Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Squash by Any Other Name...

...would probably taste like a pumpkin. Derived from the Massachusetts Indian word askutasquash meaning eaten or uncooked, squashes fall into the family Cucurbita (also housing pumpkins). You may be thinking that pumpkins were so last month. And I will readily admit that my pumpkin never even made it to the Jack-O-Lantern stage of its life. Halloween, however, just marks the beginning of pumpkin/winter squash season. I mean, what is Thanksgiving without the pumpkin pie?

When we talk about those hard-skinned, easily-stored, winter squashes, we are discussing a legacy going back over 10,000 years. In fact, preserved pumpkin seeds were the clue to dating the advent of agriculture in the New World! They are one of the simpler crops to cultivate - I have definitely planted pumpkins accidentally by merely tossing the seeds. Native populations in the Americas came to rely on this resilient, nutritious, and versatile vegetable. Varieties were transplanted from the warmer south, but there are also some natives of more northern latitudes. Desirable for their oily seeds, vitamin-rich fruit, and use as bowls and jugs, made winter squash a very integral part of human survival on the continents. And while these beauties have spread throughout the world, they are distinctly American in flavor. So, if we're talking Thanksgiving, pumpkins/squashes should obviously steal the show!
Butternut Squash Soup
1 medium butternut squash (can also use acorn, buttercup, or red curry)
2 cups mild vegetable stock (as in, not overpoweringly flavorful)
Thyme and salt to taste
Oil for pan

1. Preheat oven to 400F. Quarter squash and scoop out seeds. Make sure to save these to roast with salt!
2. Roast squash in a generously oiled pan, with salt and thyme (ideally fresh sprigs), for 45-60 minutes. When it's super "fork-tender", take it out of the oven, peel or cut off the skin, and put in a food processor with the vegetable stock.
3. Test flavor and readjust salt and thyme to your liking. You may have to heat up on the stove again after pureeing.
4. Serve in adorable soup bowls!

Thanksgiving in Granola - Bonus Feature!!! (can be gluten-free :)
2 cups rolled oats
3 cups puffed rice cereal
2/3 - 1 cup raw sunflower seeds
2/3 - 1 cup dried cranberries
1 cup pumpkin butter (strongly encourage homemade or some variation)
(option) agave nectar to desired sweetness

1. Toss everything together until evenly coated. You can add agave if the pumpkin butter is not sweet enough for you, as well as extra cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, all-spice, whatever.
2. Spread in a thick layer on a greased sheet pan. Bake at 325F for 45-60 minutes. After 20 or so, stir around a bit so that it doesn't burn.
3. Remove from over when starting to brown and crisp up. Let cool thoroughly before storing.
4. Enjoy for breakfast, lunch, dinner, afternoon tea, midnight snack, etc.

Further Reading:
The Three Sisters Diorama - New York Museum
Squash and Gourds - Encyclopedia of Food and Culture


jkim5154 said...

follow up question, how do you roast the butternut squash seeds?

Rachel said...

Excellent question, Ms. Kim. Scoop them out, remove any squash gunk still attached, spread out on a greased cookie sheet or pan, salt, stick in a 350F over for 10-20 minutes until starting to brown and no longer slimy (slightly crunchy). Remove and let cool. They will get crunchier as they cool.

Enjoy! Delicata squash makes the best toasted seeds!