Whether you're a CSA devotee, a farmers' market weekender or consider ketchup a veg, we'll bring you fresh inspiration for how to prepare our local produce.
This week's harvest: Winter Squash.
Winter squash is actually a fall harvest vegetable but is eaten during winter, thus the name. Just like fine wine, the sugars in the squash develop and make for a more desirable dinner. I tried a new method this time for cooking my spaghetti squash and had some fantastic results.
The world of winter squash including whole roasting them after the jump.
When is winter squash in season?
Harvested July through November - usually eaten until about March
How do I eat it?
First, enjoy them as a gorgeous centerpiece for the fall season (especially festive for the Thanksgiving table). Then as you find yourself without a "fresh" veg, grab one and make it a meal. You cook it and add it to your favorite dishes, sometimes using it as a vessel for that meal. Don't forget to roast the seeds.
What does it taste like?
Each one tastes slightly different but they're all a little bit sweet (some more than others) and the spaghetti one has a nice toothsome crunch. My husband says winter squash is the vegetable version of a melon. I think squash is simply divine.
Selecting, cleaning and storage tips
Look for a hard skin (no wrinkly spots) and find those that feel heavy for their size. When selecting butternut squash, try to find ones that have long thick necks, that's where the good part lives. You don't have to clean if after you get it home, just find a cool dark place for it that keeps a consistent temperature (I guess my dining room table isn't the absolute best place) and it should be good to go until you want to eat it. Fluctuating temps could cause the squash to sprout which makes it bitter and not fit for happy consumption. Also, make sure not to play any sports with these as fellas, bruising will give them an early death.
What to do with it:
I found a great rundown on specific types and what to do with them.
Simply put, you can cook them:
(which I would only recommend for spaghetti squash)
cut in half
(great for acorns)
peeled and cubed
(best for butternuts)
wet heat (steaming or *nuking) OR dry heat (roasting)
My preferred method is almost always peeled, halved (or chunked if you are a butternut), seeded, oiled, salted and roasted at 400 degrees for 20 - 40 min. or until soft, unless you're a spaghetti squash. Then this dead simple whole roasting method is for you.
Whole Roasted Spaghetti Squash and Cheese Quesadilla
Crank up your oven to 350, rinse the squash under water and give it a Jersey Shore rubdown with oil and let it cook for 1 hour or until a knife can be inserted through the flesh. Let cool a bit, cut in half, carefully remove the seeds with a spoon and then pull the flesh with a fork to create shreds that look like spaghetti. Season it with salt and pepper to taste and set aside.
You could just eat it from this point as a side dish or smother it with with Mamma's meat sauce if you're feeling more Italian that night or continue with the Arizonan's PB & J - the cheese quesadilla.
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Heat up a cast iron skillet or non-stick pan. Heat (or cook the uncooked) tortillas in the pan and layer a small sprinkling of cheese all over the tortilla. Top one half with some of the squash (don't overfill - makes it hard to fold over), fold then cook until the cheese melts, the squash is reheated and the tortilla is a teensy crispy. Cut into wedges or eat like a giant sandwich and pair it with something spicy. Since it's Winter and we don't have fresh tomatoes or peppers, my go-to spicy is some El Pato or sliced canned chiles. So good.
If you think about it, you could fill a quesadilla with just about any veg. Sauteed greens, roasted anything, tomatoes, whatever. Try it out!
*Nuking: Also known as microwaving and is a perfectly acceptable, nutritious and quick method of cooking veggies. Just put in a microwave safe container, add about a 1/2 inch of water, and cover then cook on high about 10 minutes or until soft.
Jennifer Woods is a local food advocate with over 10 years working in the AZ food industry, and currently works for Crooked Sky Farms, a CSA produce farm based in South Phoenix.