Local Table - Fall 2011

Guide to Winter Squash
By Annakate Tefft

Early fall marks the start of winter squash season, a time when farmers' markets and CSA shares are loaded down with an assortment of these bulbous, colorful gourds. Squash can be intimidating in the kitchen. From the outside, there isn't much indication of what lies within. And when you slice them open, the fibrous, fleshy pulp doesn't immediately look appetizing. With a little know-how and confidence in the kitchen, you can coax out the buttery, nutty and complex flavors of these tasty squash that complement both sweet and savory dishes.

There are myriad varieties available in Middle Tennessee. Butternut, acorn, spaghetti, delicata and pumpkins, beyond the Halloween variety, are available from many growers. In addition to these more traditional types, look for heirloom and specialty varieties such as rampicante tatume, a.k.a. trumpet squash. According to Catherine Simmons of Flying S Farms in Woodbury, TN, rampicante is like a butternut squash on steroids with a long, hooked neck.

Once you've learned some squash basics, you can handle any squash in the kitchen. Of course, the best rule of thumb when encountering a new variety is to ask the grower for their favorite cooking methods and recipes. The following is an overview and some recipe suggestions for four of the most popular winter squash you'll see this season.

Acorn
Carl Thoni of Kirkview Farms says acorn is one of his winter squash bestsellers. With its pretty green, ribbed skin, oval shape and nutty flavor, acorn squash is wonderful roasted and served straight from its shell. To roast cut the squash through its stem and scrape out the seeds. Drizzle inside and outside with olive oil or melted butter, kosher salt and pepper. Roast at 350 degrees cut side down for about 45 minutes to 1 hour or until the flesh is easily scooped from the skin.

Butternut
A long, cylindrical-shaped squash that's slightly wider at its base, butternut squash has sweet, bright orange flesh. Butternut holds up in soups or stews and pairs well with sweet potatoes. Its flesh can be bland. Try it roasted in its shell like acorn or peel and cube the squash and roast it, stirring occasionally. Cooking it in this fashion will brown the cubes on each side, caramelizing - and thus deepening - the flavor. Add cooked cubes to stuffing. It pairs well with salty sausage. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and serve on its own.

Spaghetti
This oblong yellow squash gets its named from its flesh, which separates into long spaghetti-like strands when cooked. After slicing in half lengthwise, remove the seeds and roast like the acorn squash above. Once roasted, scrape out the strands with a fork and toss with marinara, Parmesan cheese or a favorite pasta sauce. For a sweet application, Simmons suggests serving the roasted strands with Chimichurri, an Argentinean sauce made from parsley, herbs and olive oil. Or, she says, before roasting drizzle squash with melted butter and brown sugar and serve for dessert.

Delicata
This pale yellow and green-striped squash features flavorful yellow flesh that some say tastes like a mix between sweet potato and butternut squash. Its thin skin gets crispy when roasted and can be eaten.

Bio: Annakate Tefft is a freelance writer, food enthusiast and East Nashvillian. Visit her blog: www.LaAguacate.com

Spaghetti Squash Casserole
6 servings

3 lbs spaghetti squash, halved lengthwise and seeded 1 T vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
8 oz fresh mushrooms, sliced
1 t dried basil
Salt and pepper to taste
¾ c sour cream
¼ c freshly grated Parmesan cheese
3 slices bread, cubed

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Place squash, cut-side down on a baking sheet. Cook until tender, about 45 minutes. Shred with a fork once cooled slightly, then transfer to a lightly oiled casserole dish, discarding shell. Do not turn off the oven.
  2. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add onions, mushrooms and basil, and cook until onions are translucent and tender. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper. Add onion mixture and sour cream to the squash and mix well. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper to taste, and top with bread cubes.
  3. Bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes or until warmed through and the top is lightly browned and toasted.

Delicata Squash Rings

1 delicata squash
1-2T butter
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Cut squash in half crosswise. Remove the seeds. Leaving the skin on, cut the squash into ½ inch-wide rings. Discard ends. Place rings on baking sheet, dot with butter, and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper.
  2. Roast until flesh is soft and skins are crispy. Serve warm.

Variations: Add dried herbs, spices or honey before roasting.

Storage Tips:
Try to use squash within the first few weeks. However, Thoni says, if stored in a cool, dark place they can last longer. To freeze squash: peel and remove seeds, then slice into cubes and place in plastic bags. Freeze for several months.

These recipes are courtesy of Flying S Farms.

Local Resources:
Catherine & Ben Simmons, Flying S Farms, Woodbury, TN www.bakingfarmer.com
(615) 563-4569

Carl & Teresa Thoni, Kirkview Farms, College Grove, TN (615) 368-7145

Annakate Tefft (la aguacate) is a lover of cooking, farmer's markets and the earth at large. She has studied abroad in Valencia, Spain, Where Spaniards would pronounce her name as it looks and it would sound a lot like 'aguacate,' the word for avocado. Aguacate became her nickname, and also the name for her popular food blog.