Squash

Andreae Prozesky, eater of squash.  

Squash is a marker of time. Every September, grocery-store bins fill up with beautiful dark green and orange and creamy yellow-brown hard-shelled vegetables. Tumbling over one another, they mirror the changing colours of the landscape and bring about thoughts of a plentiful harvest.
   
But does anyone actually eat them?

Growing up in St. John’s, I never did. Fall was root vegetables for me, none of this fancy vine-grown stuff. Summer squash – zucchini, really – was one thing, but winter squash held no appeal. I found it strangely reptilian, its shell like an exoskeleton. Even at the height of my obsessive teenaged vegetarianism, I was no squash-eater.
   
It wasn’t until I moved off to university that squash entered my culinary consciousness. I used to throw great fall pot-lucks for my friends (yeah, I’m a dork), many of whom were either Americans or prairie kids, for whom squash was at the very least tasty, and at the most meaningful. Traditional. And invariably one of them would ask, “who’s bringing the squash?”
   
So other people had been eating these things all along! I had been missing out.
   
There’s no real mystery to a winter squash. Just pick one up and slice it in half. Solid orangey flesh, and a hollow center where flat, teardrop-shaped seeds are held in place by a tangle – or sometimes a well-ordered series – of fibres. Take a soupspoon and scrape out the seeds and you’re in business.
   
Here in town you can easily pick up butternut, buttercup, acorn, and hubbard squash, and sometimes turban, kabocha, delicata and other, less-common varieties. Pumpkins come and go, but most don’t offer up much for flavour. When you’re buying squash, opt for something small. It’ll be sweeter, and you’ll be less likely to injure yourself trying to cut it open.
   
For straight-up cooked squash, put your two hollow squash halves face down on a lightly oiled baking sheet in a 350F oven until easily poke-able with a knife, about 40 minutes. Let the squash cool a bit, and then scrape the flesh out of the skin. Mash the cooked flesh up with some butter, honey, and salt and pepper. Or maybe some olive oil and cinnamon.    
   
Or if you want something a little less mash-y, cut the squash into wedges and stand them up like little boats on your baking sheet. Brush with some maple syrup and a sprinkling of chili powder (smoky ancho chili, if you can get your hands on it). Roast at 350F until golden, about 25-30 minutes.
   
Winter squash also lends itself very well to soup-making, even for people who are nervous about making soup. The squash does all the work for you. You do need a blender, but they’re not hard to track down. Squash soup is a very warming thing on a chilly autumn or winter day, and a bowl of anything orange is good for the soul.


Bright and sunny roasted squash soup

5 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1 medium winter squash (whichever kind you like the looks of)
1 full head garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 ½ teaspoon coriander seeds, toasted and crushed
½ teaspoon chili powder
juice of one lime
sea salt and black pepper to taste

Cook halved squash as described above. At the same time, roast the head of garlic: cut off the top ¼ inch of the bulb to expose the tops of the cloves. Drizzle with a little olive oil, wrap tightly in foil, and roast alongside the squash. Remove both from the oven and let them cool a bit.

In a large saucepan, sauté onions and remaining garlic in the two tablespoons of olive oil until soft. Add coriander and chili powder. Add the squash flesh, and squeeze in the roasted garlic cloves. Add stock and heat through.

In your blender, puree soup in batches. Return to the pot and add lime juice and salt and pepper. Heat through gently.

Ladle into bowls and serve with a dollop of yogurt or sour cream, and a sprinkling of toasted pecans or walnuts. Serves 4.

Send your questions, comments, suggestions and orange things to dreae@thescope.ca