Bright orange, silvery blue, variegated yellow and green — winter squashes are lighting up our farmers market stalls.
They can be big as a basketball or the size of a plump apple, but there really is no need to think too hard about which squash to haul home. Unlike summery tomatoes, sweet corn and peas, which all need immediate attention, squash will wait patiently, displayed on front steps, until ready to cook. And though the varieties of squash vary slightly in texture and taste, they all cook up to be mild and creamy. Winter squash is a most accommodating vegetable: Simmer it into Indian curries, African stews, Asian stir-fries, Italian ravioli, Mexican soups, savory potpies and sumptuous sweets.
At our farmers markets and co-ops, you’ll find a wide selection of heirloom squash as well as newer varieties that have been bred for flavor. All are members of the Cucurbitaceae family, which consists of more than 1,000 species of squash, gourds, watermelon, cucumbers, winter melons and gherkins. Given our interest in nativist eating, we’re rediscovering this indigenous vegetable that was nourishing people well before colonists arrived.
Our locally grown squash is the freshest, and because squash shells toughen with age, these will be the easiest to peel and taste the best. The peak season for squash is October through November, so get to the markets soon. You want to select winter squash that feels heavy for its size, is hard and deeply colored and free of blemishes. The variations in color relate to the variety, not to flavor or maturity. A half-pound of winter squash yields about a single serving.
All you need to prepare squash is a very sharp knife. To start, cut about a quarter of an inch off both ends of the squash so it doesn’t slip.Stand it up on one of those ends and lop it in half from top to bottom. This provides a solid base that won’t slip and slide around the cutting board. Next, scoop out the seeds (save them for roasting if you wish) and discard the gunk. The skins of a fresh butternut, honeynut and red kuri squash are tender enough that they really don’t need to be removed; you can peel acorn and others with a vegetable peeler, but I often don’t bother. They, too, will soften as they cook.
Regardless of the variety, roasting squash is a surefire method that yields sweet, tender results.Unless you’re planning to make pie or muffins, cooked squash is best enhanced with the savory notes of soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, Parmesan …….