If I were a gambling woman, I’d wager a bit of dough that you’ll be eating a lot of winter squash in the foreseeable future. Eating acorns, butternuts, delicatas, hubbards, kabochas and spaghettis is a simple fact of life for a Maine locavore. It grows well in these climes, and it holds well in storage so it can be consumed between the fall and spring spinach crops.
But simple doesn’t have to mean boring. Maine seed suppliers like Johnny’s Selected Seeds and Fedco work to give farmers, and subsequently we eaters, many options. These options can carry cute names. They can sport spotted, lumpy or ridged skins. Their flesh can range from golden yellow to dusky orange. There are so many of them around that I feel the need – almost every fall – to write a column about their versatility and to point out different ways to work winter squash into a Maine diet.
I’ve tapped Butter Babies (a butternut variety) to add sweetness and depth to homemade pizzas, paired Honey Bears (an acorn variety) with sausage and local mushrooms in bread pudding, and pureed roasted Ballet Blues (a Hubbard variety) into cheesecake.
My 2021 Cucurbita trick is squash boats. Making them involves a sharp knife, a sheet pan and space in the oven on a Sunday afternoon to roast up all the squash too beautiful to leave behind at Saturday’s farmers market. Cooking up a couple varieties at the same time saves a bit of fossil fuel expenditure and gives me the latitude to use winter squash to anchor quick, healthy, locally packed weeknight meals.
A 1½- to 2-pound squash is about the right size for this cooking method, with each half accounting for one main course serving. I carefully cut each squash in half (lengthwise for all but spaghetti squash) and remove the seeds (saving those to roast). I rub the halves all over with olive oil and season them with salt and pepper. I place them face down on a lined baking sheet and slide them in the top rack of a 350 F degree oven. Cooking times vary according to the thickness of the flesh, ranging from 20-25 minutes for delicata squash boats to 50-60 for small pumpkins. You can tell the flesh is cooked when you can easily pierce the squash skin with the tip of a paring knife. Once cooked, squash boats are ready to use immediately or they can hold, covered, in the fridge for up to five days.
For a localized Meatless Monday meal, mix cooked whole grains, sautéed mushrooms and onions, chopped apples and fennel, and goat cheese with a bit of mustard and maple syrup and spoon the stuffing into acorn squash halves. Heating up the stuffed squash is a 15-minute proposition.
Roasted delicata halves – whose skins soften enough to eat entirely, can carry Taco Tuesday if you simply fill them with seasoned ground meat and cheese. Once all is heated through, serve topped with sour cream, chopped chilis and scallions and avocado.
Since Wednesday is spaghetti day, try filling spaghetti squash boats with a combination of 1 cup cooked and drained spinach, and a half cup each of finely chopped parsley, heavy cream and shredded fontina, provolone, mozzarella and pecorino cheeses. The mixture melts into a bubbling four-cheese sauce that coats the strands of squash in its self-contained bowl.
Squash boats can sail into any cuisine you’d like them to. Where might they take you?
Christine Burns Rudalevige is a food writer, recipe developer, tester and cooking teacher in Brunswick, and the author of “Green Plate Special,” a cookbook from Islandport Press based on these columns. She can be contacted at: [email protected]
Grain, Mushroom and Goat Cheese Stuffed Acorn Squash
Serves 2 (multiplies easily)
1 acorn squash
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon butter
1 small onion, peeled and sliced
1 cup chopped mushrooms
1/4 cup chopped fennel
1 teaspoon lemon zest and 2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 teaspoon grated garlic
1 teaspoon mustard
2 cups cooked whole grains such as barley, farro or rye berries
2 ounces crumbled chevre
1/4 cup chopped parsley
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment.
Use a sharp knife to slice through the squash from the tip to the stem. I find it easiest to pierce the squash in the center along a depression line, then cut through the tip, and finish by slicing through the top portion of the stem. Use a large spoon to scoop out the seeds and stringy bits.
Drizzle 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil over each half, and sprinkle each with ¼ teaspoon of salt and pepper. Rub the oil into the cut sides of the squash, place them cut side down on the lined pan. Slide the pan onto the top shelf of the oven and roast until the skin can be easily pierced with the tip of a paring knife, 30-45 minutes.
While the squash cooks, melt the butter with 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions, mushrooms and fennel and stir to coat. Cook, stirring periodically, until the onions and fennel are softened, 5-6 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
In a medium bowl, whisk the lemon zest and juice, maple syrup, 1 tablespoon olive oil, garlic and mustard. Add the cooked vegetables, grains, crumbled chevre and parsley. Combine well, then divide the mixture between the cooked squash boats. Return the stuffed squash boats to the oven and bake until the filling is warmed through, 10-15 minutes. Serve immediately.
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