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Acquainted with the Squash

I have been one acquainted with the squash. Winter squash, that is. My family just met yet another interesting variety. Hello, delicata.

I have been one acquainted with the squash. My long-standing familiarity has been with the summer variety, zucchini and yellow squash and more recently, those cute pattypan ones. My family just met yet another interesting type of winter squash. Hello, delicata.

What draws me to winter squash are their unique shape, color and texture. They are round, pear-shaped, oval or long-necked. Some have stripes, indentations and ridges while others have a smooth surface and even color tone. The flesh ranges from gold to orange. Whether they feature an exterior shade or combination of green, yellow, orange, beige and tan, they have one thing in common. Unlike summer squash, which tend to have thinner, edible skin, winter squash have denser flesh and much thicker skin, making them a challenge to prepare.

Winter squash are a pleasure to display as a Fall portrait. Stacked or leaning against a bale of hay or filling a harvest basket beautifully, they are hard to imagine as being more than decoration given their hard exterior and solid interior. Only the squash-experienced are aware of their complex richness, variety of flavors and nutritional benefits. Some are stringy; others are more starchy like a potato; and then there are creamy ones which are ideal mashed or pureed for soup.

In the past, I prepared the occasional butternut squash soup or roasted acorn squash as a starter course, but ever since a member of my family experienced serious food sensitivities to grain, starch and sugar, we turned to winter squash as potato and sweet potato substitutes. We discovered a world of delicious recipes and even began concocting our own. Some experienced winter squash handlers are able to forcefully halve them prior to baking or roasting, as most recipes suggest. I learned that this is not an easy task. Even with a very sharp knife, I lack the confidence, burly strength, height and leverage to drive the edge into its center. Recipes assured me that the sturdy vegetable would eventually give, but I never seemed to have a firm grip of the sharpest knife I could fine. The squash often had my kitchen implement in a headlock and it would win!

So I do the most logical thing. After scrubbing and rinsing the squash first, I roast it whole. I bake an average size squash into a baking pan in the oven at 375 degrees for about 45 minutes. I test its readiness by poking it with a skewer. If the skin has a golden glow, easily punctures and its juices ooze, it is ready to be sliced in a civil manner. Once cooked, I can easily scoop out the seeds and peel the skin, either slice them into chunks or scoop and mash the flesh, then season and serve or puree and combine with soup broth.

What I love about squash is that they can be prepared either sweet or savory. Many recipes for butternut, acorn and buttercup encourage a simple seasoning of butter or margarine with brown sugar or maple syrup. Heartier preparations for spaghetti squash may consist of olive oil, garlic, hard cheeses like parmesan or romano and marinara type sauces.

I cooked the delicata squash that a local farmer introduced to me yesterday. He was right. Although it felt as dense as its other winter counterparts, its skin was thin enough to slice and eat. The skin is not as soft as a zucchini but not as hard as the butternut. There was no need to peel the skin. Their flavor is indeed richer and texture creamier than the butternut too. My kids loved it! Give it a try. If you aren't already acquainted with squash, maybe this will open new culinary doors for you and your family too.

Give delicata squash a try:

The Farmer's Recipe for Roasted Delicata Squash

1. Simply slice the delicata squash down the middle length-wise and scoop out the seeds.

2. Cut off the ends and slice it width-wise so you end up with half-inch thick half-circle "smiles."

3. Place cut-up squash in a large bowl and coat with olive oil using your hands to toss them inside the bowl.

4. Lay squash pieces on foil tray and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper.

5. Bake for 12-15 minutes at 350 degrees. Flip squash with metal spatula half-way through baking.

6. Roasted delicata squash are done when the carmelized edges are brown.

To learn more about the many winter squash varieties, click on: http://whatscookingamerica.net/squash.htm



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