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The Joy of Squash 

click to enlarge Hokkaido squash - PHOTO BY JADA CALYPSO BROTMAN
  • photo by Jada Calypso Brotman
  • Hokkaido squash

My parents don't really feel squash. They don't despise it; it just doesn't provoke any vehement response. I don't understand their reaction; if my father can spend days finding the right ratio of duck fat to butter for frying potatoes, and my mother giggles like a school girl at the sight of sweet potato French fries, what's the ish with squash? It's starchy, happily colored in kindergarten hues, and more flavorful that a Yukon Gold. My li'l bro brought back some Hokkaido squash dry-farmed at New Moon Organics in Shively, amidst much trumpeting fanfare, and they barely looked up from their New Yorkers.

I adore Hokkaido squash. I like squash anyway, but this particular variety is the Cadillac of genus Squashus (OK, technically genus Cucurbita). Its orange-Creamsicle flesh is unbelievably fine-textured with none of the stringy mealiness that is the average squash's cross to bear. The flavor is sweet and earthy with that vegetal quality foods that grow directly on the soil tend to have.

It's also logical to plan for plenty o' squash on the table, Hokkaido or otherwise. Not only is it what's on the horizon locally for our hoe-wielding farmers, but we can all pat ourselves smugly on the back as we consume: Winter squashes are loaded with Vitamin E, Thiamin, Niacin, Vitamin B-6, Folate, Calcium and Magnesium, and are a good source of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Potassium and Manganese. I don't know about y'all but my Manganese stocks are seriously depleted after a summer spent forcing down blackberries and fresh lettuces. "Finally", I say, relieved, "the Manganese crisis is ended. Yes we can!"

Of course winter squash meals are not limited to autumn; the same hardiness that requires a hatchet to bust ‘er into manageable bits means winter squash's storage life is extremely long -- up to a year.

Hokkaido comes in many colors -- trad orange, but also blue or grey, all with orange flesh. Warren Creek Farms on Mad River Road has some Grey Hokkaido, and New Moon will have the Blue in Eureka Natural Foods after the first frost. Hokkaido's my fave, but I'd think butternut or any extra-dense textured winter squash will work just as well in any of these recipes.

The unusually creamy texture of its flesh inspired new uses for the Hokkaido, which I hope will galvanize the jaded autumn squash eater to move beyond brown sugar and butter.

I enjoy winter squash thinly sliced and layered with yellow onions and butter, with a little stock, a spoonful of sugar and salt, and a bop of sherry poured over all, baked in a glass baking dish for 45 minutes at 350. It makes a nice side for a seared duck breast.

A hunk of roasted squash slathered in the Yogi Cookbook's pale-green cashew chutney is a colorful and delicious snack. Gorgeous, delish and nutrish.

My ma makes a mean pumpkin gnocchi. And there is the ubiquitous Squash Soup, which my friend Willoughby enlivens with Chinese 5 spice, dried shitakes and fresh raw corn. I add fried fresh ricotta, which makes it rather decadent.

Note: For the following recipes, pre-roast the squash. Start by hacking it into eighths (I use an axe -- that's mostly why I like making squash). Scrap out seeds. Put hunks on a baking sheet covered with pieces with foil, and roast till tender, about 50 minutes at 350 in a preheated oven. When cool enough to handle, trim away peel (edible but tough) and dried-out exposed parts of flesh. (The trimming can be mitigated somewhat by massaging with a lot of oil prior to roasting -- I just trim).

Squash is so good for you; stop being a fussbudget and figure out exciting ways to make it a component of your fall and winter menu.

 

Hurry-up Squash Soup

Start by making Flavor Paste with:

6 cloves garlic, inch-long nub of fresh ginger, half a jalapeño, 1/2 t. pepper, 1/8 teaspoon Chinese 5 spice, 1 teaspoon salt

Smash together in a mortar and pestle, or dice finely and mash with flat of knife. Put 2 tablespoons peanut oil in a high-sided soup pot over medium heat; add paste and stir until it sizzles.

Add 3 cups chicken or veg stock and 3/4 cup coconut milk and bring to simmer.

Whisk in:

2 cups prepared squash, put through a ricer plus 1 1/2 Tablespoon brown sugar

Simmer for five minutes. Add water if too thick. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Addition suggestions (add whichever and how ever many appeal):

1/2 cup chopped reconstituted dried mushrooms (porcinis, shitakes), kernels cut from one ear corn (or 1/2 cup frozen kernels), 1 cup shredded chicken, a cup shredded cabbage, 1/2 cup grated coconut, 1/2 cup toasted cashews or peanuts, 1/2 cup chopped scallions, a handful chopped parsley and/or cilantro, a cup fried fresh ricotta crumbles...

 

Squash Crostini

The fluffy, cloud-like consistency of Hiked forced through a ricer has a lot of possibilities.

2 cups prepared dense-fleshed squash, chopped roughly

1/2 cup olive or pumpkin seed oil

2-3 cloves garlic, put through a press

1/2 to 1 teaspoon salt or to taste

1 baguette, sliced thinly

1 cup (or one package) local chevre, plain

Ground pepper

Put the squash though a ricer. Put your finger in it and marvel at its velvet texture.

Using a fork, whisk in the oil, a bit at a time, until fluffy. Add garlic and salt.

Arrange bread rounds on a baking sheet. Spread a heaping teaspoon or so on each.

Crumble a small amount of chevre on each.

Grind black pepper lightly over all.

Toast in preheated 350 degree oven until nice-looking, about 5 minutes.

 

Grilled Squash

Prepare squash as before. Place pre-cooked squash, lightly oiled, skin side down on wood or charcoal grill, over area with medium heat.

Cover if possible, and cook until almost falling apart, 10-15 minutes.

Trim off any charred bits, spread with butter, drizzle heavily with thyme honey, sprinkle with ricotta cheese, salt, and another drizzle of honey.

 

Max Brotman's Mashed Squash

Heat up some butter in a cast iron pan over medium heat.

Place 2 cups or so of peeled cooked squash in pan and heat, covered, until falling apart (around 20 minutes).

Mash vigorously, and whip in 2 tablespoons butter, a half cup plain yogurt, salt and pepper to taste.

 

Squash Pie

Based on the Joy of Cooking Pumpkin Pie recipe by Irma S. Rombauer

Preheat oven to 375.

Ready a pre-baked crust. I favor a half-butter half-lard pastry.

In large bowl, whisk together, one after another:

2 eggs

2 cups riced squash (or mashed, if no ricer is at hand -- ricer is nicer)

1 1/2 cup cream

1/2 cup sugar

3/4 cup brown sugar or 1/2 cup b. sugar and 2 tablespoon molasses

1 teaspoon cinnamon

3/4 teaspoon powdered ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4 ground cloves

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup sour cream

Warm the crust in the oven till it is hot, then pour in fillin'.

Bake about 45 minutes.

Cool at least an hour.

My pop likes his with cinnamon-sugar on top.

 

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About The Author

Jada Calypso Brotman

Bio:
Jada Brotman grew up in Arcata before moving to the U.K. and then New York City, where she cut a wide swath in the world of cheese. Insert joke here. She returned to the home of her fathers four years ago, and now works as a journalist and seasons her crepe pans in downtown Arcata.

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