For folks who eat seasonally, the end of the tomato season is a sad, sad time of year. It signals a long wait for another garden-fresh tomato.
Fortunately, there’s winter squash to ease the pain. Some folks think that winter squash, other than pumpkins, are just pretty additions to a fall display or centerpiece. But they’re so much more than that. And so many of them. Butternut squash, acorn squash and spaghetti squash have been around for a while and are available at most grocery stores.
But there’s also Kabocha squash (Kabocha is Japanese for squash, so really, it’s a squash squash), delicata, buttercup squash, blue Hubbard squash, to name just a few. Lowes Foods in Mount Airy has most of these and several other kinds as well. The little delicata is particularly interesting as the ribbed sides make beautifully scalloped slices.
Most of the winter squashes, particularly the sweeter ones, can be handled exactly like a pumpkin. Cook it, puree it and use your regular pumpkin recipes. The recipe below for butternut squash kugel is just that kind of recipe.
But the real fun begins when you start using winter squash as a vegetable, roasting cubes of the flesh and adding it to side dishes, pasta, salads and whatever else trips your fancy.
It’s only a short step from there to simply roasting the squash as a side dish, maybe gussying it up with some flavorings, Parmesan, maple syrup, various herbs, or maybe not. Salt, pepper and olive oil are really all you need.
When roasting winter squash, you want it to caramelize to get the best flavor. Some cooks say you should caramelize as much as possible. Other cooks say there’s a fine line between well-caramelized and burnt and it’s best not to cross that line.
If you want to show off, go all out and make butternut squash and hazelnut lasagna for Sunday dinner or next time you have guests. It’s a little time-consuming for a weeknight but would be great for a fall potluck.
The following recipes focus on butternut squash. If you’re not already a fan of winter squash, use them as a starting point. If you’re already an old hand at winter squash, add them to your repertoire. By this time next year, you’ll be so happy that the winter squash are finally ripening up, you won’t have time to mourn the end of tomato season.
Bacon Butternut Squash Pasta
1 lb. cubed butternut squash
extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
12 oz. fettuccine
4 slices bacon, chopped into 1” pieces
6 sage leaves
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup chicken broth
2/3 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup grated Parmesan, plus more for serving
9 oz. fontina, shredded
Preheat oven to 400°F. Spread butternut squash in a single layer on a large baking sheet. Toss with about 2 tablespoons olive oil until evenly coated. Season with salt and pepper. Bake until tender, about 25 to 30 minutes. In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook fettuccine according to al dente package directions. Drain and reserve 1/2 cup pasta water. Meanwhile, fry bacon in a large skillet over medium heat until crispy. Drain bacon but reserve bacon fat in the pan. Add sage to the pan and fry until crispy, about 1 minute per side. Turn off heat and wipe skillet clean. Add remaining olive oil. Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Pour in chicken broth and heavy cream and bring to simmer. Stir in Parmesan, then cooked fettuccine. Add fontina and toss until cheese is melted and sauce coats the pasta. Stir in pasta water to loosen sauce if needed. Add butternut squash and bacon and toss to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Top each serving with a piece of sage and more parmesan (if desired).
Roasted butternut squash and Brussels sprouts
If you are prepping ahead for Thanksgiving or bringing this to a friend’s house, the vegetables can be roasted ahead of time (you can blast them in a 350°F. oven for 10-15 minutes just before serving) and wait to toss them with the dressing until just before serving.
1 lb butternut squash, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch chunks
1 lb Brussels sprouts, stems trimmed and sliced lengthwise in half
2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil + 1 tsp.
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 cup dried unsweetened (or sweetened) cranberries
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 tbsp. rice wine vinegar (or rice vinegar)
2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
two pinches of kosher salt
Preheat the oven to 450°F. Place the butternut squash chunks and halved Brussels sprouts on a large baking sheet. Drizzle them with the 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, and toss them with your hands to distribute the oil evenly. Sprinkle the vegetables evenly with kosher salt and pepper, and toss them again with your hands. Spread the vegetables out evenly onto the baking sheet (tip: flip the Brussels sprouts so they are cut side down, they will caramelize much more evenly this way). Roast the vegetables at 450 degrees for 20 to 30 minutes (this will vary depending on the size of your Brussels sprouts and butternut squash chunks), tossing them gently 1 to 2 times during the roasting time to ensure that they caramelize evenly on all sides. Scatter the dried cranberries onto baking sheet in the last five minutes of roasting time. Place the baking pan on a rack, toss the vegetables with the remaining teaspoon of olive oil, and allow them to cool slightly while you prepare the Dijon vinaigrette. In a small bowl, whisk together the Dijon mustard and rice wine vinegar. Slowly pour in the olive oil, whisking continuously with your other hand, until the ingredients are emulsified. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Gently place the roasted vegetables in a large serving bowl or platter. Pour on the Dijon vinaigrette and toss the vegetables gently until they are lightly dressed. Serve warm, lukewarm, or cold.
