Perfect for the seasonWinter squash hits the spot when weather turns nasty.
By: Jeff Tiedeman, Grand Forks Herald
One of the dishes I’ve always looked forward to when the calendar says it is winter and it’s usually cold and we have a blanket of snow covering the ground is baked squash. It’s the perfect complement to just about any main course that you can think of serving. And heck, it’s even great as a leftover.
Generally, I can look forward to several servings of winter squash from my own garden. In the past, I’ve grown buttercups and acorns, just to name two. And don’t let me forget about the lovely Lakotas, either.
But more often than not recently, my squash crop has been disappointing. I don’t know the reason for sure. It may be that the soil is lacking something. Or maybe I should be planting the seeds in hills instead of rows. Or my vines are not getting enough water. This year, it could have been the cool weather we had throughout the summer, although some of my gardening buddies had moderate to good success.
Regardless, I harvested only a few winter squash — most of them on the smallish size — a mish-mash of buttercups and Lakota. It didn’t help that I forgot to pick them before my first hunting trip in early October, and a few of them froze on the night it got down to 19 degrees. A couple of the survivors fell victim to the critters (squirrels, I think), and the biggest one turned out to be a pumpkin. (I was given these “squash” seeds by a friend, who I won’t name as not to embarrass her.)
Fortunately, my gardening partner is one of those who had a nice crop. He’s offered to share some of his buttercups with me. But this time of the year, there are always a pile of home-grown winter squash available in local supermarkets, so I should be able to stock up.
That’s one of the nice things about winter squash — they are “keepers” — meaning they have a long shelf life. They’ve long been a staple in winter and spring, when other vegetables are harder to come by.
Winter squash can be stored in a dry, cool, well-ventilated place for up to a month. I’ve even had ones that have kept for two to three months. (If you grow your own or buy some, check them periodically for signs of spoilage.)
When purchasing winter squash, look for ones that feel heavy for their size and have hard, deep-colored rinds that are free of blemishes.
I’ve mostly known winter squash as a side dish, but more and more, it’s been showing up as an entree in recipes that have been crossing my desk or have come via e-mail. I just received a Thanksgiving-inspired one the other day for Butternut Squash Velvet (see recipe at (www.grandforksherald.com/event/tag/group/ Features/tag/food/), from legendary chef Jacques Pepin, author of “Fast Food My Way” and “More Fast Food My Way.”
Another such recipe is for Stuffed Acorn Squash, which features a stuffing of bulgur, a Middle Eastern staple made from kernels of wheat that have been steamed, dried and crushed. The dish also contains cranberries, which are high in antioxidants, and pecans, loaded with the “good” monounsaturated fat.
Acorn squash is available year-round. Its deep orange flesh supplies an impressive amount of beta carotene, iron, potassium and vitamin B6, which may reduce the risk of heart disease and lessen symptoms of depression.
My personal favorite is the buttercup, with its sweet and creamy orange flesh. The biggest shortcoming is that it tends to be a bit dry.
But isn’t that why we have butter?
Tiedeman is food editor at the Herald. Reach him at 780-1136 or toll-free at (800) 477-6572, or e-mail at email@example.com.