We're decidedly in the midst of squash season. Chefs and home cooks are hitting the market and hauling them away by the dozen—and not just for front porch decor.
Fall and winter squashes tend to be large, so you only have to deal with one or two if you're feeding a crowd versus, say, peeling a pound of pearl onions which, frankly, sucks. Squash also plays nice with everybody—herbs, nuts, cheeses, cured meats and all the fats. Throw just about anything at those sweet gourds and they just roll with it. It's their mellow sweetness that makes them such a winner with everybody you might be entertaining this season.
So, what to do with those oddly shaped babies? Sure, you can whip up a big batch of butternut squash soup. But Chef Eric Korsh of New York City's North End Grill warns of the butternut squash soup sins of the '90s. "Flavor-wise, butternut squash is like a limp handshake. It needs a backbone," which he defines with plenty of brown butter, lemon juice, and a little chile, like cayenne or piment d'espelette. Keep that in mind if you're committed to a butternut, but know that kabocha and red kuri have great flavor and purée to a similar silky finish.
But, let's think outside the pot, shall we? Chef Lee Desrosiers of Brooklyn's Achilles Heel knows what we're talking about: He had to figure out how to let squash shine without an oven (the restaurant only has hot plates and a wood-burning stove). "Recently, I've been scooping out the squash seeds and making stock with that. Then, I cook the pieces of squash in the stock. Turns out, you can taste the squash even more, and the flavor is cleaner than when you caramelize it in an oven."
Whether you prepare it raw (yes, you can), pickled, roasted or puéeed, know that this season, squash is your versatile, go-to guy. Just remember to balance its natural sweetness with fat, salt, acid—you know, the usual suspects. Grab a gourd and give one of these ideas a go.
Photo: Mike Licht via Flickr
① Raw Squash and Pistachio Salad
Grate a peeled butternut squash on the large holes of a box grater. Toss with lemon juice, toasted cumin seeds, torn fresh parsley, olive oil, salt and pepper. Add a handful of chopped, toasted pistachios and season with flaky sea salt.
② Atonement Soup
Split a kabocha squash and scrape out the seeds. Put seeds in a pot with chicken or vegetable broth and simmer to infuse the liquid. Strain out the seeds and add the chopped squash; cook until tender. Sauté a chopped onion in butter until tender and the butter is brown and nutty smelling. Add squash and broth and simmer to meld. Purée until smooth, then whisk in a bit of lemon juice and season with salt. Serve with a dollop of crème fraîche and toasted hazelnuts.
③ Roasted Squash with Treviso, Brown Butter and Piment D'espelette
Whisk together slightly cooled brown butter, white wine vinegar, salt, pepper and a pinch or two of piment d'espelette. Spoon over roasted carnival squash and torn treviso. Top with chopped chives, toasted pumpkin seeds and a squeeze of lemon.
④ Tempura Squash
Whisk together ½ cup cornstarch, ½ cup all-purpose flour, ½ teaspoon baking powder and ¼ teaspoon salt. Add 1 cup seltzer and whisk until smooth. Dip thin slices of peeled butternut or unpeeled delicata squash in batter, then fry in vegetable oil until golden. Drain on paper towels and season with salt.
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⑤ Squash Gratin
Peel, halve and thinly slice a butternut squash, discarding seeds. Shingle squash in a shallow baking dish, seasoning with salt and pepper between each layer. Tuck a few sprigs of rosemary among squash and pour heavy cream over, just to cover. Top with fresh breadcrumbs and a bit of grated pecorino. Bake, covered, until squash is tender. Uncover and bake until cream is reduced and thickened and breadcrumbs are golden.
⑥ Spaghetti Squash with Sage and Pancetta
Split a spaghetti squash in half and roast at 400°, cut face down in a roasting pan with a cup of water, until fork tender; about 30 to 45 minutes. Meanwhile, crisp up some thickly sliced pancetta (10 ounces, about 2 cups) and set aside. Scrape flesh from skin onto a serving dish. Melt a stick of unsalted butter with a several sage leaves over medium heat until golden and nutty smelling, then pour over squash; add chopped pancetta. Season with salt, pepper and grated Parmesan cheese.
Photo: Adrian Scottow via Flickr
⑦ Roasted and Pickled Delicata Squash with Ricotta and Sesame
Make a brine of 2 cups cider vinegar, 2 tablespoons black peppercorns, 1 tablespoon each sugar and salt and several sprigs of thyme. Pour over a thinly sliced delicata squash and set aside to pickle. Roast another thinly sliced squash until tender. Toss pickled and roasted squash together and serve over fresh ricotta, drizzled with olive oil, some of the pickling liquid and sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds.
⑧ Squash Pasta with Feta and Wilted Arugula
Toss roasted kabocha squash with cooked spaghetti or linguini, a knob of butter and a bit of pasta water. Fold in crumbled feta, torn arugula, lemon zest and lots of black pepper.
⑨ Squash and Wheat Berry Salad
Toss steamed, chopped squash with cooked wheat berries, aged goat cheese, a handful of torn, fresh mint and toasted sunflower seeds. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Finish with a drizzle of white wine vinegar.
⑩ Ember-Roasted Squash
Throw a few carnival squashes into the embers of a fire until charred and tender. Split open and dress with butter, maple syrup and sea salt. Eat with a spoon.
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