Winter Squash: More Than Just Pumpkins
Ah, it is that time of the year again. The leaves have turned colors then turned completely loose. Football has come and gone and March Madness is just around the corner. It’s the dead of winter. Good thing I’m a sucker for winter squash. So just what is winter squash?
Wikipedia defines winter squash thusly, “Winter squash (Australia: pumpkin) is a summer-growing annual vegetable, representing several species within the genus Cucurbita. It differs from summer squash in that it is harvested and eaten in the mature fruit stage, when the seeds within have matured fully and the skin has hardened into a tough rind. At this stage, most varieties of this fruit can be stored for use during the winter. It is generally cooked before eating.”
Some of the more popular varieties are the Acorn Squash, Butternut Squash and the Spaghetti Squash. The Spaghetti Squash is an interesting critter that gets its name from the texture of the fruit in the center which, when cooked, resembles strands of spaghetti. It can also be served as such; perfect for those on gluten-free diets. The most popular winter squash is of course the pumpkin.
For me, the jewel of the winter squash family is the Butternut. My first experience with this semi-sweet fruit which tastes similar to its cousin the pumpkin was at the hands of legendary chef Wolfgang Puck. It was a simple Butternut Squash Soup with sweet Italian sausage, crème fraîche and balsamic reduction. The soup was delicately seasoned with the flavors of fall like honey, nutmeg and cloves. That soup created a flash memory; it was a little bit sweet, a little bit savory and as rich as King Midas.
So inspired I tried my hand that Thanksgiving at a similar soup. Not quite as extravagant as Puck’s but darned tasty just the same. As it turns out, it is an easy soup to make. Just peel and dice the squash and boil it in chicken stock with a little onion. In about 20 minutes the fruit will be soft, remove it to a blender and puree it. Return to the chicken stock and season with salt, pepper, nutmeg and clove. Honey can be added to mellow the taste. Don’t forget the sour cream, like crème fraîche it will add a tang and luxury to the soup. The sausage is optional but when has the addition of pork ever been a bad thing?
And this recipe is interchangeable with any winter squash but pumpkin especially makes a great soup. I used to make a dynamite Pumpkin Curry Soup which consisted only of unsweetened pumpkin pie filling, vegetable stock, curry powder, honey and coconut milk. Five ingredients combined in the space of about 20 minutes that produce a flavor so complex your family will swear you spent all day on it. It was always a hit, not just with my vegan clientele but with all of my customers.