It might have something to do with squash’s place at the Thanksgiving dinner table, but the sight, smell and taste of squash is synonymous with the Canadian fall harvest season. For me, part of the joy of fall food is actually getting my hands on the ingredients themselves. Along with choosing a Halloween pumpkin or walking an orchard picking apples, when I close my eyes and imagine a sunny cool autumn afternoon shopping at a farm market in Canada, it’s hard to imagine squash not being part of that mix. And certainly, when I think about fall eating – wonderful rich, spicy and sweet flavours – squash takes the place of summer bounty (like tomatoes or sweet corn) and becomes a delicious seasonal treat that I look to enjoy in as many different ways as I possibly can.
The evolution of the way produce is brought to us through grocery stores has created an environment where we can get our hands on just about any form of produce throughout the year. In addition to the fact that much of this out-of-season “produce” is woody and flavourless, the loss of seasonal eating is that we no longer look to gorge on beautiful fresh flavourful produce for few fleeting weeks that it may be available each year. Paying attention to local seasonal produce is a great way to get creative in the kitchen – using comfortable vessels to deliver bold and delicious flavours.
Squash Family Photo
Broadly speaking, the squash family includes summer varieties, like zucchini, but when most of think of “squash”, we’re actually referring to the winter squash portion of the family tree (or vine!). Winter squash vary tremendously in terms of shape, size, colour, exterior texture and of course, taste. Most of us are familiar with the widely grown varieties of winter squash like Butternut, Buttercup, Acorn, Hubbard and Spaghetti squash – but like many types of produce these days, we’re finding an increasing number of heirloom and less widely grown varieties coming available at farm markets and roadside stands.
One example is the Fairytale Pumpkin Squash – which, as it name might suggest – has an exterior which bears resemblance to a typical pumpkin, but remains much smaller as it reaches full maturity, usually only 2-4 lbs. The flesh found inside these squash have a rich and full nutty flavour and are somewhat less sweet than other varieties – a perfect variety for roasting or mashing. If you enjoy sweeter varieties, you’ll certainly want to checkout Ambercup Squash – a relative of the Buttercup – which offers a dry flesh relatively free from any fibrous bits. This is one of my favourite varieties of squash for roasting or to use as a stuffing in ravioli.
Preparation + Cooking Methods
Cleaning, processing and preparing squash is pretty simple. There are very few varieties with edible skin, so you’ll want to start by peeling or removing this exterior from the squash. Most squash contain seeds, much like pumpkins, which should be removed – but are delicious when slow roasted. These squash seeds are a delicious and healthy addition to fall salads or can be eaten on their own as a snack. Full disclosure: my favourite way to enjoy squash is to boil it up, mash it and add a splash of maple syrup and a good chunk of unsalted butter. Put this mash back into the oven in a casserole dish for 45 minutes at 300°F and will actually fluff up a bit, creating a delicious light squash side dish – a perfect companion with turkey or roast pork. This pureed or mashed preparation can also be used, along with a bit of egg and flour, as a filling for stuffed pasta like ravioli or tortellini – or as a component in a stuffing for meat or poultry. Another tasty idea is to split the squash in half and roast them whole to be served in place of a baked potato or starch. One of my favourite minimalist preparations is to toss segments onto the BBQ and grill until tender – a light maple glaze adds great flavour and also helps create nice dark grill marks.
No Longer Off to the Side
I like the symmetry of articles coming full-circle to where we started. It probably has a lot to do with squash being a go-to side dish on the Thanksgiving dinner table, but it seems that these delicious characters have been slowly relegated to supporting cast status, and rarely get the respect they deserve for their potential to hold their own in a starring role. Whether it’s atop salad, as the feature flavour in a soup, used as a filling in stuffed pasta (or indeed worked into the pasta dough itself), squash offers a sweet, rich and decadent nature which is unusual within the world of produce. If you want to take a giant leap forward in seasonal eating, I’d encourage you strongly to consider putting squash at the centre of your plate, rather than off to the side. With a little bit of creativity (or by following one of the delicious recipes below) I think you’ll find that this delicious fall bounty will go a long way towards elevating your next fall meal.
[ Recipes ]
Warm Salad of Squash, Prosciutto, Arugula + Pecorino: RECIPE
Wine Match: Manzanilla or Fino Sherry from Spain
Pan Seared Scallops w/ Butternut Squash + Lentils: RECIPE
Wine Match: Rich Barrel-Aged Chardonnay from Burgundy
Butternut Squash + Duck Confit Hash: RECIPE
Wine Match: Sangiovese from Italy or Pinot Noir from New Zealand
Ricotta + Squash Gnocchi in Sage-Brown Butter: RECIPE
Wine Match: Richer Whites like Pinot Gris from Alsace or Oregon
Red Wine Braised Beef Shortribs + Acorn Squash Mash: RECIPE
Wine Match: Full Rich Grenache-Based Reds from Spain or Australia