Exploring Winter Squash

There is a chill in the air as October rolls to an end.  I am feeling somewhat wistful with 55 days until winter.  In the meantime our  farmers markets are thankfully bursting with colorful vegetables, though most are now of the root variety. Carrots, beets, turnips and radishes in all shapes, sizes and colors line the tables.  There are a few tomato, eggplant and peppers remaining, but those have dwindled. What you will find along with the root vegetables are winter squashes also in various shapes and sizes, and all in stunning Fall colors.  There are so many to choose from I thought it might be fun to explore a few of my favorites leading up to Thanksgiving.img_8809

First up is kabocha (pronounced ka-BOH-ka), a Japanese squash. It is believed to have originated in Mesoamerica and introduced to Japan in the 16th century.  Kabocha is rich in beta-carotene, which is converted to Vitamin A in our bodies, plus a  great source of iron, vitamin C and potassium.  A single serving provides a great amount of our recommended daily requirements!

Kabocha has a taste somewhere between a sweet potato and pumpkin, with a rich, sweet and dense flesh.  The size can range between three and five pounds.  It can be roasted, steamed, braised or pureed into a smooth and delicious soup.

Kabocha is available all year round but is best in the fall and winter.  Look for one with a deep green rind, firm and free from soft spots or mold. It should have a bit of heaviness to it as well.  Once you get it home store your kabocha in a cool, dark and ventilated area.  The basement is a great spot.  If you cut it up and only use half, place the unused pieces in heavy zip lock bag. It will keep in the ‘fridge for up to 5 days.

Oven roasted squash.

My best suggestion for any winter squash is to spend a day in the fall and cook a lot of different squashes for later use. After a good rinse to remove any lurking dirt, cut the squash in half. If they are really big quarter it. Scoop out the seeds and lay on a foil-lined sheet pan. Drizzle with a little olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast until fork tender in a 400 degree oven. Remove and allow the squash to cool before scooping out the flesh.

Processed squash for freezing.

Puree in a food processor, place in containers and label. Pop them in the freezer and off you go. If you like having some texture peel and cube the squash before roasting. Then cool before placing in the container. Either way it’s an easy way to use the squash all through the Winter

Coming up in Friday November 4 you can find me at Hilltop Hanover Farm leading a fun Couples Cooking Class. The have a lot of gorgeous winter squash available and I will be using many of them for our family-style dinner.

Below are two very easy recipes to try with kabocha. The first is one I demoed, at the John Jay Homestead Farm Market, on October 29 at their season closing.

Buon Appetito!

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Kabocha Squash and Apple Soup
Makes 8-10 servings

1 – 3lb. kabocha squash
1 small red onion
Coconut or canola oil
Kosher salt
Ground black pepper
6 cups of water and 1 heaping tablespoon of Better Than Bouillon organic vegetable base
– OR – 1 quart of low sodium vegetable stock and 2 cups of water (see cook’s note)
2 Macintosh apples
Fresh thyme
Apple cider vinegar
Chives, finely sliced, or picked thyme leaves
Good fruity olive oil, garnish

1. Rinse the squash to remove any dirt. Cut in half and scoop out the seeds. Peel the squash, lay on it’s flat side and cut up into 2″ chunks. Set aside.
2. Dice the onion, about 1 cup, and place in a heavy bottom pot with 2-3 tablespoons of coconut or canola oil. Cook the onion until soft and shimmery, seasoning with 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper.
3. While the onion cooks core the two apples, leaving the peel on, and cut into 2″ chunks, Set aside with the squash.
4. When the onion is soft add the liquid, squash, apple and 3-4 stems of thyme. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, cover and simmer until soft and falling apart. About 20 minutes
5. Remove the thyme stems and carefully puree the soup until smooth and creamy.
6. Add 1 tablespoon of minced fresh thyme and 1 tablespoon of cider vinegar. Taste for seasoning and adjust with more salt, pepper and vinegar as desired.
7. Garnish with chives or thyme and a drizzle of a good olive oil and serve warm.

Cook’s note: You want to add a little flavor with the stock but not so much as to overpower the squash. I always keep a jar of Better Than Bouillon in my ‘fridge to add a little extra flavor when making soups.

kabocha squash and pear soup

Kabocha Squash and Pear Soup
Makes 6-8 servings

2 tablespoons butter
1 cup onion, medium dice
2 garlic cloves, chopped
Kosher salt
Ground black pepper
3 cups of chicken or vegetable stock, plus a little more to thin if desired
4 cups squash, peeled and cut into 1” pieces, about 1½ lbs.
2 medium ripe pears, peeled and cored (I like Bartlett for this recipe)
Fresh thyme
½ to 1 teaspoon ancho chili powder
Juice ½ lemon
Instructions

Melt the butter over medium heat in a small stockpot. Add the onions and garlic with ¼ teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Cook for about 5 minutes until the onion is translucent and soft.
Add the stock, squash, 1 of the pears cut up in 2” chunks, 4 single sprigs of thyme and another ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, cover and simmer for 10 minutes, or until the squash and pear are falling apart. Remove from heat and allow it to cool for 5 minutes.
While the soup is cooking take the other pear and cut it into ½” cubes and set aside. Strip 4-5 thyme branches and mince 1 tablespoon.
After the soup has cooled discard the thyme branches and puree the soup with an immersion (stick) or regular blender until very smooth and silky.
Add ½ teaspoon of ancho chili, lemon juice and minced thyme. Taste for seasoning and add more chili and salt as desired. If you prefer thinner soup add a little more stock.
Fold in the cut pears and garnish with a few thyme leaves before serving.

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