For a delicious, versatile, inexpensive vegetable that has “winter” right in its name, hard-shelled squash gets surprisingly little seasonal respect. Dedicated foodies who can wax eloquent over the respective merits of yellow-eye beans and Jacob’s cattle seldom discuss the much larger differences between, say, the dry-fleshed, nutty-flavored Tetsukabuto and the creamy, well-named Sweet Dumpling.
The sign-squash is a rejected pumpkin. No stem, no sale.
Think I’m exaggerating? Have a squash tasting, using at least 3 varieties and preferably 3 species. That might be delicata (Cucurbita pepo), buttercup (C. maxima ) and butternut (C. moschata), but if you range beyond the supermarket, you can probably put together a more exotic assortment. Either way, you will be amazed, and unless there are a lot of you you will also wind up with quite a bit of extra cooked squash. Terrific! Just freeze it in meal-sized packets and you’ve got a stockpile of nearly-instant great food.
When the basic ingredient is ready to roll, it’s only minutes to warming cream of squash and orange soup, with or without a sprinkle of Aleppo pepper; baked squash under a blanket of crisp crumbs flavored with olive oil and lemon zest; or utterly simple broiled squash, spread in a shallow buttered pan and broiled until the top is dotted with flavorful, caramelized brown spots. This is also tasty with store cheese grated over it at the last minute. Also salsa. Also parsley pesto… you get the drift; if you want it even sweeter, the thing to make is pie.
To Prepare Squash for a Tasting ( or almost anything else): Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Rinse any clinging dirt from the squash and whack off the stem with the back of your heavy knife. Cut squash in half as evenly as possible and scrape out the seeds. Oil the cut surfaces with olive oil and put the squash cut side down on a sheet pan or jellyroll pan. Bake until a thin-bladed knife sides in easily, anywhere from a half hour (Sweet Dumpling) to about an hour and a half ( Marina di Chioggia), depending on the thickness of the squash meat and the variety of squash. Turn it right side up and use a sharp-edged spoon to scrape the squash meat away from the rind.