The cold winds that bite during the chilly months of January and February bring with them the flavorful taste of winter produce. The delicate flavor in acorn, delicata, spaghetti, and other winter squash is a welcome addition this time of year. While the umbrella term “winter squash” may seem to indicate this food’s growing season, winter squash actually grows right along with summer squash. The hard outer shell of winter squash allows them to last beyond the summer and into the fall and winter. Those hard outer shells, seen on butternut, pumpkin, and the like, may seem intimidating; however, with proper preparation they yield seasonal culinary treats to enjoy year after year.
A number of recommendations and techniques aid in breaking into these hard-shelled gourds. If a sharp knife is available, simply steady the squash and slice. A vegetable peeler may be used to remove the tough skin. If your peeler is not strong enough, slice the skin off with a paring knife or chef’s knife; however, squash can be cooked with skin on.
If time allows, set the oven to 350 F and place the squash into the oven for 15 minutes. After it has some time to soften up under the heat, the squash will slice much easier. Once sliced, the squash can be prepared a number of ways. Roasting will pull the sweetness of the squash to the forefront as the heat caramelizes the sugars within. Boiling creates a more uniform texture and even flavor, perfect for pureeing for soup or sauces.
While these delightful gourds can serve as a side all on their own, try working them into favorite dishes.
Butternut Squash Mac ’n Cheese
1 butternut squash
2 garlic cloves
½ cup cream
1 tablespoon fresh sage, minced
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, minced
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, minced
1 pound macaroni
1 cup shredded Parmesan
1 cup shredded mozzarella
1 cup shredded Gruyere
Preheat the oven to 500 F. Peel and dice butternut squash. Fill a large pot with water. Bring to a boil and then add squash. Cook until fork tender, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and strain the water. Put the diced squash, garlic, and cream into a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. If you prefer a smoother end product, run the squash through a fine mesh sieve. Stir two cups of the squash with herbs. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
Cook macaroni to the product instructions. Strain the water from the pasta and stir into the squash mixture. Add ¾ of the shredded cheese and stir. Lightly grease a 9-by-13-inch casserole dish and pour mixture into the dish. Top with the rest of the cheese. Bake for 15 minutes or until golden on top.
Delicata Winter Salad
1 delicata squash
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 bunch dino kale (about 1 pound)
2 cups spring mix
½ cup pomegranate arils
¼ cup Parmesan cheese, freshly shaved
Flaky salt, to taste
3 tablespoons olive oil
Juice of ½ lemon
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon whole grain mustard
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
¼ cup nuts (preferably pecans), chopped and toasted
Heat the oven to 400 F. Using a large chef’s knife, slice the squash lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Slice these halves into 1-inch-thick half-moons. Brush with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast in the oven for 25 minutes.
While the squash roasts, prepare the rest of the salad. Whisk together all dressing ingredients except the nuts. Toast nuts until just fragrant. While they are still warm, stir them into the dressing. Toss together kale and spring mix with the dressing. Top with pomegranate arils, shaved Parmesan, a sprinkle of salt, and roasted squash.