I am not a fan of winter, mostly because of the short days. The only time the word winter brings a smile to my face is in winter squash, one of my favorite foods.
Thanksgiving-related cooking activities dominate this week. While I have nothing to add to your tried-and-true set of recipes for turkey and other traditional dishes, I am here to tell you that winter squash are your friends for the holiday table. There is a wide variety of them, you can cook them in many ways and they are excellent. They are also a great option for guests who don't eat meat and offer help in dealing with that post-Thanksgiving reality: leftovers.
If the above is not enough, consider the following: You can purchase winter squash in advance and if you don't cook them right away, they will keep. They are festive, so you can use some as decorative centerpiece before they become a dinner dish.
For several years now, I have been playing a game: Every fall I try at least one new variety of winter squash, to avoid falling into the rut of known favorites. This year, at the farmers market of my hometown of Perugia, Italy, I met a beauty: large, oblong with a slightly bulbous end, dark green skin and bright orange flesh. Called Lunga di Napoli squash, it is a variety of Cucurbita moschata (like butternut squash). Given its large size, it was sold by the piece or slice. I hope some of our local farmers become curious about this gorgeous squash. (Contact me if you are.)
One of the things I did with my slices of Lunga di Napoli squash (that you can do with a butternut squash as well) was to peel it, cube it, drizzle it with olive oil, sprinkle it with salt and roast it. It takes about 20 minutes at 400 F to cook squash this way and then you have a simple side dish or the ingredient for a more complex one.
In California, this season I fell under the spell of buttercup and kabocha squash (aka, Japanese pumpkin), both varieties of Cucurbita maxima. (The buttercup's bottom has a circular ridge, the kabocha's doesn't.) I like them both, sliced and roasted, with different sauces drizzled on top. More about this in just a moment.
In reference to squash's versatility, here are a few recipes from my past contributions to the Journal, as well as a new one for roasted squash served with a versatile tahini sauce. I hope you will find one or more to make guests at your table happy.
Stuffed Acorn Squash. Acorn and delicata squash are great vessels for stuffing of all kinds, including leftovers (see "Sweetening Wintertime," Nov. 12, 2015).
Winter Squash Soup. This hearty winter meal has a bright orange color to cheer you on dark days (see "Straight from the Farm," Jan. 9, 2014).
Winter Squash Galette. Deborah Madison's crust makes the squash into an elegant vegetarian meal (see "Z is for Zucca," Feb. 4, 2010).
Roasted Winter Squash
Number of servings depends on the size of the squash. Serve with your choice of sauce, like the tahini recipe below.
Buttercup, kabocha or delicata
Extra-virgin olive oil
Fine sea salt
Heat the oven to 400 F.
Halve the squash lengthwise, removing seeds and strings (a grapefruit spoon is my favorite tool to do this). Use a sturdy swivel vegetable peeler to peel the squash. Or don't: Winter squash skin is edible, though not always palatable. If using a delicata squash, definitely skip the peeling.
Cut each half into ½ inch-thick slices (crosswise in the case of delicata, otherwise lengthwise). Place the slices into a bowl, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle a small amount of sea salt and toss well. Distribute the slices in a single layer on a lined baking sheet and roast for 20-22 minutes or until fork tender, turning the slices halfway through.
Take the squash out of the oven, place on a serving dish, dress with the sauce of choice and serve immediately.
Makes about ½ cup.
2 roasted garlic cloves, peeled and mashed; or 1 fresh garlic clove, peeled and minced
¼ cup tahini, homemade or store-bought (I favor toasted sesame tahini)
¼ cup cold water
4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
To roast the garlic, heat the oven to 400 F. Wrap the unpeeled garlic cloves in foil and put them in the oven for 10-15 minutes (beside the squash if you're baking it). Let cool for a few minutes before unwrapping.
In a blender, whiz all the tahini sauce ingredients until smooth. (If using roasted garlic, you can use a small whisk to make the sauce.)
Store in a sealed glass jar in the refrigerator.
Bring to room temperature before serving.