sweet flavor and ease of cooking. Roast, then cube, mash, or serve in the shell with a bit of brown sugar and butter.
Widely available at your farmers’ markets this season, there are often varieties not seen at your supermarket like honeynut (a smaller version of butternut), Hubbard (a big gray-green oblong squash), buttercup (dark green and small), and carnival (small, mottled yellow and green variety). Try some of these varieties this fall and winter:
Acorn Squash: Nutty, meaty taste. These are popular because of their small size—one squash can be cut in half and baked for two generous servings. The biggest drawback is that the rind is quite hard, and therefore difficult to cut.
Butternut Squash: Sweet, moist and nutty taste. Pale yellow-orange color. This variety is popular because it is easy to use. Its rind is thin enough to peel off with a vegetable peeler. Elongated gourd shape.
Hubbard Squash: It has a bumpy, thick skin with a golden, bluish-gray or green color. The flesh is rich and slightly sweeter than the banana.
Kabocha Squash: This one is round with a flattened top and dark green color punctuated by white streaks. The deep orange flesh is flavorful but less moist than most other squash, akin to the fluffiness of a Russet potato.
Spaghetti Squash: Generally mild squash taste. Yellow inside and out. After it is cooked you can dig a fork into the flesh and pull out long yellow strands that resemble spaghetti. Though it tastes like squash, the “noodles” can serve as a low-calorie substitute for pasta.
Delicata Squash: A very tasty little squash with thin skin that does not require peeling. Its pale yellow skin has dark green stripes and its yellow flesh tastes somewhat like a sweet potato. Cut lengthwise, scoop out seeds, and roast drizzled with olive oil, salt, and pepper.
Cooking with winter squash: Winter squash is not usually peeled before cooking. It is usually steamed, boiled or roasted. Seasonings used with winter squash are similar to what goes well with sweet potatoes: brown sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, or cloves. Cooked garlic adds a nutty mellowness, herbs bring out the natural flavors. They can be eaten in the shell or scooped out and mashed like potatoes.
Be very careful when cutting into the harder shelled varieties like acorn. They slip and slide when you try to cut into them. You might have to place the knife on the squash and tap the knife with a hammer to get started. Of course, use a very sharp knife.
You’ll find some tasty winter squash at your Martinez Farmers Market from Halog Farms out of Merced.
Kabocha Squash Soup
• 1 kabocha squash, seeded, peeled, cut into 1-inch cubes
• 1 carrot, diced
• 1 onion, finely diced
• 2 tablespoons butter
• 2 to 3 tablespoons heavy cream
• Parsley for garnish, optional
• 4 cups vegetable stock
• Salt and pepper, to taste
Carefully cut and skin kabocha squash, remove seeds. Cut into 1-inch cubes. Dice onions and carrots.
In a stock pot on the stove, add butter. When melted, add carrots and onion. Cook on medium heat for a few minutes until the onion is almost translucent and lightly browned. Add kabocha and vegetable stock. Stir.
Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low. Cook until kabocha is soft, about 45 minutes. Add heavy cream, season with salt and pepper, and stir to combine.
Blend with an emersion blender until smooth or place in a standing blender, blend, and add back to the pot. Add more salt and pepper, to taste. Stir. Serve with a garnish of parsley and a drizzle of cream, if desired.