Squash has been cultivated in the Americas so long - eight to ten thousand years long - you could probably have a different squash for every night of winter there are so many: Delicata, Turban, Butternut, Sweet Dumpling, Carnival, Acorn, Buttercup and Golden Nugget, Hubbard, Spaghetti, Pumpkin, Kabocha, Potimarron, Sibley, to name a few.
I thought we would be having 101 nights with squash when I noticed the other day that there were 6 of them in our cupboard that had been piling up from the farm share.
Not only are they inexpensive right now, apparently, they are also super good for you. The website for World's Healthiest Foods says: "Winter squash emerged from our food ranking system as an excellent source of vitamin A (in the form of beta-carotene), a very good source of vitamin C, potassium, dietary fiber and manganese. In addition, winter squash emerged as a good source of folate, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B1, copper, vitamin B6, niacin-vitamin B3 and pantothenic acid." All that for just $1 at the Farmers' Market these days.
The thing I like most about winter squash is what a chameleon it can be - it just blends in. It can be a vegetable (though, technically, as a receptacle for seeds, it's a fruit) or a dessert. A side dish or a main. The star of the dish or just best supporting ingredient. Anything from pancakes to muffins to soup to pasta to casserole to pie to ice cream. Anything with pumpkin in it could just as easily have its cousin squash instead. Squash is a shapeshifter of the culinary world.
I'm interested in the differences between the varieties too. Though I hate to disrespect a vegetable, in my opinion Acorn is the most insipid member of the squash pantheon and should only come to the table accessorized with huge heaps of brown sugar and butter. My current favorite squash is the green and yellow striped Delicata, whose skin is almost tender enough to eat along with the squash. I just learned that Delicata is also called "sweet potato squash" because of the similarity in flavor.
I tend to like drier squashes, like dull-green, turban shaped Buttercup, for its starchy potato-like texture. And if you're looking for something with a lot of squashy filling, it's hard to go wrong with a big Butternut.
My favorite way to cook squash is to bake it in the oven while I'm baking or roasting something else. Just cut it in half, scoop out the seeds, and place cut side down on an oiled baking sheet. Cook until a sharp knife can pierce it easily. Nothing simpler.
A lot of recipes call for squash to be peeled and boiled. I never follow that direction unless the squash needs to end up as tender cubes. Most of the winter squashes are hard (and dangerous!) to peel. Two techniques for the times when I'm forced to peel: if possible, use a vegetable peeler rather than a knife. This works well for tender-skins like Delicata and Butternut. But, if the skin is too tough (for Buttercup or Hubbard, for example), after removing the seeds, cut the squash in largish pieces and hold perpendicular to a cutting board while slicing down through the skin with a large sharp knife, keeping fingers well out of the way. Then cut into cubes.
So those six squashes in the cupboard? I baked them all at once (saving energy), and with the fillings made squash enchiladas, added some squash to thicken a red lentil soup and put the rest in the freezer for the dark days of January. The other best quality of winter squash? Its warm golden color - a reminder that summer may one day come again.
Once again, the inspiration for this dish was everything in the farm share box. Martha suggested the tomatillo sauce to go with the squash enchilada, but said a red enchilada sauce could also work. The tomatillo sauce was delicious!
Squash Enchiladas with Martha's Creamy Tomatillo Salsa
4-6 C. cooked winter squash (can be all one type or mixture)
1 large onion, diced small
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 T. olive oil
1 t. pimenton or smoked paprika or chili powder
1 t. salt
1-2 C. grated jack cheese
12 (or more) corn tortillas
While squash is cooking, saute onion slowly in the olive oil, until well carmelized and brown. Add garlic in last 5 minutes of cooking. Once squash is cooked, puree it with onion, garlic, salt, and pimenton. Add stock or water until it is the texture of soft mashed potatoes.
Martha's Creamy Tomatillo Salsa
1 qt. tomatillos (about 9 medium), peeled
1 small onion
2 cloves garlic
1/2 hot pepper, chopped (ore more if you prefer spicier)
1/2 t. salt
1/2 bunch cilantro (cleaned, chopped coarsely)
3/4 C. sour cream (or yogurt cheese, which is what I used)
Roast first four ingredients in a heavy, dry frying pan until charred a bit on all sides. Watch garlic carefully so it doesn't burn. Puree all four with salt and cilantro. Stir in sour cream or yogurt cheese. Martha says to boil the sauce, but I just warmed it.
Spread 1 C. salsa on the bottom of an 11x7" pyrex dish. Dip 6 tortillas in sauce and arrange on bottom of the pan. Spread with squash mixture, then grated cheese. Dip 6 more tortillas in sauce and arrange on top. Put remaining sauce on the top and additional cheese. Cover tightly with tin foil and bake at 350º for about 40-50 minutes.
Note: the layered technique I'm using here is obviously more "lasagna" than "enchilada," but it was easy and expedient. To do something a bit more authentic (without frying), warm tortillas (wrap in a towel and microwave 1 minute, or hold each over a burner with tongs until warm), and then dip in sauce. Place 2-3 T. squash filling in the middle and a sprinkling of cheese. Place filled tortillas seam side down in the pan. After all are filled, pour remaining sauce over the top and some cheese, and then proceed with baking tightly covered as above.
Serve with refried beans and some pickled radishes.