Monday, December 14, 2009

Success with Squash

As you probably noticed, we are well into the winter season where fresh, local produce is harder to come by. Many of the Farmers Markets are closed for the season, and certainly most CSAs have ended. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a wonderful time of year to cook, and so I will try my best to keep sharing my experiences here, maybe in just more creative ways. :)

Squash is in season in the fall and early winter, and can be found in abundance in the market right now. There are many different kinds, and I certainly don’t call myself an expert, but my favorites are
Acorn and Butternut. I have a few recently successfully prepared recipes to share with you (courtesy of Barefoot Contessa and Cooking Light)!

Roasted Butternut Squash Salad with Warm Cider Vinaigrette
Source: 2008, Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics, All Rights Reserved
Yield: 4 servings

• 1 (1 1/2-pound) butternut squash, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch cubes
• Good olive oil
• 1 tablespoon pure maple syrup
• Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
• 3 tablespoons dried cranberries
• 3/4 cup apple cider or apple juice
• 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
• 2 tablespoons minced shallots
• 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
• 4 ounces baby arugula, washed and spun dry
• 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Place the butternut squash on a sheet pan. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil, the maple syrup, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and toss. Roast the squash for 15 to 20 minutes, turning once, until tender. Add the cranberries to the pan for the last 5 minutes.

While the squash is roasting, combine the apple cider, vinegar, and shallots in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook for 10 to 15 minutes, until the cider is reduced to about 1/4 cup. Off the heat, whisk in the mustard, 1/2 cup olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper.

Place the arugula in a large salad bowl and add the roasted squash mixture and the grated Parmesan. Spoon just enough vinaigrette over the salad to moisten and toss well. Serve immediately.

Notes: The olive oil and maple syrup do wonders to the squash, making it nice and caramelized. I recommend cooking it for a little longer even until they start to brown and get the nice roasted flavor. The recipe also called for 1/2 cup walnuts halves, toasted, but I have nut allergies in my family so I left those out. Also, I found the amount of parmesan cheese a little excessive, so I recommend putting a little in at a time and tossing till it is the amount you like.

Risotto with Acorn Squash, Pancetta, and Jack Cheese
Source: Karen MacNeil, Cooking Light, October 2004
Yield: 4 servings

• 1 1/2 pounds Acorn squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 3 1/2 cups)
• Olive oil, salt and pepper
• 2 cups fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
• 1 1/3 cups water
• 2 tablespoons Madeira wine or sweet Marsala
• 1 tablespoon minced fresh tarragon
• 6 – 8 ounces chopped pancetta
• 1 cup finely chopped onion
• 1 teaspoon olive oil
• 2 garlic cloves, minced
• 3/4 cup uncooked Arborio rice or other short-grain rice
• 2/3 cup (about 2 1/2 ounces) shredded Monterey Jack cheese or other spicy cheese
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
• Fresh tarragon sprigs (optional)

Preheat oven to 475°.

Toss squash in about 2 tablespoons olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place squash on a nonstick jelly-roll pan and bake at 475° for 20 minutes or until tender, turning after 10 minutes.

Reduce oven temperature to 325°.

Combine broth, water, wine, and tarragon in a saucepan; bring to a simmer. Keep warm over low heat.

Cook pancetta in a large ovenproof Dutch oven over medium-high heat until crisp. Remove pancetta from pan; drain on a paper towel. Discard pan drippings. Add onion and oil to pan; sauté 10 minutes or until onion is tender. Add garlic; sauté 1 minute. Add rice to pan; sauté 1 minute. Stir in broth mixture; bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat, and simmer over low heat, uncovered, for 10 minutes. (Do not stir; rice will have a liquid consistency similar to stew.)

Place pan in oven; bake at 325° for 15 minutes. Remove from oven. Stir in the squash, pancetta, cheese, salt, and pepper. Cover with a clean cloth; let stand 10 minutes (rice will continue to cook). Garnish with tarragon sprigs, if desired.

Notes: You can use Acorn or Butternut for this recipe. Next time I cook this, I will toss the squash with olive oil, salt and pepper (not called for in the original recipe) in an effort to roast and caramelize the squash much like in the salad recipe above. Without it, I felt that the squash was a little bland. I also increased the amount of pancetta from the original recipe, why not! Again, I left out 1 tsp (pine) nuts, but in this case mostly because I am not a big fan. :)

Baked Acorn Squash w/ Butter and Brown Sugar
Source: Packer Family!
Serves: 3 – 4

One acorn squash
2 – 4 tablespoons of butter
2 – 4 tablespoons brown sugar

Preheat oven to 400°.

Cut acorn squash into half, lengthwise and scoop out seeds. Place into baking pan, cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake until tender when pierced with a fork, 45 minutes.

Split butter and brown sugar into each cavity of the squash, and bake uncovered, for 10 - 20 minutes, or until butter is melted and bubbly and squash is fully cooked.

Shortcut! Baking for the full time in the oven frankly takes too long for me. So I get the process started in the microwave:

Use a fork to stab holes into the whole acorn squash, about 7 times. Cook in microwave on high for 10 – 15 minutes until soft to the touch.

Cut acorn squash into half, lengthwise and scoop out seeds. Place into baking pan, and put desired amount of butter and brown sugar into each cavity of the squash. Bake uncovered, for 10 - 20 minutes, or until butter is melted and bubbly and squash is fully cooked.

Hope you all incorporate squash into your winter menus! I would love to hear your ideas on other interesting squashes to add to mine. :)