Herbed Butternut Squash Chips
1 small butternut squash, about 1 pound
2 tsp. chopped mixed fresh herbs (sage, thyme and oregano is a good combination)
4 tsp. olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Heat the oven to 250°F. and put a rack in the middle of the oven. Peel the squash and cut it in two, separating the thin end without seeds from the bulbous end. Scoop out the seeds with a spoon and discard them (or save and roast them if you’re feeling energetic). Slice the squash finely with a mandoline, about an 1/8-inch thick. You’ll have nice neat rounds from the seedless end, and pretty rings from the other end. Toss the squash in a bowl with the herbs, olive oil and salt. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment and spread out the squash slices in a single layer on the parchment. Bake for an hour, then flip the slices using tongs or a spatula. Bake for another hour. Turn the slices again, lower the heat to 200 degrees and bake for another hour. Turn off the oven and let the chips cool in there for several hours, or overnight. Remove from the parchment and serve, or store in an airtight container for up to a week.
Parmesan-crusted butternut squash
1 butternut squash, cut in 1/4 inch-thick slices
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp. fresh ground nutmeg
1 tsp. pepper
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
2 tbsp. finely chopped fresh thyme
2 tbsp. roughly chopped fresh Italian parsley
Preheat oven to 400° F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Toss the squash with olive oil and kosher salt. Place the squash in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet. Combine the bread crumbs, Parmesan, nutmeg, pepper, salt, garlic, and thyme in a bowl. Stir to mix well. Sprinkle this all over the squash and roast until tender, about 40 minutes. Garnish with chopped parsley and serve warm or at room temperature.
Butternut Squash Kugel
This kugel is kind of like a pie without a crust, so it’s easier and perhaps a little better for you.
1 cup mashed, cooked butternut squash
1 cup flour
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup oil
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. ground cinnamon (optional)
Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a 9-inch round baking pan. Stir butternut squash, flour, sugar, eggs, milk, oil, and vanilla together in a large bowl until combined. Pour squash mixture into the prepared baking pan. Bake in the preheated oven until a toothpick inserted into the center of the kugel comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Sprinkle with cinnamon.
Butternut squash and hazelnut lasagna
For squash filling:
1 large onion, chopped
3 tbsp. unsalted butter
3 lb. butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 tsp. minced garlic
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. white pepper
2 tbsp. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
4 tsp. chopped fresh sage
1 cup hazelnuts (4 oz), toasted , loose skins rubbed off with a kitchen towel, and coarsely chopped
1 tsp. minced garlic
3 tbsp. unsalted butter
5 tbsp. all-purpose flour
5 cups milk
1 bay leaf (not California)
1 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. white pepper
For assembling lasagna:
1/2 lb. fresh mozzarella, coarsely grated (2 cups)
1 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (3 oz.)
12 (7- by 3 1/2-inch) sheets no-boil lasagna (1/2 lb.)
Cook onion in butter in a deep 12-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 10 minutes. Add squash, garlic, salt, and white pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until squash is just tender, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in parsley, sage, and nuts. Cool filling.
Make sauce while squash cooks:
Cook garlic in butter in a 3-quart heavy saucepan over moderately low heat, stirring, 1 minute. Whisk in flour and cook roux, whisking, 3 minutes. Add milk in a stream, whisking. Add bay leaf and bring to a boil, whisking constantly, then reduce heat and simmer, whisking occasionally, 10 minutes. Whisk in salt and white pepper and remove from heat. Discard bay leaf. (Cover surface of sauce with wax paper if not using immediately.)
Preheat oven to 425°F. Toss cheeses together. Spread 1/2 cup sauce in a buttered 13- by 9- by 2-inch glass baking dish (or other shallow 3-quart baking dish) and cover with 3 pasta sheets, leaving spaces between sheets. Spread with 2/3 cup sauce and one third of filling, then sprinkle with a heaping 1/2 cup cheese. Repeat layering 2 more times, beginning with pasta sheets and ending with cheese. Top with remaining 3 pasta sheets, remaining sauce, and remaining cheese. Tightly cover baking dish with buttered foil and bake lasagna in middle of oven 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake until golden and bubbling, 10 to 15 minutes more. Let lasagna stand 15 to 20 minutes before serving.
Filling and sauce can be made 1 day ahead and kept separately, covered and chilled. Bring to room temperature before assembling.
Nominate your favorite cook to share their love of food with readers of The Mount Airy News.
Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699, on Twitter @BillColvard.